Seaweed hair dyes

Scientists at Leeds University are planning to extract chemical compounds from different species of seaweed from around the Shetland Islands and use them to develop a range of hair dyes.

The naturally sourced compounds will be used by scientists as substitutes for synthetic ingredients that can be found in most hair dyes currently on the market.

Many compounds in existing products are allergens and certain chemicals, notably p-phenylenediamine (PPD), have been linked to serious long-term health effects.

The researchers also hope to develop other safer and more environmentally friendly cosmetics, including hair-treatment and skin-care products, from the compounds extracted from the Shetland seaweed.

‘We are hoping to be able to offer people a real alternative to current hair dyes that contain chemicals that are known to be very bad for you,’ said project leader Dr Richard Blackburn, a natural products researcher at Leeds University.

The hair dyes will not be green – the scientists are confident that a range of colours, including blonde, brown and red, and even black, can be made using the seaweed extracts.

‘We can make a range of colours using these natural compounds because the variety of British seaweed species is so diverse,’ explained Prof Christopher Rayner, also at the university, who is working with Blackburn on the project.

‘Seaweed is especially suited to being used in cosmetics because it has evolved very clever techniques to protect itself from weathering. And cosmetics are all about protection from ageing and the elements,’ said Blackburn.

Laboratory work at Leeds University will focus on developing ways of isolating and extracting individual compounds found in seaweed that have these special properties to understand them better and explore their potential uses in other products.

The two-year project has received funding of just more than £500,000, including an investment of nearly £300,000 from the Technology Strategy Board. Additional funding came from other projects partners, including The Body Shop and Böd Ayre, Shetland seaweed farmers and processors based in Lunnaness.

‘This could bring commercial and job opportunities to Shetland for a new high-value farming industry. It would be much better to extract the seaweed on Shetland rather than shipping elsewhere for processing,’ said Margaret Blance from Böd Ayre.