You can dye your hair in a variety of ways, from getting it done at a salon, from a box at home, or through a temporary color spray. Traditional hair dyes, however, can contain potentially toxic and damaging chemicals like ammonia or parabens. One way to avoid these chemicals is through natural hair dyes, which often use ingredients you might already have at home.
Try the following natural hair dyes if you’re looking for alternative ways to color your hair.
Try carrot juice if you want to give your hair a reddish-orange tint. Depending on the color of your hair, the tint can last for a few weeks.
To dye your hair with carrot juice:
- Mix carrot juice with a carrier oil like coconut or olive oil.
- Apply the mixture liberally to your hair.
- Wrap your hair in plastic, and let the mixture set at least an hour.
- Rinse with apple cider vinegar. You can repeat this the next day if the color isn’t strong enough.
If you want a deeper red tint with cooler undertones, opt for beet juice instead of carrot juice.
The steps for using beet juice as a natural hair dye are similar to those for carrot juice:
- Mix beet juice with a carrier oil.
- Apply the mixture liberally to your hair, and then wrap your hair.
- Let the mixture set for at least an hour before washing it out.
Henna is a natural plant-based dye that’s traditionally used to create temporary tattoos directly on the skin. It can also be used to dye your hair red.
Henna comes in powder form and is probably the longest-lasting, most vibrant natural hair dye option. The color can last as long as four to six weeks.
To use henna to dye your hair:
- Mix about 1/2 cup of henna with 1/4 cup of water.
- Stir the mixture until it’s completely combined and feels like the consistency of mashed potatoes, adding more water if necessary.
- Cover the mixture with plastic wrap, and let it sit for about 12 hours. (You may need to add more water after the 12 hours so that it can be applied to your hair.)
- Wash your hair without conditioning it.
- Wear a headband and apply an oil like coconut oil along your hairline. This is so the henna won’t stain your skin.
- Apply the paste mixture to small sections of your combed, damp hair until all of your hair is covered.
- Wrap your hair in plastic and let the color develop at least two hours (and up to six) before washing it out.
Lemon juice can help strip your hair of its pigment slowly, lightening it over time. It’s best used to achieve sun-kissed highlights naturally.
Unlike the other methods described here, which achieve temporary color changes, the results of using lemon juice are permanent. The pigment on the portion of hair you apply lemon juice to will be gone. You can get rid of this lightened hair by cutting it off.
To use lemon juice to color your hair:
- Pour lemon juice into a spray bottle.
- Spray the juice liberally onto your hair.
- Use a comb to spread and separate the juice evenly through your hair
- Sit outside in the sun for optimal results.
- Leave the lemon juice in for at least an hour, and then wash it out.
You can do this several times to get the desired effect if necessary. It works slowly, and will likely require a few repeat sessions.
A cup of brewed coffee can do more than just give you a caffeine boost. It can also help dye your hair a shade or two darker, and may even cover up some gray hair.
To dye your hair with coffee:
- Brew a strong cup of dark-roast coffee.
- Mix about 1/2 cup of coffee with 2 tbsp. of coffee grounds and 1 cup of leave-in hair conditioner.
- Apply the mixture to clean, damp hair.
- Let the mixture set for at least an hour, and wash it out when you’re done.
- Repeat if necessary.
Coffee won’t provide a drastic change to your hair, and it won’t last for long. But if you need a quick and affordable boost, it’s a good option to try.
If you have dark brown or black hair and want to darken it up a bit, sage is a good option. It can deepen shades of brunette hair, and it can also help cover up gray hairs.
To use sage to dye your hair:
- Steep between 1/2 and 1 cup of dried sage in a quart of boiling water for at least 30 minutes. (The longer you let it steep, the darker the tint could be.)
- Let the water cool and strain out the sage.
- After you wash and towel-dry your hair, pour the sage water over your hair for as long as possible.
- Let the tint develop for at least 15 minutes before washing it out.
Want to lighten up your hair? Chamomile tea can help you do just that, and is especially effective for those who already have blonde hair.
To use chamomile tea to lighten your hair:
- Steep 1/2 cup of chamomile flowers in boiling water.
- Let the mixture sit for half an hour to steep and cool, and then strain the flowers out.
- After you wash your hair, pour the brewed tea through your damp hair at least 10 times.
- Wait for 16 minutes before washing it out.
You can use this treatment once, but it’s most effective when you use it at least once a week to maintain the beautiful bright color.
Once you’ve dyed your hair and it looks perfect, the last thing you want to worry about is the color fading. There are a few ways to extend the life of your naturally dyed hair:
- Limit your use of hot tools like hairdryers, straightening irons, and curling irons.
- When you do use hot styling tools, apply a thermal protectant to your hair.
- Avoid taking hot showers, and skip washing your hair when possible.
- Use a water filter in your shower, which can help filter out color-draining chemicals like chlorine and heavy metals.
If you don’t want to bust out the beet juice or the henna, natural hair dyes are available for you to purchase. These hair dyes claim to be manufactured without the toxic chemicals of traditional hair dyes, though you should check the label before you purchase one of them. You’ll want to avoid ingredients like parabens, ammonia, and sulfates.
Some brands you can try include:
Risks of regular hair dyes
Traditional hair dyes are full of chemicals that can have toxic effects on your body. According to the American Cancer Society, both semipermanent and permanent oxidative hair dyes penetrate the hair shaft and can potentially increase cancer risk, particularly for bladder cancer and blood cancers like leukemia. However, more studies are needed.
Even if the cancer risk is low or minimal, the harsh chemicals in traditional hair dyes can cause skin irritation and damage your hair. If it’s possible to use a more natural alternative, your hair will thank you in the long run.
Hair Dye Allergy
air coloring products contain many ingredients that can irritate the skin and cause allergic reactions. Most cases of allergic contact dermatitis stemming from exposure to hair dye are caused by an ingredient called paraphenylenediamine (PPD).
PPD is a chemical that’s also found in temporary tattoo ink, printer ink, and gasoline. In boxed hair dye, PPD usually comes in its own bottle, accompanied by an oxidizer.
When both are mixed together, PPD becomes partially oxidized. This is when it’s likely to cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to it.
There’s a difference between a sensitivity and an allergy to PPD or other hair dye ingredients. A sensitivity may cause contact dermatitis symptoms, such as burning and stinging or red, dry skin.
If you’re allergic to hair dye, your symptoms can range from mild to serious. Symptoms may occur immediately or take up to 48 hours to manifest.
Hair dye allergy symptoms include:
- stinging or burning sensation on the scalp, face, or neck
- blisters or welts
- itching or swelling of the scalp and face
- swollen eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
- an angry, red rash anywhere on the body
Occasionally, a hair dye allergy will cause anaphylaxis to occur. This rare reaction is a medical emergency and can be fatal. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:
- skin reactions such as stinging, burning, swelling, and rashes
- swelling of the throat and tongue
- trouble breathing
If you or someone you know appears to be going into anaphylactic shock, call 911 or get to an emergency room immediately.
There are a number of methods you can try to treat your symptoms at home. Try one of these options:
- If you have an immediate, mild reaction to the dye, rinse it off immediately and thoroughly with warm water and mild soap or mild shampoo.
- Apply a solution of potassium permanganate to the affected area. This can help fully oxidize PPD. PPD only causes allergic reactions when it’s in a partially oxidized state.
- Treat contact dermatitis symptoms, such as skin rash or itching, with an over-the-counter, topical corticosteroid skin cream. These can be used on the face, neck, and other parts of the body, but should not be used near or in the eyes or mouth.
- Use shampoos containing topical corticosteroids, such as Clobex, on your scalp.
- Apply hydrogen peroxide. It’s a mild antiseptic and may help calm the skin and reduce irritation and blistering.
- Take an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, to help reduce skin inflammation and itching.
If your symptoms don’t improve, or if they get worse or cause you distress that interferes with your ability to function, call your doctor immediately.
You may be able to get relief from prescription-strength corticosteroids. These are available in many forms, including creams, lotions, eye drops, ear drops, and pills.
Hair dyes containing the most PPD are the most likely to cause allergic reactions. Hair dye brand names can be deceiving, since some include words like “natural” or “herbal” on their boxes.
The only way to know what’s really inside is to read the ingredients label. Common terms to look out for include:
Black and dark brown dye colors may contain the greatest concentration of PPD. You should avoid them if you’re sensitive or allergic to PPD.
PPD is not the only chemical that can cause allergic reactions. Some people also get contact allergic dermatitis or other symptoms from ingredients such as ammonia, resorcinol, and peroxide.
If you want to avoid the widest range of allergens, one of the most natural types of hair dye to use is henna. Make sure that you use only pure henna as others often have PPD added.
Other choices can include indigo and vegetable-based dyes and semi-permanent dyes that have been certified by an independent laboratory to be free of chemical additives.
You can become allergic to a product or substance at any time, even if you’ve used it before. That’s why it’s important to do a patch test prior to using hair dye, even if it’s a tried-and-true brand.
If you have an allergic reaction to hair dye, even mildly, stop using the product completely. You may have a more severe reaction with added use as your system becomes sensitized to the chemical.
If you use black temporary tattoos, you may be exposed to additional amounts of PPD. This can also sensitize your system, making you more vulnerable to an allergic reaction to hair dye.
People who are sensitive to PPD may also be allergic to other substances. These include anesthetics, such as benzocaine and procaine. Make sure to inform your doctor, dentist, and anyone who works on your hair about any allergies you have or suspect you have.
Allergic reactions to hair dye can happen at any time. The ingredient most often associated with hair dye allergy is PPD. Check labels to determine if your brand has PPD or any other substance that might cause an allergic reaction. If so, consider switching to a more natural hair dye, such as henna.