What to Know about Safely Colouring Your Hair

Coloring Your Hair without Ruing It—Or Your Health

I admit to being a hair-dye virgin (unless you count a disastrous experience with Sun-In in the fourth grade). As I near my thirties, however, I think more about colouring my hair—especially now that my chestnut brown is peppered with silver strands.

Like many conscious consumers, I’m wary of simply running to the salon and requesting a dye job. Not only do I want to avoid damaging my hair, I’m also aware that many conventional hair colourants (at least in the United States) may be formulated with a few chemicals that I’d rather avoid.  

Here are a few chemicals to be aware of when investigating hair dyes. Please note that toxicity may depend on the concentration of a given chemical in the product. Always discuss the safest option with your colourist.  

p-Pheylenediamine (PPDs)—A common compound in hair dye, linked to bladder cancer, allergic reactions, and lung, kidney, and nervous system damage.

Resorcinol—Irritant to eyes and skin, dangerous for the environment, also an endocrine disruptor. Received a hazard rating of 8/10 from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Cosmetic Safety Database.

Lead acetate—A darkening agent in hair dye, lead acetate is potentially toxic. Lead is associated with brain and nervous system damage. Received a hazard rating of 10/10 from the EWG Cosmetic Safety Database.

How to Colour Your Hair without Sacrificing Your Health:

As if this list weren’t troubling enough, my initial research into safe hair dye was less than inspiring. I consulted No More Dirty Looks, a precious resource for anyone looking to detox her makeup bag. Authors Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt don’t offer much hope on the topic:

“Other than delicately spraying fresh lemon juice on your hair or giving yourself an espresso rinse once in a while, we’re going to refrain from recommending that you dye your hair. Natural dyes are available but are generally inconsistent in formulation, too chemically unreliable, and too terrible looking for us to recommend in good conscience.”

Yikes. The book was published six years ago, however, and the green beauty industry has exploded in the meantime. Chances are that healthy, high-performing, and minimally damaging hair dye has come a long way, too. ELuxe Magazine recommends 10 natural-based hair dyes that look quite promising.

Vegan and cruelty-free standouts include Natulique, a collection of permanent hair dyes, promising 100% gray coverage without toxic chemicals, and Saach Organics, an Ayurvedic-inspired hair dye containing herbal colorants.

Coloring Your Hair without Ruing It—Or Your Health

Natulique organic hair color.

Coloring Your Hair without Ruing It—Or Your Health

Saach Organics Ayurveda-inspired hair color.

It’s also worth noting that your experience shopping for hair dye will be shaped by the country you live in. European and Japanese brands of hair dye have a better chance of being free of the worst hair dye toxins; the EU and Japan have banned several hazardous ingredients. These options are likely to be even safer than colourants produced in countries wit fewer regulations. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has limited regulation over hair dye.

Completely DIY Hair Colouring Options

If you prefer to have complete control over the ingredients in your hair color, there are a few DIY options you can whip up right in your kitchen. With each natural treatment, you may find that you need to repeat the rinse a few times to reach desired results. Of course, it’s important to be aware that DIY concoctions with natural ingredients don’t necessarily perform as well as professionally formulated products.

Coffee—Coffee will help you go darker, cover grays, and add dimension to already dark hair. Brew very strong coffee or espresso, and mix it with two tablespoons of coffee grounds and enough leave-in conditioner to make a spreadable paste. Apply to clean hair, wait an hour before rinsing with apple cider vinegar.

Tea—Strong concentrations of black tea will darken hair, rooibos tea may add dimension to red-toned hair, and chamomile will lighten hair, especially if it is combined with an hour of sun exposure. If you’re attempting to cover gray, mix the tea with dried sage, which will help open up the hair follicles. You will need at least two cups of tea for the rinse.

Henna—Henna, when used without additional colorants, provides an orange-red tint, making it perfect for redheads or brunettes looking to enhance an auburn tone. To keep your DIY henna hair dye leaving hair too orange, consider adding a bit of chamomile tea to your blend. Otherwise, mix one cup of henna powder with two cups of lemon juice and one tablespoon of vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit until it thickens. This may take a few hours. Apply to hair and wait at least two hours before rinsing.

Cinnamon—To lighten hair, blend ½ cup conditioner with enough cinnamon to make a paste. Apply to hair, and leave for three hours before rinsing. 

What are you favorite ways to safely colour your hair?

Photos: Pexels, Natulique, Saach Organics

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Mary Hood Luttrell

Beauty Editor

Mary Hood Luttrell is a vegan beauty enthusiast living in Corpus Christi, Texas with her husband and standoffish but lovable cat. Mary enjoys cooking veggie-filled dishes and practicing yoga and ballet. She is the Beauty Editor at Peaceful Dumpling and a writer at Barbara Michelle Jacobs and Debb Report.

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