Natural Beauty Rx: Covering the greys

Noukke SigneI started researching natural hair coloring because Kelly asked me to on Facebook. And then Linnea seconded. But the truth is, coloring my hair has been on my mind lately. I spotted my first grey hair years ago, but since I’m sort of blonde-ish, I’ve been letting them creep in more and more, trying to convince myself they looked like blonde highlights. And they do, mostly, when my hair is down, but if I pull it into a ponytail…well, I have an all-gray patch of hair at both of my temples. As much as I’d like to be OK with that, I’m just…not. Read on for details and tips about natural hair dye, along with a few products to try.

During my research, I discovered that dyeing your hair is linked to an increase risk of cancer—especially bladder cancer. Which I guess isn’t surprising, but still scares the crap out of me. So when it comes to hair color, I plan to go the “as natural as possible” route, and avoid dyes containing ammonia and/or PPD (otherwise known as p-Phenylenediamine). The not-so-great news is that many of these dyes have some ingredients (PEGs and propylene glycol in particular) that I don’t love.

When I spoke with Julie of Juju Salon and Organics last week (have you tried her apple cider vinegar trick yet?), she mentioned that the hair color her salon uses is heat-activated—the heat warms up the hair, opening the follicles so that the hair absorbs more color, which means you can use less dye (and less toxic dye) and get the same great results. And that’s a big bonus to getting your hair colored by a pro, in my opinion.

However, getting your hair colored in a salon can be expensive (if you even have a natural salon like Julie’s nearby), and I know many (most?!) of you are hoping for some more natural at-home alternatives. Here are the options I turned up, along with some information about the different types.

Henna/Plant-based hair color. These dyes are plant-based (henna is a plant), and there are several versions. This is one of the most ancient forms of hair color (the ancient Egyptians actually used a lead-based dye to keep their hair black), and actually tends to have a strengthening effect on hair—not just a coloring effect. To try: Light Mountain, Lush, Herbavita. Light Mountain also has a henna-based “cover the grey” dye. (If you try it, please report back!)

Permanent hair color.  These “natural” permanent dyes still have some chemical ingredients in them, but on the spectrum of natural to synthetic scariness (which I just made up), I’d say they are much more natural than the typical box hair color you’ll find on the shelf in your drugstore. To try: Ecocolors (be warned: this dye DOES contain PPD and aqua ammonia, a diluted version of ammonia, but at a lower amount than traditional hair color), Tints of Nature, Palette By Nature and Susan Henry Natural Hair.

Hopefully this list gives you some new options to try, and if you do test them out, please let me know what you think. I’ll leave you with one final tip from Julie: Don’t color the entire length of your hair every time you color! Buy a few boxes (so that you’re sure to remember the shade and get the dye from the same lot), and just dye the roots until your color starts to fade and you need to color the entire length once again. It’ll keep your hair shinier and stronger, and minimize the amount of product you’ll need. —Aleigh

(Image via Noukka Signe)

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7 Comments on Natural Beauty Rx: Covering the greys

  1. Kelly Love Johnson said on

    Yay! I will definitely try one of the permanent colors! I looked at all and Susan Henry seems to be the only dark red option, so I’m ordering online and will report back. (Sadly, I JUST colored my hair with John Frieda foam color yesterday so it will be 4-6 weeks…).

    Not that I want to send you chasing down ANOTHER thing, but I see you mentioned propolyene glycol above…WHY IS IT IN MY VITAMINS AND IS IT GOING TO POISON ME??? (that was me ON THE LEDGE). Seriously though, it’s not in my multi but is listed (as an “oh BTW” ingredient) in my cal/mag/zinc and in my fish oil supplement (both are CVS brand…my Bs and multi are natural health store expensive brand). So if I wouldn’t want this in my hair color, I assume I would not want to SWALLOW IT? I am seriously not taking those vitamins again until I find out what that will do to me.

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    • indigo+canary said on

      I’m thinking I may go the Susan Henry route, also! I just have to decide if I’m going to try to mix the shades since I’m sort of blonde-ish (which she recommends on her color chart) or just go for broke with the all-blonde dye. Or brown. I’m such a hair coloring newbie!

      As for the propylene glycol…it’s added to most cosmetics to act like a skin conditioner/moisturizer, and it gets a 3 from the Skin Deep Database (on a scale to 10), but it’s one of the main ingredients in antifreeze. It’s one of the hardest ingredients to avoid since it’s just about everywhere. There’s a connection between propylene glycol and skin irritation, and I’ve read a few things that have speculated that it could make your body tissues more susceptible to cancer (but I haven’t seen hard proof of that). The FDA considers it a safe additive to food and cosmetics in small amounts.


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  2. Alex said on

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but never really commented. So hello! 🙂
    I tried Palette by Nature and hated it. It left a thick coating on my hair that kept coming off on my hands, towels and pillow case for a few days. I would put my hands through my hair and have oily black dye on my fingers. Maybe I didn’t use it right, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

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    • indigo+canary said on

      That’s good to know, Alex! Thanks for sharing your experience here. It’s disappointing to hear that Palette by Nature didn’t give you good results, though. Have you tried any of the other natural options?

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  3. Rebecca said on

    Henna is very permanent. So thats ill advice.

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    • indigo+canary said on

      Hi Rebecca, thanks for the comment! I edited the post so that it’s more clear. Thanks for the feedback!


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  4. Jean said on

    I currently use henna after many years of dyeing my hair, and I am very happy with the results. I buy from and found them to be very helpful answering my questions when I first started using henna. I use their Ancient Sunrise for gray hair in the auburn color. There is a learning curve when you first start using henna and it sure isn’t as easy as going to a salon and having your hair dyed for you, but the trade off is well worth it. I used straight henna my first time, but in subsequent colorings I added indigo to the henna to achieve a color that I like.

    Dawn, at Minimalist Beauty has some good articles/tutorials on mixing and using henna. Her blog has been very helpful in dealing with my curly, dry, frizzy hair. I feel like my hair is in the best condition ever after trying many of her DIY suggestions.

    >> Reply

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