The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that over 5,000 different chemicals are used in hair dye products, some of which are reported to be carcinogenic in animals. Though manufacturers have improved dye products to eliminate some of the more dangerous chemicals that were used in the 1970s, most still contain things like:
- Quaternium-15, which can release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen);
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which may be hormone disruptors;
- Phenylenediamine (PPD), which is a skin and respiratory irritant and has been classified in the European Union as toxic and dangerous to the environment.
The NCI notes that some studies have found that hairdressers and barbers are at an increased risk of bladder cancer, potentially because of coloring chemicals. Other studies have found personal use of hair dyes could potentially increase the risk of leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but results have been mixed.
When we review the research, we can see that we don’t have enough studies yet to know how coloring our hair maybe 6-10 times a year really affects our health.
These are herbs will create natural hues on your hair. They will not create artificial colors like hot pink, platinum blonde, or jet black. The blonde/light recipes will actually permanently lighten hair since they naturally bleach it but the red and dark hues will leave a temporary tint for a few weeks (depending on how often you wash it). The sun will help set all the hues. Add black tea to the darker colors above to help the color last longer. Catnip works for lighter colors. Always test on a small part of hair before using on the whole head, especially on chemically treated hair.
If you want faster and more permanent results, you can use a Henna Hair Color. A variety of tones exist in reds, browns, and black. The results last for several months (or longer if you wash your hair less often). Henna won’t completely cover gray hair, but will darken it. Don’t use henna on chemically treated hair!
These are for natural hair, please be very careful when trying on dyed/chemically treated hair, as herbs may react with the chemicals used in those treatments! With any of these herbal hair colors, make sure to test on a small part of your hair first. Henna especially interacts with conventional hair dyes and perms etc, this can result in losing your hair, so be very careful!
Herbs for Golden Tones: Calendula, Chamomile, Lemon, Sunflower petals.
Some examples of herbal variations include:
– Pure, strong Chamomile Tea (brewed with 1/2 cup herbs per 2 cups water) and sprayed or poured on hair and left on for several hours. Sitting in the sun during this time will enhance the lightening effect.
– Fresh squeezed lemon juice, sprayed and brushed through hair and left on for several hours (in the sun) will also produce natural highlights.
– A chamomile tea rinse at the end of each shower (leave in hair!) will produce smooth, silky hair and naturally lighter hair over time.
For a stronger and faster effect, try the following recipe.
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 cups of strong chamomile tea
- 1/2 cup strong calendula tea (optional, for more golden tones)
- Mix all ingredients in a spray bottle or other small bottle.
- Shake well before each use.
- Spray or pour into hair and brush through to get even.
This works best when applied to hair directly before sun exposure and left in for 1-2 hours before being rinsed out. Can be used several times a week until desired color is reached. You can also use this as a rinse at the end of a shower (and then lightly rinse with water) though it will take longer.
Herbs for Red Tones: Calendula, Henna, Hibiscus flowers, Marigold petals, Red Clover flowers, Rosehips, Red Rose petals.
These will create a red/dark strawberry blonde tint in lighter hair and an auburn tint in darker hair. The effects are cumulative, so extended use over time will create a more vibrant red.
The easiest thing is to make a rinse as part of your hair care routine if you want continual red hair. Here is an example recipe.
- 2 cups of water
- 1/2 Cup of Calendula flowers or fresh marigold petals
- 2 tbs of hibiscus petals (more for stronger red hues)
- Simmer the water with the calendula/marigold and hibiscus for at leas half an hour.
- Strain off flowers and store liquid in fridge.
- Use as a final rinse at the end of your shower
- Dry your hair in the sun if possible
- Repeat daily till desired effect is achieved, then every few days to maintain.
Herbs for Brown Tones: Rosemary, nettle, and sage
It is easiest to darken hair that is already light brown or darker, though these will darken even blonde tones. Used as a rinse, these will also darken grey hair over time. The more they are used, the darker the results. For a gentle tone, try this recipe.
- 1/4 cup nettle leaf
- 1/4 cup rosemary leaf
- 1/4 cup sage leaf
- 2.5 cups of water
- Simmer the herbs with water for at least 30 mins (or until the water is very dark).
- Remove from heat and allow to cool, then strain the herbs out from the liquid.
- Store the liquid in the fridge.
- Spray on or brush into hair either:
- approximately an hour before showering, then shampoo as usual.
- as a rinse at the end of your shower.
- Repeat until the desired effect is reached. The cumulative effect is gradual so you probably won’t notice it for the first few days at least.
As a bonus, the herbs in this mix are great for reducing dandruff and increasing hair growth.
Dark Browns to Blacks
Herbs for Dark Tones: Black Tea, Black Walnut hulls (crushed or chopped), Comfrey root, Nettle, Rosemary, Sage.
If you have very light hair, it will be difficult to get really dark hues with just herbs, though with enough patience, it can be done. I’ve listed herbs that work, and you can use any combination. As always, test on a small section of hair before using. If you want to go dark gradually, you can try one of these recipes.
Dark Browning/Blacking wash
- 1/4 cup of black walnut powder
- 3 cups of water
- Place the black walnut powder in a cheesecloth bag and steep it in the water for at least 6 hours (or overnight).
- Use as a rinse and dry in the sun if possible
- Repeat as needed to darken and maintain.
This rinse can create very dark hair especially if you have dry hair; it also provides the darkest coverage for gray hair.
Brew a strong black tea and use it as a final rinse. Repeat as necessary and sun dry if possible.
This is nourishing for the hair and can provide temporary darkening effects on most hair types.