What is Natural Hair Coloring?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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While chemical dyes are extremely popular, they can be harsh, leading to dry damaged hair with prolonged use. This is especially true of semi-permanent and oxidative permanent hair dyes, the latter being the most popular because the hair retains the color permanently. These dyes also contain known carcinogens, with darker dyes containing higher levels. For all of these reasons, many people are turning to natural hair coloring products.

Due to the trend towards healthier living, many mainstream chemical dyes have been renamed and repackaged to feature the word "natural" in the title. Some of these formulas have eliminated one or two of the harsher chemicals, but the only truly natural hair coloring products are those that contain 100% botanicals (plants) with no metallic salts or additives.

It may surprise some people to learn that plants alone can color hair, but they have been used for over 9,000 years to do just that. Thanks to this long history of safe use, natural hair coloring products — those that contain pulverized plant material only — do not require animal testing.


One drawback of natural dyes is that a brunette cannot become a blonde. This process requires chemicals that strip the hair of its color before lightening it. Botanicals do not strip the hair, but coat each hair with translucent proteins that make the hair stronger, sealing hair cuticles, protecting the core. This not only "thickens" hair but protects it against drying and sun damage while making it silky smooth to the touch. Since the process is beneficial rather than damaging, one can use natural hair coloring products as often as desired.

Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is probably the most recognized botanical, used as a neutral conditioner or for adding red tones. Indigo (Indigofera) is used to dye hair black, and walnut shell is commonly used for brown. By combining different ratios of these plants, companies like Light Mountain™ can provide a range of natural hair coloring choices including varying shades of red, auburn, light brown, dark brown, and black.

Preparation involves mixing the plant material with distilled water in a plastic, ceramic or glass bowl until creamy. Natural hair coloring products should not be used with metal, as metallic molecules cause a chemical reaction that can result in a green cast to the hair. This is also why distilled water is used instead of tap. A wooden or plastic mixing spoon should also be used.

Dyes must leech from the plant material to be effective, so the mixture should sit overnight before applying. Alternately, heat speeds up the leeching process, so one can boil the distilled water before adding it (in a ceramic pot, not metal), then let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. If a non-metal pan isn’t available, another option is to heat the mixture in the microwave for a minute or so. A microwavable glass bowl with a lid is ideal for this. Guard against overheating and be sure to let the mixture cool for ten minutes or more before applying.

Conducting a strand test first is highly recommended. Hair that has been chemically treated could turn an unexpected color such as green, due to interactions with those chemicals. One should wait six to eight weeks before attempting to use natural hair coloring products, after using chemical dyes. Even someone who has never used chemicals should do a strand test to avoid surprises and to gauge how long the mixture will need to be left on the hair to affect the desired color.

Natural dye is applied to the hair from root to tip, then covered with a plastic wrap and towel. Many factors play into how long the mixture should be left on, but a minimum is typically 45 minutes with 1-2 hours being average. Since this process is so good for the hair, many people prefer to leave it on longer rather than shorter, which also serves to deepen the color. Washing out botanicals can be challenging, but applying some conditioner can help the process along.

Some types of gray hair will color very easily using natural hair coloring, while others are tougher, requiring repeated applications. With each application, proteins coat the gray, making it easier for subsequent applications applied in relatively close succession to adhere. Some people add lemon juice to their mixture to bring out highlights, brewed coffee to enhance browns, or paprika to enhance reds. Cinnamon can also be added to mute the alfalfa-like plant smell.

Many so-called natural hair coloring products now include henna, displayed prominently on the packaging, while being composed mostly of chemicals or having metallic salts added, so beware of impostors. Natural botanical dyes are typically less expensive than chemical dyes, and are better for the environment, your hair, and arguably, for your health.


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Post 2

@raynbow- It is difficult to get your hair to be very blonde by using totally natural hair coloring products. However, there are several hair care companies that make blonde hair coloring kits with vegetable-based products.

These hair coloring products don't contain a lot of the harsh chemicals that commercial products do, yet they are available in dark and light colors. They are somewhat more costly than most brands that are commonly found on the market, yet they are high-quality products that are worth the money.

If you want to try a vegetable-based hair coloring kit, you probably will have to go to a specialty store or online to find it. Though these products are not usually available at retail stores, they are carried by stores that sell natural products and by online retailers that sell natural products.

Post 1

What is the best natural hair coloring alternative for people who want to avoid harsh chemicals but also want to make their hair as blonde as possible? It doesn't sound like this goal can be accomplished with most of the natural colorants mentioned in this article.

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