Whether you're using hair dye to touch up some gray at the temples or to change blonde to a vibrant blue, you have to face a common concern.
Most hair dyes are harsh by nature. They have to penetrate the hair to give it color that won't fade, but chemicals necessary to do it can burn out your hair. Stripping natural oils and the protective coating on the outside of the hair is just one problem. Bleaching darker hair to better take dye is even worse. It all leaves hair looking thin and lifeless.
Luckily, advancements in organic technology over the years – and some looking to the past for pre-technological inspiration – have led to a range of dyes that are much better for your hair.
Any chemical treatment, of course, has the potential to damage your hair. That's why it's always a good idea to experiment and find a dye that works for you.
It's also worth noting here that many of these dyes are either going to be temporary, or will fade more quickly than more synthetic dyes. They're less invasive and damaging to the hair, but that means they sacrifice longevity. They're not as bad as some of the older dyes that would fade out in a matter of days or weeks, but they aren't going to remain bright and vibrant for months one way or the other.
That said, everyone has different hair. One dye might work well for someone else but seem to slide right off your hair. A dye that works for you might not be the best choice for your bestie. That's why it's important to experiment! Try different dyes until you find one that works for you.
First up, let's talk about natural dyes. Natural dyes have been used for centuries or millennia to tint hair. They're typically subtle or natural in color, though they can be vibrant on occasion. The primary benefit is the wholly organic and beneficial list of ingredients, many of which you can make at home. Unfortunately, outside of specific circumstances, you won't be getting extreme hair color changes. These more often work to enhance natural color or darken hair.
Henna is a traditional hair dye made from a plant. The leaves of the plant are harvested and ground up into a powder, which is then used as a pigment for everything from body art to hair dye. It has a very long tradition stemming from at least ancient Egypt over 3,500 years ago. Needless to say, it doesn't contain modern synthetic chemicals unless you get an overly-produced, commercialized version.
Henna hair dye is tricky to use because it's a very permanent dye. It stains skin and hair in equal measure, so you need to protect your hands while you're applying it, as well as your scalp, ears, and face. It can take 2-3 hours or more to fully set in, but once it's set in, it's there for good.
Indigo is another natural ingredient that has been used as a dye for centuries. It's a natural blue extracted from plants, similar to the blue of denim. As a hair dye, it can be difficult to use on its own, so many people combine it with Henna as a base.
We recommend using caution when looking at indigo hair coloring products. Indigo the color and indigo the substance share a name, so you may find a lot of "indigo" hair dyes that are synthetic blues, rather than natural. Luckily, most places that sell Henna will also sell Indigo to go along with it.
Turmeric is a kitchen spice, and it has been given near-mythical levels of benefits for everything from natural healing to coloring. Used as a hair dye, it is best used on lighter hair to give you more of a golden blonde color. You know turmeric as a characteristically bright yellow; that's the kind of color you're applying, when filtered through the natural color of your hair.
Using turmeric as a hair dye is pretty easy. Just mix up a quarter cup of the spice in two cups of boiling water and stir until dissolved. Allow it to cool completely and apply like any other dye. Let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing out.
4. Lemon Juice
Lemon juice doesn't have a ton of color itself, and you know it's an acid, which can eat away at the natural oils in your hair. So why is it on this list?
Lemon juice's natural acidity isn't enough to really damage hair, nowhere near to the degree of ammonia or other synthetic compounds. What it does is it absorbs into the cortex of your hair and essentially chemically attacks the melanin in the hair. This alone doesn't do a ton, but it mixes with the sun's UV rays to further lighten hair. You can use this to brighten your whole head, add highlights, or even use as a subtle replacement for bleach before applying a darker color with another natural dye.
5. Beet Juice
Beets are a pretty healthy vegetable, and they have a very distinctive, vibrantly red-purple color. When eaten, their variety of vitamins and nutrients are beneficial to the hair, but that won't change hair color.
Beet juice, on the other hand, makes a potent if temporary dye. If you already have darker hair, beets can give it an even darker tint with a hint of red. For lighter hair, they can make your hair quite red or even almost purple.
It's easy enough to make up a beet-based hair coloring at home. Blend beets into a puree and add them to a shampoo you already use. This will turn your shampoo into a dying agent and allow you to apply and re-apply the red every time you shower.
The five dye options listed here are all some degree of temporary. Some of them last only a few days, or even just a single day, though they may impart some lingering color to hair if they're left in place long enough. Others might last weeks, but they aren't meant to be permanent dyes. That's fine, though; sometimes changing up your colors every few weeks is fun!
6. Hair Chalks
Hair chalks run a wide range of quality, from chalk-infused combs meant for children to use to add colored highlights, to professional-grade color applicators meant for costumes and cosplays.
Since hair chalk is basically just that – a chalk – it's extremely temporary. Most chalks wash out the first time you wash your hair, and at most will leave a ghostly pale version of the color in lighter-colored hair. Thankfully, it's easy to apply and reapply in minutes each time you want to refresh the hair color, or even change colors. Plus, since it's a topical chalk, it doesn't damage hair in any way.
7. Eye Shadow
As a staple of the makeup bag, eye shadow is already something many of you have on hand. It can be used on hair just as well as on eyes, and since it's a topical color, it can even be vibrant as a highlight in dark colored hair. Different eye shadows work differently, so look around to find one that works best with your hair to produce the highlights you want.
Eye shadow is quick and easy to apply, but expensive if you want to dye your whole head of hair. As such, it's best used for highlights and tips. We recommend using gloves as well, just to save your fingertips the indignity of their own coloration.
Colorizing conditioners are conditioners that have pigments in them. Normally, they're used to keep hair dyes fresher for longer; by reapplying a color each time you wash your hair, you help minimize how much a dye fades. As such, you can use a conditioner to match with any of the other dyes on this list to help keep your hair looking bright and vibrant.
There are a ton of different brands selling coloring conditioners, so be sure to look at the ingredients. Organic conditioners are the safest for your hair, but to be honest here, all conditioners are going to be mostly fine; it's the shampoo beforehand you need to worry about.
9. Poser Paste
A specific product from Good Dye Young, Poser Paste is basically a longer-lived version of hair chalk. It's a temporary "hair makeup" that can be used on the whole head or just for highlights, streaks, and tips. It's less prone to color transfer, it's easy to remove when you want it gone, and it's made with natural ingredients that aren't just safe for your hair, they're beneficial. They enhance natural oils and help protect your hair from sun damage.
10. Unicorn Hair
Some people use the term unicorn hair to refer to any bright, vibrant, non-natural hair colors, like greens and purples. In this case, we're referring to a specific line of organic products from Lime Crime. They have a range of products that work well with one another, including full covered hair colors, coloring conditioners to help keep the color in place, and color sprays for more precise application. They have a ton of different color options available, so give their lineup a look.
Finally, this selection of dye brands are popular choices for organic coloring. Organic dyes strive to avoid harsh chemicals like ammonia that strip hair of its natural protective layers. These dyes might not be quite as resilient or as permanent as boxed synthetic dyes, but they're much better for your hair, your scalp, and the environment. Give them a try!
Herbatint is a brand of all-natural hair coloring products that specifically contain a range of herbal extracts aimed at helping your hair stay healthy and resilient. Including aloe vera, witch hazel, and walnut, they help strengthen hair and keep colors vibrant.
They have 36 different shades to choose from, though they're almost all variations on natural colors, straying somewhat into purple-reds at the more outlandish end. Sorry, no bright greens here.
Naturtint is another more permanent hair dye made from natural ingredients. All of their colors come from plant extracts, and they're intentionally free of ammonia, resorcinol, and other nasty chemicals you often find in synthetic dyes.
Much like Herbatint, Naturtint has a small range of natural colors. Their color selection is mostly meant to tone up or tone down your natural colors, add some highlights, or hide gray hairs. You're not going to be finding unnatural colors here, and the dyes aren't going to significantly brighten darker hair without some level of pre-treatment first.
If we told you that this hair dye brand was made entirely of plant-based ingredients that are healthy for the hair and scalp, and that it contains no ammonia or other synthetic ingredients, and that it offers a range of natural hair colors, would you be surprised?
They have the same basic range of colors as the other natural brands. Light Mountain Natural makes use of Henna and Indigo for colors fairly heavily, and have a range of dilutions and formulas to add specific levels of color to different natural hair. Check out their color chart and see if anything looks good to you.
14. Manic Panic
Manic Panic is a hair makeup brand that started in 1977, and has expanded dramatically in the last few decades. They're focused on cruelty-free, all-organic, vegan formulas for hair coloring. Unlike other organic hair dyes, however, they have a huge range of different colors in semi-permanent formulas. You can get your usual browns and reds, but you can also get brilliant blues, emerald greens, luxurious pinks, and more.
15. Madison Reed
Perhaps one of the most recognized brands for hair coloring on this list, Madison Reed offers both long-term and touch-up hair coloring completely free of harsh ingredients. No ammonia, no parabens, no titanium dioxide, nothing. Instead, they base their formula on ginseng, keratin, and argan oil. As with most other long-term dyes, they only really offer a range of natural colors, but they're very robust color ranges and they provide a lot of depth.
What about you? What's your favorite organic hair dye formula? Let us know.