Whether it’s to cover up gray hairs, give depth to natural hair color, or experiment with a fun new look, coloring hair is an easy way to change up your look. But it’s not without its pitfalls. Constantly subjecting hair to hair-coloring treatments not only damages hair and but can also expose you to harmful chemicals. So, what’s a girl to do?

natural hair color healthy options

Toxic for Your Tresses

Instead of reaching for those harsh artificial hair colors, you can give natural hair color a shot. This means avoiding harmful chemicals and irritants that are often present in commercially available hair dyes like PPDs (p-Phenylenediamine), resorcinol, ammonia, parabens, phthalates, and gluten. These artificial hair dye ingredients have been linked to some health issues—resorcinol, for example, has been linked to endocrine disruption, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Natural Options

Natural hair dye is much gentler on your tresses and scalp, and can give your hair a subtler makeover. Here are some natural hair dyes you can consider:

1 Henna. Used since ancient times in such places as the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, henna comes from the leaves of a plant called laswonia inermis. This plant-based dye is free of those unpleasant chemical smells and doesn’t give you the burning sensation on your scalp. It coats hair and even strengthens and conditions it, making it thicker, smoother, and silkier.

Bonus: Unlike conventional artificial hair dyes, this natural hair color fades gradually, which means it looks more natural than artificial hair dyes over time.

How to use it: Henna is made by taking the leaves of the plant, drying them, and grounding them into a powder. The resulting powder is then mixed with water and sometimes lemon, and applied to hair to give it a red tint. Henna is sometimes mixed with Cassia obovate and indigo to produce other shades like brown and black.

Nowadays, henna is available in powder and cream form. The depth and intensity of the color depends on your natural hair color and the duration of the application—anywhere from a few hours to half a day.

Take note: Using henna can be a messy business. It can stain everything, so make sure you use gloves when applying, wear an old t-shirt or anything you wouldn’t mind getting stained, and cover your bathroom floor with newspapers. Apply petroleum jelly on your forehead, neck, around your face, and behind your skin to keep the color from getting on your skin. (It’s used for temporary tattoos after all.)

Unlike boxed hair color, the effect of all-natural henna on your hair can be unpredictable. And if you’re unhappy with the result, you may not be able to correct it for some time as it coats your hair and keeps other colors from penetrating your strands.

2. Sage. This herb can darken hair and is great for covering up gray hairs.

How to use it: Boil two cups of water and about half a cup of dried sage leaves. Let it steep—the longer you leave it, the darker it will be. Wash and towel-dry hair then pour the sage infusion onto hair. Let it soak, at least 15 minutes, before rinsing.

Take note: Sage can stain like henna so you may want to use and old towel and t-shirt.

3. Lemon. This citrus fruit can be used to give hair some highlights, giving it more depth. It’s more effective on blonde hair but even darker hair can benefit from this zesty fruit.

How to use it: Using a spray bottle, spray lemon juice onto hair. Run a comb through your hair to distribute the juice throughout your mane then sit under the sun. Rinse out after an hour.

Take note: It may take several sessions to get a noticeable effect, especially if you have dark hair. Coloring with lemon juice can also dry out your hair so be sure to deep condition. Also keep in mind that lemon juice has a permanent effect on the color of your hair—it doesn’t fade like other natural hair dyes.

4. Commercially available natural hair dyes. More conscientious companies are now producing hair dyes that are “six-free” or those free of the six chemicals that are harmful to hair. Commercially available natural hair dyes can give you the color you desire without the disadvantages. The mild hair colors by Tints of Nature, for example, harness the power of natural ingredients and are vegan-friendly and cruelty-free. You can find a range of the brand’s hair color and hair care products at Healthy Options.

How to use it: Commercially produced natural hair dyes typically come with instructions. The process is similar to other types of hair color: Shampoo, apply, rinse, condition.

Take note: You should still do a skin test and a hair strand test before committing to a product. Even the most natural hair colors can cause a reaction if you’re allergic to the base ingredients.

Once you achieve your desired color through natural means, you can keep it from fading fast by staying away from heat. Avoid hot showers (and only wash hair when necessary) and hot styling tools like hair dryers, straightening irons, and curling irons. If you must use these tools, make sure you use a product to protect your hair from heat beforehand.