Beets & Coffee & Henna: A Guide to Dyeing Your Hair Naturally


By Alexa Santory

Dye Your Hair...Naturally!
Isn’t nature amazing? You can live in it, you can eat it, you can clean with it, and you can even... color your hair with it! SURPRISE (but who’s surprised, really?? Nature is awesome), there are substances in nature that can alter your hair color! How? Today’s Beauty School lesson is all about natural hair dyes and how to change your hair color without any harsh chemicals.

Why is hair dye so bad??

One word: chemicals. I know I know, pink hair is dope but in bleaching and dyeing your hair the neon color of your dreams, you’re exposing yourself (your body too!) to some pretty harsh chemicals. And as we know, any type of chemical treatment is gonna result in some type of damage. IMO, if you can’t use or expose yourself to certain chemicals like the ones in hair dye while you’re pregnant, you probably shouldn’t be using them at all. This isn’t always practical, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb to follow.
So why are chemical hair dyes so bad? Well, the American Cancer Society has found a link between frequent hair dye use and certain types of cancer, like leukemia and lymphoma. This is due to certain carcinogens found in the chemicals in hair dye. The word “carcinogen” on its own sounds daunting, no? There’s also the risk of balding and thinning of the hair with frequent use and without proper care. Hair dye could also potentially damage your hair and scalp permanently if you're not careful. Let’s take a closer look at some of the harmful chemicals that make up your typical hair dye.
Quaternium-15:
This sounds like a powerful element that the super villain is gonna use to destroy a city, but its actually a preservative that's found in cosmetics. It also happens to be a formaldehyde releaser. There's some pretty strong evidence that shows that it’s toxic to human skin and can act as an irritant or allergen.
p-Phenylenediamine:
AKA PPD, this is pretty common in your typical hair dye. It also poses the biggest health risk and has been linked to kidney, lung, and bladder issues. In extreme cases, bladder cancer. A study found that there’s an increased risk of bladder cancer when hair dye is used frequently and it’s even more common when the dye is darker. Crazy huh??
Ammonia:
This chemical is super common in hair dyes (and lots of other products) and it’s usually what gives it that strong smell. This chemical is mixed with hydrogen peroxide to create bleach. It can also be used to clean and disinfect surfaces, so there’s that! Ammonia has been linked to a number of respiratory issues like asthma, and it’s harmful when inhaled often or for extended periods of time.
Resorcinol:
This chemical contains benzene, which makes up crude oil, and has been found to increase the risk of cancer and other illnesses. Resorcinol is used in hair dyes to help bond the color to your hair more permanently. It’s a coloring agent that also has some pretty intense effects on our bodies. It’s considered hazardous (a big red flag, tbh) and can cause redness and irritation on the scalp. Inside our bodies, though, resorcinol has been shown to interrupt the thyroids, the central nervous system, and red blood cells. All in all, these seems like something we should avoid completely!!
Those are just a few of the most common chemicals found in hair dyes. But if this isn’t enough evidence for you to at least cut back on chemical dyes, maybe a breakdown of natural hair dyes might convince you!

Nature’s Hair Dyes 101

We know that adopting and living a 100% non-toxic lifestyle isn’t practical for everyone and can be pretty challenging, but any little bit to help keep icky stuff out of our bodies is what counts! This includes your hair. We’ve broken down how to care for color treated hair naturally, now let’s get into how we can color treat our hair using natural ingredients and dyes!

Coffee

It’s delicious first thing in the morning, but did you know you can also use coffee to darken your hair? This is a great, natural option for those who wanna cover grey hairs, or just darken their hair in general. It takes a few tries for it to be noticeable, but it’s a fun way to experiment with coloring your hair at home for almost no money! This recipe from Anne Marie Gianni is simple: brew some strong coffee, let it cool, mix one cup with two cups of your favorite leave-in conditioner, and 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds. Apply the mixture to clean, dry hair and let it work for an hour. Using Apple cider vinegar to rinse will help the color last longer, but you could use regular shampoo if that’s more your speed. Coffee actually has some pretty positive effects on our hair and scalp. It helps increase blood flow which could stimulate hair growth. It also helps the texture and overall structure of your hair. Plus, it’s much gentler than chemical dyes!

Beets

Beets have an intense red pigment and the juice of a beet can leave a noticeable stain, so why wouldn't it have the same effect on our hair? It does! It's a great temporary option if you wanna go for a deep red, purple, or pastel pink look, depending on your natural color. Beets and beet juice are excellent sources of protein, potassium, calcium, and vitamins B and C, and all of these factors contribute to their ability to strengthen and restore our hair. They also help promote hair growth by stimulating blood flow to the scalp. So not only will you have an awesome new hair color because of beet juice, your hair will probably grow longer and stronger because of it! You could make it into a shampoo, or you could follow this tutorial by Balanced Belle!

Henna

A recurring star in a few of our hair masks and for very good reason! My mother used henna in her hair for years to hide her greys and because her scalp had become extremely sensitive to any and all chemical dyes. This was her favorite alternative because it was easy, inexpensive, and worked just as well at covering her grey hairs. She’s stopped dyeing her hair a few years back, but she's the reason why I’d only ever use henna to dye my hair! So what exactly is henna? It's a plant that grows in the hot, dry climates of Asia and Africa. You've probably seen the beautiful, intricate designs Desi women wear during holidays or special events. That's henna too, used for a different purpose though. The henna leaves are ground into a fine powder which can then be made into a paste. The paste can be used for those incredible designs, or to dye the hair. The result of henna dyes is beautiful, vibrant color, that's also good for the hair’s health! It deeply conditions, repairs the cuticle, prevents hair loss, and adds some pretty intense shine.

Lemon

Remember Sun-In?! Using lemon to lighten your hair is basically that, just without all the nasty chemicals! Lemon juice is an easy way to lighten your hair without bleach and the damage that comes with it. Try putting lemon juice on small sections of your hair on a sunny day (since it’s heat activated!) and you’ll notice a difference in the color by the end of the day. Since lemon is activated by heat, applying it to your hair will allow the cuticle to open and let your natural color be lifted ever so slightly. Just be aware that lemon can make your skin photosensitive and prone to UV damage!

Chamomile and other herbs

There are a variety of herbs that can be used to dye your hair naturally. Chamomile is a great option if you’re looking to go lighter. Similar to lemons, the coloring agents are activated by heat which helps lift out the darker pigments from the hair shaft. It can be tricky for those of us with super dark hair to see results from using chamomile as dye, due to the amount of melanin in the hair, but it’s not all bad news because chamomile is actually great for your hair and scalp health. If you’re experiencing scalp irritation (maybe even due to color treatments), using a chamomile tea rinse can help soothe it! Calendula and saffron are also great options for lightening the hair. As far as you brunettes, try using rosemary, nettle, or sage. These all do a great job of darkening the hair, plus they all have benefits that block hair loss. Rosemary is great for stimulating blood flow to the scalp, which could help hair growth, too, while nettle blocks the hormone that causes hair loss. If you’re a redhead or have dyed your hair red and want to enhance the color, try using hibiscus, rosehips, and marigold.

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  • I am interested in using Henna to cover my grey’s
    My hair is black and want to maintain my rich black color. I have seen Henna in the beauty supply store, marked black. Would that be ok to use. The instructions are just mix with water and apply.

    Faye K on

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