Blackcurrant Extract Developed As New Natural Hair Dye Interview with:

Dr. Richard S. Blackburn

Dr. Blackburn

Dr. Richard S. Blackburn
BSc (Leeds), PhD (Leeds), CCol FSDC
Associate Professor in Coloration Technology
Head of Sustainable Materials Research Group
University of Leeds What is the background for this study?

Response: I’ve been working with my colleague Professor Chris Rayner at The University of Leeds for over 10 years in the field of anthocyanins, which are pigments that provide colour to most berries, flowers, and many other fruits and vegetables. We have developed techniques to isolate these compounds from food waste, characterise the chemistry of the extracts, and use these natural pigments in various applications. In this work, anthocyanins extracted from blackcurrant waste created during the manufacture of blackcurrant cordial (Ribena) have for the first time been used in an effective new hair dyeing technology.

Why hair dyeing? The global hair coloration industry is worth more than $10 billion a year, with the number of people colouring their hair in professional salons and at home on the increase, but some of the ingredients found in commonly-used synthetic hair dyes, are known irritants and can trigger severe allergic reactions. There is also much debate about whether these ingredients also cause cancer. Dyes that some may consider ‘natural’ – such as those including henna – usually escape scrutiny when it comes to health concerns, but the main natural colorant in henna is lawsone, which the EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety states is toxic. What is more, it is thought up to 95% of all dyes end up washed down the drain; their effect on the environment is unknown.

Because of issues and concerns around conventional dyes, we wanted to develop sustainable, biodegradable alternatives using green chemistry processes that minimise potential risks to health and offer consumers a different option. What are the main findings?

Response: We’ve made it possible to have great hair colour, and to get it from nature in the most sustainable way possible. The paper in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (10.1021/acs.jafc.8b01044) describes a new technology to extract anthocyanins from blackcurrant fruit waste and how these natural pigments are able to bind to hair. These natural dyes are non-toxic, water-soluble and responsible for pink, red, purple, violet, and blue and colours, and are widely used as natural food colorants all over the world. We knew they bound strongly with proteins – hair is a protein – so we thought if we could find an appropriate source of these natural colours, we might be able to dye hair.

The extraction technology is based on sustainable concepts – the colour is extracted using a water-based solid-phase extraction process to isolate the anthocyanins that we want. We believe that if we are extracting natural and food-grade products, we should not use any toxic or hazardous chemicals to get them.

The patented hair dyeing technology provides intense reds, purples and blues on hair that, when combined with a natural yellow, can provide a wide range of colours – including browns. The colours produced are stable for at least 12 washes – comparable with conventional synthetic semi-permanent dyes. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This is a great example of utilisation of food waste, which is a big issue. 90% of British blackcurrants are used in the production of Ribena. After being pressed, the skins remain as a waste product. They have very high concentrations of anthocyanins, and represent a sustainable supply of raw material because of how much blackcurrant juice we drink. We have identified all of the natural compounds present in our extract to improve our technology and to ensure safety, which cannot be said of most ‘natural’ cosmetic brands, where there is little understanding of what is in ‘natural extracts’; ‘natural’ does not necessarily equal safe. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: We have very interested findings of how anthocyanins specifically interact with protein, which is the origin of the binding force with hair. It is very interesting that there is little effect of substitution on the anthocyanin core structure (B-ring) itself, whereas the effect of the glycosylation (sugars attached) is pronounced in terms binding to protein, stability and solubility. We have also found that the supposed instability of anthocyanins is relative to environment, and whilst bound to hair protein are very stable to degradation.

We think that other researchers can use these finding to develop applications of anthocyanins in food and nutrition to develop selective delivery to different parts of the body, and increase stability and efficacy in vivo. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: We are commercialising our patented technology through a University of Leeds spinout company, Keracol Limited under the brand Dr Craft. The blackcurrant-based dyes should be on sale later this year. We’ve also just made the first natural purple shampoo, using the anthocyanins from the blackcurrant extract; our Natural Purple Berry Brightening Serum counteracts brassy tones in blonde and grey hair. The anthocyanins work just as well as the synthetic dyes they are replacing.

Any disclosures?

Professor Chris Rayner and Dr. Richard Blackburn have a financial interest in Keracol Limited.


Paul M. Rose, Victoria Cantrill, Meryem Benohoud, Alenka Tidder, Christopher M. Rayner, Richard S. Blackburn. Application of Anthocyanins from Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum L.) Fruit Waste as Renewable Hair Dyes. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2018; DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.8b01044

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