These days, it’s fairly common to see all kinds of hair colours when walking around the streets: black, bleach blonde, pink, purple and everything in between.
Dying one’s hair has become a common way to make a fashion statement, as well as disguising grey hairs—one of the most obvious visual signs of aging.
But not many of us stop to consider the potential health hazards of applying harsh chemicals to our scalp and hair on a regular basis.
In truth, conventional hair dyes contain a host of potentially harmful and harsh chemicals that not only damage your hair but may pose serious health risks with prolonged use.
Some potentially harmful ingredients commonly found in hair dye include:
- Ammonia: Can burn the skin and when the fumes are inhaled it can cause lung irritation, resulting in respiratory problems.
- Coal tar: This common hair dye ingredient contains carcinogenic compounds, though no link to cancer has been established (source).
- Formaldehyde and DMDM Hydantoin: Exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to cancer, though more research is needed (source). It can also irritate the eyes and respiratory tract (source). DMDM Hydantoin is a preservative that releases small amounts of formaldehyde gradually, so it can have similar irritant effects to pure formaldehyde. It is restricted for cosmetic use in Japan.
- Resorcinol: This antiseptic chemical can irritate the skin and eyes, and could possibly disrupt the endocrine system (source).
- PPD (paraphenylenediamine): PPD is a chemical used in permanent hair dyes to fix the colouring onto the hair shaft.
PPDs can cause sudden allergic reactions, even after previous use; people who have developed a PPD allergy will not be able to use any permanent dye, with the possible exception of Daniel Fields’ Water Colour, discussed later in this article.
- Parabens: Parabens are a type of preservative used in many cosmetics products to extend their shelf life. Parabens mimic the behaviour of oestrogen, and have been linked to breast cancer, though more research is needed.
Just because most hair dyes are full of toxic ingredients doesn’t mean that you are destined to show off your silver hair; there are plenty of safe and natural alternatives with fewer, or in some cases, no harsh chemical ingredients.
Check out our top picks for dyes to cover greys below.
Please note, by “chemical free” we mean that a product contains no harmful artificial chemicals.
The “chemical free” label is actually a bit of a misnomer, as in scientific terms every substance contains chemicals (water is a chemical compound, for example).
Best Chemical-Free Hair Dyes for Grey Hair (UK 2019)
It’s Pure Organics hair dye is a natural alternative for anyone who wants to avoid chemical hair dyes of any kind.
It’s free from harmful chemical ingredients and is made completely of organic aryuvedic powders from plants including indigo, henna, cassia and amla (Indian gooseberry).
The ingredients are 100% natural and organic, and indeed this is the first herbal hair dye to be certified as organic by the Soil Association. It is a fully plant-based recipe that is vegan and cruelty-free, with no artificial ingredients.
The two main components are indigo and henna, two traditional dying products that work together in order to naturally colour grey hair in a range of shades from reddish brown to brown to black, depending on your original hair colour.
It can’t lighten your hair, and the darker your original hair colour, the darker your results will be after applying this product.
Grey hairs are likely to come out a lighter shade than any dark hairs you may have, so that you may not have a uniform colour after using the product, but rather highlights may show up in a lighter shade of brown or red.
This dye is also available in nine different shades, ranging from Golden Blonde to Indigo Black.
Different hair types can react differently to henna dyes. While some people find it conditions and leaves their hair with enhanced shine and volume, others find that it can be very drying.
Using a deep conditioner after using the product can help with the drying effects that some people experience.
When purchasing this product, you get 100 grams of powder, which should be enough to coat shoulder length hair of average thickness, and also included are instructions, a cap ad latex gloves to help manage mess.
To use, simply mix with water and leave on your hair for one to three hours, depending on how dark you want the results.
2. Davis Finest Henna Powder Hair Colour Dye
Davis Finest sell a series of hair and skincare products as well as sachets of pure herb and plant powders.
Here we have 100% henna powder that has traditionally been used over the ages to stain the hair and skin.
David Finest henna powder is a high-grade, triple-sifted quality that has been finely ground, making it easy to wash from the hair but which may require additional mixing to form a paste when combined with water. According to Davis Finest, their henna was gown in India, on certified organic fields.
Henna is a great chemical-free hair dye that will give your hair a brown-reddish tint, depending on your original hair colour. Grey hairs usually come out a coppery orange colour.
If these aren’t the shades you want, henna can be combined with other natural hair dyes in a two-stage process to achieve a different hue.
For example, you can follow up a henna treatment with a treatment of indigo, a natural plant dye at that darkens hair; when used in conjunction with henna, indigo should give you a brown hair colour.
Alternatively, mixing hibiscus powder with henna can result in more of a burgundy red shade, as opposed to an orangey one. Indigo and other plant powders can be purchased separately from Davis finest, as well.
Henna is suitable for all hair types, although people who experience dryness should consider using a deep conditioner if needed after use. Henna will relax the hair and may loosen curls. It is also suitable for vegans.
3. Naturtint Permanent 2N Brown Black
The Naturtint Permanent hair dye is a halfway step between conventional chemical dyes and more natural dyes. Unlike natural plant pigments that will fade after a while, this is a permanent dye that will provide long-lasting colour and 100% coverage of greys.
Like all permanent hair dyes, it does contain certain chemicals required to fix the colour to the hair, most notably PPD.
PPD is a known allergen that can trigger sudden irritation, even after years or previous use, so it’s important to do a skin patch test 48 hours before every use of this product.
According to Naturtint, they us the minimum amount of PPD required to achieve the desired shade, well below European Union regulated limits.
While the ingredients list of this hair dye is not free from synthetic chemicals, it is doesn’t contain some of the most harmful substances often found in hair dyes, such as ammonia, resorcinol and parabens.
Natural oils have been incorporated for conditioning effects, including oils of rosemary, eucalyptus, linseed, sunflower and meadowfoam seed.
This dye can lighten hair by up to two shades, and there are 30 shades to choose from, from Light Dawn Blonde all the way through to Ebony Black.
It is manufactured in Madrid according to E.U. standards and is suitable for vegans. As a bonus, a sachet of anti-aging leave-in treatment is included, to be used at the end of the colouring process.
4. Indus Valley Bio Organic Henna Hair Dye Medium Brown
This medium brown henna hair dye can be used to effectively cover up grey hairs. It’s completely natural and is approved by the organic certification bodies ECOCERT and USDA.
As well as dying your hair, Indus Valley’s Bio Organic hair dye is designed to condition your hair, increase shine and reduce scalp itching thanks to its antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
This product comes as a powder which you need to add water to. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to apply it, though you will probably need to reapply it after a few weeks as the colour fades quite quickly.
As well as this medium brown colour, you can also get Bio Organic hair dye in a number of different shades including Burgundy, Copper, Light Brown, Dark Brown and Blonde. See the full selection on their website here.
Indus Valley are a British brand based in West Bromwich. Their hair dyes are designed to be as gentle and safe as possible, and are completely free from PPD, ammonia, peroxide, parabens and heavy metals. All of their ingredients come from plants.
5. Daniel Field Advanced Formula Water Colour
Daniel Field is a hairdresser who got his start making and selling herbal hair treatments as a teenager. He now presents his Advanced Formula Water Colour hair dye for semi-permanent to permanent coverage.
It doesn’t contain any harsh ingredients such as bleaching agents, parabens, alcohol, ammonia, perfumes, fragrances or PPD, making it a great option for sensitive scalps and people with PPD allergies.
While generally all permanent dyes require the ingredient PPD to fix pigment into the hair shaft, Daniel Field claims to have formulated the world’s first long lasting, natural hair colour that doesn’t contain it.
As a gentle formula, this dye is suitable for people who have been through chemotherapy. However, the range can only add colour to hair, and not lighten it.
The colours also turn out darker than other brands, so you may want to choose a colour that is a shade or two lighter than what you are aiming for.
The dye can be used as either a semi, demi or permanent colour, depending on how you choose to apply it.
For a semi-permanent colour that lasts up to six washes, apply to damp hair, although this will not cover greys.
A demi-permanent colour can be achieved by applying to well towel dried hair, which will cover 50% of greys and last for up to 21 washed. Apply to dry hair for a permanent colour that should cover grey hairs.
Daniel Fields is a trained hairdresser who studied in his own time with an organic chemist to learn how to make natural and harmless hair products.
In 1989 he released his natural hair dye, Water Colour, which was “ the world’s first non-ammonia, non-peroxide permanent colour for grey hair” according to his website.
Water Colour products are vegan and cruelty-free, and Daniel Fields himself co-founded the Ark Environmental Foundation.
What Is Henna?
You may have noticed that several of the natural hair dyes reviewed here use henna to dye hair.
Henna is a dye that comes from the plant Lawsonia inermis, which has been used in India for centuries to create temporary body art and dye the hair.
Henna is often sold as a powder which has to be mixed with a liquid before it can be used.
Natural henna gives the hair a red colour. You can also get “black henna”, which can contain PPD and can cause allergic reactions.
Natural henna is safe to use, and won’t damage the hair. However, it is a permanent dye, so the only way to get rid of the colour is to grow out your hair or apply another dye over the top of it.
Making Your Own Natural Hair Dye at Home
Commercial dyes haven’t always existed and for thousands of years people have made their own natural hair colour using herbs and other plants.
Buying dyes every few weeks can get expensive quickly and you may wish for a more gradual colouring effect for a less sudden transition.
Making your own hair dye can also be fun for DIY and natural beauty enthusiasts, so let’s check out some options for 100% natural, homemade hair colouring:
- Coffee: A strong brew of coffee will darken the hair and cover greys.
- Tea: As with coffee, a very strong tea brew will darken the hair.
- Honey and cinnamon: Honey and cinnamon both contain natural hydrogen peroxide, so a mixture of the two will effectively lighten the hair.
- Lemon juice: To lighten your hair or bring out some highlights, apply a lemon juice solution and sit in the sun until it dries. As an acid, lemon juice may dry out your hair, so don’t do this more than once or twice a week.
- Walnut shells: An infusion of crushed walnut shells gives a dark brown shade.
- Vegetables: Beetroot, tomato and carrot juice can all be used to dye the hair a reddish colour. Beetroot will give a darker red, while carrot will, of course, give an orangey hue.
- Herbs: Infuse these herbs and flowers in hot water and leave to cool before applying to hair.
- Chamomile/calendula/marigold: These golden herbs will lighten the hair.
- Hibiscus: Bright red petals of the hibiscus flower will give the hair a reddish tint.
- Rosemary/nettle/sage: These herbs darken the hair. Rosemary in particular is associated with healthy hair growth, while sage helps to open the hair follicles which may make them more receptive to absorbing dye.
Note that these DIY hair dyes will not result in an instant, dramatic change to your hair colour. The effects are subtle and it may take several, regular applications before you start to notice a difference.
These natural hair dyes are often referred to as “vegetable hair dyes” as they use plants often used to prepare food.
When choosing your hair dye, think about your level of skin sensitivity, what shade you want, how much coverage you are looking for and what level of convenience you need — do you want a permanent colour or one that requires regular application?
The first few grey hairs you discover can often trigger a real feeling of despair as one of the first major signs of aging. But there’s really no reason to let grey hair get you down anymore – major celebrities like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep have gone au naturel, proving that grey hair can be both fashionable and glamorous.
If you still feel the urge to cover your greys, there are plenty of healthier options that range from pre-packaged permanent dyes all the way to henna and completely herbal tints.
If we had to pick just one product to recommend it would be It’s Pure Organics Herbal Hair Colour as it’s completely natural and organic and is the first hair dye to be Certified Organic by the Soil Association.
Naturaler is a UK website full of tips and recommendations for living a more eco-friendly, chemical-free and natural lifestyle.