Natural hair dye – a safe, kind and effective alternative to chemicals

A lot of us are starting to think a bit more carefully about the chemicals used in our cosmetic products and hair dye. Whether you’re concerned about the environmental impact of chemical production or are perhaps sensitive to the chemicals packed into standard hair dyes, opting for a natural hair dye means that you can get to play around with your hair color without having to worry about the chemical overload.

So what’s wrong with chemical hair dye?

Most packaged hair dyes use chemicals to open up the hair shaft so that they can deposit color pigment. Semi permanent dyes coat the hair shaft or allow tiny pigment molecules just inside the hair shaft, but if you want to lighten your hair or are after permanent results, the chemicals need to be a lot harsher to open up the shaft of the hair and either react and remove your natural color, or deposit new color within the hair.

These chemicals are not only potentially very damaging to your hair (goodness knows, my poor hair has found that out the hard way), but there are also various health risks associated with their use. The chemicals used can often aggravate asthma and cause allergic reactions. On top of this, the production and use of these chemicals isn’t exactly environmentally friendly.

How does natural hair dye work?

OK, enough of the preaching. Natural hair dye doesn’t have the capability to open up the hair shaft to deposit color, but it can coat the hair with your chosen pigment. It doesn’t harm hair or alter its structure, so you can use natural dyes without worrying about your hair’s condition deteriorating.

Are all hair dyes sold as “natural” really 100% natural?

In a word, no. There are a growing number of brands offering ‘natural’ dyes, but although these are gentler in formulation and certainly contain a lot less chemicals than standard boxed dyes, read through their ingredients list carefully to get a true idea of the type and amount of chemicals used in each brand.

Which natural hair dye should I choose?

If you’re after a natural red dye, still the most widely used and effective option out there has to be henna. The henna plant has been used in various formulations to dye hair and skin since the Bronze ages, and it’s a really effective dye for hair, if a little fiddly and unpredictable to use. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because henna is natural it’s a soft option that won’t stick around. Henna bonds with the keratin in the outer layer of hair, effectively staining it, and can be an incredibly long lasting natural dye, so be prepared to live with it for a while.

Keep in mind that henna is naturally a coppery, red shade. You’ll find a lot of dyes marketed as natural henna out there, but if the colors shown are anything but red (blacks or lightening formulations for instance) then they must contain additional dyes or chemicals. Some henna kits actually include metallic salts within their formulations that can react terribly if applied over other types of dye, completely frazzling your hair, so if you’re layering up henna dyes please make sure you’ve double checked the ingredients list. Body art standard henna should always be 100% natural and kind to your hair, so stick with that if you can.

Natural black dye
Want to go black? Indigo is a natural blue-based pigment widely used in conjunction with henna for a jet black look. It can take a bit of practice to get the application and balance of tones right, but it can be a brilliant completely natural option. Do be wary if you’re naturally light though, the violet-blue tones can show through which isn’t a great look if you weren’t actually aiming for it! Both henna and indigo can also be great at covering grey hair.

Want to make your own natural dye?

There are plenty of suggested home-made hair dyes that you can try out using herbs and other natural ingredients, though most will just add a subtle tint to your hair.

If it’s blonde you’re after, I’m afraid you’re never going to get your raven locks Barbie blonde using natural products. That said, you can add subtle washes and highlights to light hair by applying lemon juice, chamomile or honey mixtures. The citric acid in lemon juice opens up the hair’s cuticle, accelerating the natural lightening effect of the sun’s rays, while diluted honey releases weak peroxide.

For darker hair, herbs, coffee and even Kool-aid can be used to add tones to help tint your hair the natural way.

Choosing a natural hair dye is a smart option to get the hair color you want without the harm and risk that come with the chemicals of synthetic dyes. If it’s an all natural dye you’re after, just be vigilant about checking the ingredients of any boxed dyes carefully, or have a go at making your own home-made hair color! Also always remember to always carry out a patch test to check for any reactions and a strand test before using any type of dye, so that you can be confident you’ll be pleased with the end result.

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