At a glance
Traditional hair dyes use hydrogen peroxide to lift existing color out of the hair, ammonia to change the hair’s pH and open the hair shaft to allow dye to penetrate, and an oxidation dye, usually containing resorcinol and p-phenylenediamine (PPD), to color the hair permanently.
Natural hair dyes, on the other hand, are continually evolving. Companies are using more herbal extracts and plant-based dyes, along with lower amounts of the traditional chemicals. Plant-based dyes contain smaller molecules that don’t require a large opening in the hair shaft, and therefore need less ammonia. Though it’s hard to create a permanent dye without resorcinol and PPD (which have been known to cause allergic reactions in users), some companies are experimenting with mineral salts, which fix the plant dyes on a more permanent basis.
Ingredients to look for
Spotlight on: Advanced Cosmetic Technologies
The natural hair-dye industry has long been looking for a way to permanently color hair without chemicals. Enter Advanced Cosmetic Technologies of New York City, whose new line of products are PPD-, resorcinol- and ammonia-free, using a patent-pending technology to permanently color hair. The secret? Plant breeding, according to Jeff Greaves, company president.
“In the past, the limitation of natural colors was that they weren't intense enough and didn't bind to the hair,” Greaves says. “Through selective breeding, we've concentrated the dyes to the point where they're economical.” The company uses more than 40 botanicals for its color range, including alfalfa, saffron, turmeric and indigo.
“We've improved an ancient technology,” Greaves says. “You don't have to worry about known allergens and suspected carcinogens, and you still get a product that lasts 40 washes.”
Hair to dye for
Natural dyes to try
Shikai Color Reflect Shampoo: Shikai uses its concentrated sunflower extract, in addition to aloe, chamomile and jojoba, to naturally boost hair’s natural color. Shampoos come in four color options, with no dyes or coloring agents.
Tints of Nature Permanent Hair Colors: Organic aloe, comfrey and citrus extracts, along with wheat protein, are combined with a nontoxic resorcinol ingredient to provide lasting color in 24 shades.
Coastal Classic Creations Organic Henna Hair Dye: These henna-based dyes are PPD-free, and come in eight different organic shades that last up to eight weeks.
Herbatint Natural Hair Color: Herbatint’s plant-based dyes use lower amounts of PPD, resorcinol and ammonia, and add herbal extracts like black walnut and Chinese rhubarb to create lasting color.
Advanced Cosmetic Technologies Permanent Hair Coloring Kit: This kit is PPD-, resorcinol- and ammonia-free, and uses vegetarian, plant-based dyes to permanently fix color. Also available: color protecting shampoo and conditioner, and semi-permanent tinting kits.