Toxin Spotlight: P-phenylenediamine

What It Is

P-phenylenediamine is a type of coal tar dye–a mixture of ingredients derived from petroleum–that serves as pigmentation, most often used for hair. While p-phenylenediamine is particularly worth avoiding, other petroleum-based coal tar dyes can be found listed as “C.I.” (Color Index) followed by a five digit number (in the 75000 and 77000 series) in the ingredient list.

Where It’s Found

Coal tar dyes are most often found in hair dyes. In the case of p-phenylenediamine, the darker the dye, the more likely it is to be present. P-phenylenediamine has also been found in some shampoos, specifically products that contain small amounts of colourant for hair colour maintenance.

Why It’s Bad

P-phenylenediamine is listed as restricted under Canada’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist, with the requirement that all products containing it must include a caution label: “This product contains ingredients that may cause skin irritation on certain individuals. This product must not be used for dying the eyelashes or eyebrows. To do so may cause blindness.” The European Union also classifies the ingredient as an irritant, the EPA Hazardous Air Pollutants organization calls it a known human respiratory toxicant, and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review cites strong evidence for dubbing it a skin toxicant or allergen. If skin and respiratory irritation and blindness isn’t bad enough, all coal tar dyes are recognized as human carcinogens due to their link to petroleum. P-phenylenediamine has specifically been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system). Furthermore, these colours are subject to possible contamination from aluminum compounds or heavy metals, which are toxic to the brain. Long story short, it’s bad. Avoid at all costs.

Alternative Products

My first suggestion would be to find ways to embrace and love your natural colour. By avoiding hair dye altogether, you don’t have to worry about finding a cruelty-free, vegan, non-toxic, and plastic-free alternative, which could be inaccessible and/or expensive. But if you can’t imagine enjoying your hair the way it is, there are some resources online on how to make your own hair dye, which will save you money and will eliminate the possibility of nasty ingredients. Here are some links to some great DIY recipes:

If you prefer to buy a pre-made hair dye, I have found a cruelty-free and vegan brand called Naturtint, though I have never tried it myself and therefore cannot attest to how it works. Regarding shampoo, there are a number of available non-toxic shampoos that work great for most hair types. As a person with thick, very dry, curly hair, I can attest to the power of Argan oil in both Be.Better’s Pure Argan Oil Shampoo and Live Clean’s Exotic Nectar Argan Oil Restorative Shampoo. As someone who gets buildup in my roots, I also love using Live Clean’s Apple Cider Clarifying Shampoo whenever I need a hair detox. For a low-impact option, Lush has a wide selection of shampoo bars, my favourite (of course) being Jason and the Argan Oil.

– Naturtint:

– Be.Better Pure Argan Oil Shampoo:

– Live Clean Exotic Nectar Argan Oil Restorative Shampoo:

– Live Clean Apple Cider Clarifying Shampoo:

– Lush Jason and the Argan Oil:




2 Replies to “Toxin Spotlight: P-phenylenediamine”

  1. i personally switched to plant based dye coming from France, Marcapar. I was lucky enough to find a hair salon which offers dyes with those products

    Liked by 1 person

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