Are We Dying to Look Good: Natural Hair Coloring Solutions

A man with grey locks is considered distinguished and wise but when a woman goes grey she is accused of letting herself go. In the 1950’s less than 10% of the woman dyed their hair. Today, the number is a staggering 75% or more. This popular beauty habit can cost consumers $75-$200 every 6-8 weeks when having it done professionally. Your first grey hair will typically appear by the age of 34 and by age 50 up to 50% of all Caucasians will have a full head of grey hair. Smoking, poor diet, stress and genetics can all contribute to premature greying.

Dying can be Deadly: Some chemicals used in hair dye products are known to be carcinogenic.

A 6-year study at Yale University has found that women who have spent years coloring their hair do indeed run a greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system that claims about half of all its victims.

Another study analyzing hairdressers showed a very marked increase in the incident of upper digestive tract, lung and skin cancer among this group that was continuously exposed to the chemicals in the hair dyes.

We don’t want to leave the guys out of this issue as the number of men dying their hair is on the rise. A study by Xavier University found that the gradual hair dyes like Grecian Formula contained so much lead acetate that the researchers couldn’t wash it off their hands! Lead is a cumulative chemical and even low-level exposure can ultimately result in cancer, brain damage, muscle weakness and depression.

Here’s a specific list of ingredients to watch for in your hair products: 4-MMPD, 4-chloro-m-phenylenediamine, 2,4-toluenediamine, 2-nitro-p-phenylenediamine and 4-amino-2-nitrophenol. Also, some coal tar colors used in permanent dark hair coloring contain heavy metal impurities, including lead and arsenic, both of which can cause cancer and disrupt hormones.

All Natural Alternatives

There are hair coloring products out there that are truly all natural, safe and non-toxic. However, be very careful not to be fooled by clever labeling. Just because Garnier adds in some avocado oil for a healthy shine, doesn’t change the fact that all the same toxic chemicals found in other products are right there on the label.

Fragrance(s)/perfume(s), Silica dimethyl silylate, Trideceth-2 carboxamide MEA, Glycerin, Propylene glycol, Citric acid, Thiolactic acid, 2-Aminophenol, Methylparaben, p-Phenylenediamine, Resorcinol, Cetrimonium chloride, p-Aminophenol, Pentasodium pentetate, Monoethanolamine (MEA), Lauric acid, 3-Aminophenol, 2-Methylresorcinol, Glycol distearate, Ammonium hydroxide, t-Butyl hydroquinone, Laureth-12, Chlorhexidine dihydrochloride, Hydrogen peroxide, Tetrasodium pyrophosphate (TSPP), and Avocado extract/oil. (This is only half the list of ingredients!)

Use real herbs and plant extracts

Good old mother nature provides some great alternatives for hair coloring enthusiasts. A great way to test how a natural made concoction will look is to save some snips of hair from your next haircut and make up a small batch of whatever dye recipe you want to try. Apply the mixture to the hair sample and let it dry naturally (preferably in the sunlight) and see what the results are before applying all over and then having to live with it for six weeks.

Blonde Hair

List of Herbs: Chamomile, calendula, mullein, saffron, turmeric

Make a weekly rinse with any of these as a tea and it will brighten, highlight or add vibrant tones to those with blonde hair washed out hair.

Steep ¼ – ½ cup of any of these herbs in 2 cups of boiled water for 30 minutes

Strain out the flowers/herbs and let it cool

Shampoo your hair and towel dry your hair

Then rinse with this cooled tea while catching the rinse so it can be reused

Pour the rinse through your hair about 10 times

Squeeze out excess moisture and then leave in your hair for another 20 minutes or longer before completely rinsing it out with clean water

Allow hair to dry in direct sunlight if possible

Citrus fruits such as lemon can also act as lighteners and brighteners (but don’t forget to test results first).

Light Brown Hair

Rhubarb root is said to attract honey gold tones to light brown hair.

Pour three cups of hot water over four tablespoons of chopped rhubarb root

Simmer for 15-20 minutes

Strain it and pour it through your freshly shampooed hair 10 or more times

Rinse in clear water and dry in direct sunlight if possible

Brown/Black Hair

Some turn to henna products for covering up those grey hairs. Just don’t use it on color-treated hair as you may be unpleasantly surprised with the results. Like any semi-permanent dye, henna coats the hair and lasts about six weeks. You can buy henna powder from herbal suppliers and health food stores. It’s known as a safe, healthful dye, and will make your hair feel thicker. A word of caution, henna tends to produce a brassy orange-red shade when used alone, so you may want to mix it with a “lighter” herb like chamomile. Henna should not be used by people with white, gray or very light blond hair.

Put 2 Tbsp – 4 Tbsp henna into a nonmetal bowl (more for long hair)

Add enough boiling water to make a thick paste

Stir in a tablespoon of vinegar (which will help release the plants’ colors)

Let the blend cool for a few minutes

When the paste is lukewarm, put on a pair of rubber gloves (henna can stain your hands) and massage it into your clean, wet hair

Comb it through with a wide-toothed comb to insure even distribution of the dye

Pile up your hair, fit a plastic bag over it and wrap a old towel around your head to hold in the heat

You’ll need to leave the dye and towel in place from 30 minutes to 2 hours

When the time is up rinse your hair until the water comes clean, then allow to air-dry

Use lemon juice to remove any dye from hands or your hairline

Note: The darker your natural hair is the longer you’ll have to wait for the natural dye to take effect

Sage leaves can be used as a rinse to deepen any brunet and brown shades. It is also said to effectively cover gray or dark hair. A sage rinse can be made by steeping a handful of the dried herb in a quart of boiling water for 30 minutes (longer, if you want it darker). Cool and strain it and rinse it through freshly shampooed hair 10 or more times. Then wait 10 minutes before washing the liquid out with clear water. A sage rinse is considered a progressive dye so you should apply it weekly until you get the shade you want and then repeat monthly.

Tag alder bark is another popular hair darkening remedy but it produces a lighter tone than sage, so it works to darken blond hair or to cover gray in hair colors that are light to medium brown. To make a tag alder rinse, simmer one ounce of bark chips in a quart of water for about 30 minutes, then cool and use it as the rinse described above.

You will want to experiment with these different possibilities and come up with the one that is just right for you. You will feel healthier knowing what you are putting on your hair and scalp and keep more of your hard earned money to top it off.

Recommended Reading: Going Gray: How to Embrace Your Authentic Self with Grace and Style

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Mielke H, et al. “Lead-based hair products: too hazardous for household use.” Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association. 1997;85-89.