What are the best options for a natural hair dye that actually works?

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Answered by: Juliette, An Expert in the Healthy Living 101 Category
Permanently changing hair hue requires major chemical power, so it can be hard to find a truly natural hair dye. Most synthetic dyes contain chemicals like p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) made from coal tar, ammonia that can irritate the skin and lungs, and hydrogen peroxide that can not only harm skin but also damages hair over time. But not to worry, more and more companies and salons are making an effort to use more natural hair dyes that are safer for you and the planet. Here's a few natural options for coloring your hair at home:

For blonde hair: Old hair-bleaching standbys like lemon juice and chamomile tea can lighten your natural color. You can use straight lemon juice or dilute it with one part water to three parts juice, or steep one part tea to two parts water for at least 20 minutes. Put some in a spray bottle, and spritz onto dry hair in the mornings to let sunlight speed up the process. Results can take a few days or even weeks, so be patient and persistent. Your lighter shade should remain until hair starts growing out.

For red hair: If you like your head red, you’re in luck: Henna, a tropical plant and the only 100 percent natural hair dye available, creates bold auburn or reddish-brown locks. But be wary of henna-based products promising other hues—they’re not the real deal. Any other color of henna has likely been modified with metallic salts, which coat and damage your hair. If you do use henna made from metallic salts, avoid other dyes: The salts can mix with the ammonia and yield unwanted colors, like seaweed green.

Try Lush Caca Hair Henna, which comes in four colors, from reddish-brown to dark burgundy. Cocoa butter, rosemary, and clove soften henna’s earthy smell.

For covering up gray: Coloring gray without chemicals can be challenging for several reasons. First, because gray hair has no natural melanin, heavy saturations of dye are needed to make color look natural. Second, some stylists say gray hairs’ cuticles are tougher or more “slippery” than those of brown, blond, or red hairs, so natural hair dye doesn’t adhere to gray shafts as well.

If you have less than 20 percent gray, try 100 percent natural Aubrey Organics Color Me Natural in dark brown or mahogany. Need more coverage? Light Mountain Color the Gray uses a two-step process that coats the hair first to help color adhere to each strand.

Hair dyed with natural hair dye needs extra TLC to stay healthy and hold color. The less frequently you shampoo and apply heat (like with blow-dryers), the longer your shade should last. Seal in color with John Masters Herbal Cider Clarifier & Color Sealer. Apple cider sets color by restoring hair to its natural pH, which is altered during the dyeing process. It will also help strip any styling-product residue, which tends to build up over time.

Don't want do-it-yourself natural hair dye? Look for a salon that uses dyes with low-PPD, and consider getting lowlights or highlights.

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