A research team at Northwestern University has discovered a way to use sheets of graphene to dye hair. Unlike current chemical hair coloring products, the scientists report in the journal Chem that their new dye is nontoxic, antibacterial, antistatic, and you can apply it yourself with a spray. It looks like we can add “the holy grail of hair color” to graphene’s seemingly endless list of applications.
This is how it works: The user applies the graphene dye using a spray, then brushes the hair and dries it. The graphene forms a gentle film around each and every hair strand. Like in a sci-fi movie, your hair will change color before your very eyes as the sheets of graphene attach themselves to your mane. And since the research team says their method doesn’t require toxic solvents, or molecular ingredients, or extreme heat, you don’t have to worry about damaging your hair, skin, or yourself. The color lasts for at least 30 washes, like what you expect from any conventional chemical-based dye. The graphene material will disappear leaving your hair in the exact same state as it was when you applied it.
Your graphene-enhanced superhero hair will also have some other super powers. First, it’s anti-static–so you can say goodbye to flyaway hairs. Secondly, it’s antibacterial–your hair will stay cleaner longer. Third: thermal regulation capabilities. In theory, your graphene-enhanced hair will be able to regulate the heat on your head better than your regular hair.
The fourth power is quite intriguing. The Northwestern team mentions that your graphene-treated hair will be able to interface with electronic components, since the coating can carry an electrical current. I can’t imagine the potential applications for this one–beyond adding LED beads that could display different colors depending on the thermal conditions of your scalp (purple for anger, for instance, or green for happiness).
So when will you be able to pick up a box of this dye at Walgreens? I asked Jiaxing Huang, research lead and professor of materials science and engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering: “I am optimistic,” he says, although he couldn’t give me a precise timeline yet. There’s no word on potential price points for a final product either. Right now, the main problem holding them back is the available colors. Their graphene-based dye comes in different shades of black and brown at the moment. There’s no blonde, red, or any other hue. However, Huang tells me that they already have some ideas about how to solve this: “Once we secure research funding to work on this, we expect [the other colors] can happen within a few years.”
So we’ll have to wait at least “a few years” for the perfect cyber dye job. Until then, the closest thing to a holy grail of hair color is still at the salon.