Sometimes it is good to have someone in front of you, leading the way, saying you can do this. This has helped me tremendously in parenting, seeing caregivers of kids a little older than mine. I think, okay, so that is where we are headed. And look, the world doesn’t end when your kids become teenagers. I have always needed lookouts on the path of parenting, with their flashlights shining ahead on the road saying, come along, it’s going to be okay.
Thankfully Ronnie Citron-Fink is there, too, but not as a guide in parenting, but as a guide to how and why to let go of hair dye. In True Roots: What Quitting Hair Dye Taught Me About Health and Beauty, she chronicles her own journey in making the choice to stop dying her hair, and makes the case for why this is better for the environment, for our health, pocketbooks, and ultimately as a way to thumb our noses at the industrial beauty complex that pressures women to look younger, constantly.
In True Roots, Citron-Fink takes on the lax regulation of chemicals in the United States in personal care products that have essentially given industry a green light to add whatever chemicals they like to a product, and then regulate themselves, for years. Only after products have been proved harmful, often by scientists and researchers, after they have been on the market causing harm, are they pulled or changed. And this has only gotten worse with the new administration’s lack of focus on preventative health care and regulation of harmful ingredients and chemicals.
Citron-Fink explains the chemicals in hair dye have been linked to all sorts of health problems including allergies, migraines, and certain types of cancers. Especially problematic are darker shades. These often contain the chemical PPD, which is also used in antifreeze, and has been labeled as a chemical of concern by the Environmental Working Group. The most harm, however, is dark dyes and chemical relaxers, which impact women of color the most, with increased rates of breast cancer according to the CDC.
She explains the impact of hair dye on salon workers, outlined in the report Beauty and Its Beast, from Women’s Voices for the Earth:
“Salon workers are at greater risk for certain health problems compared to other occupations.”
For example, the report found that “Studies have found increased risks of several types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, cancer of the larynx, bladder cancer, and multiple myeloma, in hairdressers,” among other serious health concerns. While hair coloring is a billion dollar industry, which she also recounts, it is one that is harming salon workers, a majority of which are women.
Citron-Fink also breaks down the impacts of hair dyes on our air, water, and land. The stunning tidbit that the emissions from personal care products (which she calls the personal plume) negatively impacts the air quality as much as daily car emissions in Boulder, Colorado. Scientists are also sounding the alarm about the waste water created from pharmaceuticals and personal care products being released back into water systems. These chemicals persist in our bodies, our oceans, soils, through a process of bio accumulation.
Lastly, throughout the book, she chronicles her own journey transitioning to grey, fighting norms of society, the industrial beauty complex, and what it means to her to be to be female. The comments she received in her friend circles, the confusion from her hairdresser, and people asking what her husband thinks, all of it shines a light on the ways in which women are indoctrinated into this forever-young, looks-first society, and its ramifications on our bodies, minds and future generations. The best reason Citron-Fink shares for this shift to grey very well may be as a role model to her daughter, to embrace what she sees as her authentic self. Citron-Fink chronicles a powerful conversation with her daughter about this, again, showing a way forward in this world as it is, and leaning in to what it could be. In this way, Citron-Fink is also shining a light for me as a parent.
As for me, I needed to read this. I’d been thinking about stopping dying my hair for years. As a writer for Moms Clean Air Force and other environmental health outlets I have long considered the health and environmental consequences of personal care products and hair dye. I switched to an eco-friendly salon and thought that would do it. But I despised the line that appeared in my hair only weeks after dying it. I love my hairdresser endlessly and count her as a good friend, but the costs, the time, the impacts, and the upkeep was all too much for me and ran counter to my values. My hair had taken up valuable real estate in my mind. For months I was back and forth about it, and now that I am several months in to the transition, there is a certain freedom to it. I have that real estate back. And while I have been given confused looks and asked what my husband thinks (ugh, patriarchy), I’ve also gotten lots of supportive comments and smiles.
I notice my silver sisters everywhere I go, and there are more and more of us. We glitter. We shine. I am thankful to Ronnie Citron-Fink for showing me the way to them.