Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Design

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How to make hair dye from blackcurrants

November 2nd, 2016

There’s a lot more going on here at the School of Design than you first might think. Alongside an array of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, there’s a plethora of research being undertaken across many industry areas.

Last month (20th October 2016), Professor Richard Blackburn gave a little insight into just some of the work which goes on behind the scenes in an ACS webinar on cosmetic chemistry. His presentation, which had over 800 attendees, included one of his projects which looked into produce hair dye from the humble blackcurrant.

Associate Professor and  Textiles Technology Group Leader at the School of Design, Dr Blackburn’s key areas of research focus around the principles of sustainability and how these principles can be applied in the fields of materials science, coloration technology and cosmetics. As a co-founder and director of University spin-out company Keracol Limited, he has developed novel approaches to the extraction of active molecules from plant sources, which among other things has led to the invention of hair dye systems that utilise solely natural and renewable materials.

blackcurrants, hair dye, Richard Blackburn, University of Leeds, School of Design

Twelve years ago Keracol Limited started working on a project which looked into producing hair colouration from a natural, sustainable source.

To get the colours they were hoping to achieve, they needed to use anthocyanins , (water-soluble vacuolar pigments that may appear red, purple, or blue depending on the pH) which had their glycosylation preserved in the extraction process. Anthocyanins are found in nearly all berry fruits and other fruits, as well as many vegetables. They also form the colour in many flowers.

Richard explained:

“We looked at a whole range of fruits and examined their properties.We quickly realised that if we were going to develop an extract from a fruit, it needed to be a sustainable supply. Ideally it needed to be a waste material.”

For many fruits that the team investigated, there wasn’t a sustainable supply of waste however, a few which did included:

  • Grapes
  • Blackcurrants
  • Aronia

blackcurrants, hair dye, Richard Blackburn, University of Leeds, School of Design

A sustainable supply of the skins of these berries are left over from fruit processing and the skin is exactly where the anthocyanins are that the team wanted to get hold of.

“We obtained the blackcurrant skins from a UK source. They were processed to produce a drink called Ribena and we got hold of the waste product after it had been pressed and processed for fruit.

“We developed the extraction process and purified it to give an extract with very high level of these anthocyanins which we preserved the glycosylation of, which we formulated for hair dyeing.”

Glycosylation within the natural extracts is important as they allow for a much easier formulation process to deliver the colour onto the hair, as well as giving a good “fastness” to the hair dye of up to about 12 washes.Even out of just the humble blackcurrant a range of dyes could be produced which gave some really quite intense colours on the hair.

Over the past few years, there has been a growing interest in natural ingredients. This has come from both the consumers and also the industry. The estimation is that the naturally derived personal care market should reach about 16 billion dollars by 2020.

Some would argue that this will reduce the reliance on petroleum based products which are in the majority of the current cosmetic products.

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