Photo: Does eco-friendly hair dye exist?

Yes. There is such a thing as eco-friendly hair dye! (Credit: DesolationSmile via Flickr)

Whenever I see that guilty look on the faces of friends or coworkers, I know they've purchased makeup containing Dirty Dozen ingredients or they're about to have their hair dyed.

Jen, owner of Clover Earthkind Hair Salon filled me in on eco-friendly colours. (They do exist!)

What hair dye chemicals should be avoided?

Avoid ammonia, petrochemicals, sulfates, phthalates, parabens and P-phenylenediamine.

It's difficult to find permanent colours that are free of PPD. PPD-free products can use aminophenols, but if you're allergic or sensitive to PPD you may also be sensitive to those, too. Find a hairdresser educated in the prefixes of these chemicals!

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What's in eco-friendly hair dyes?

Many are henna or vegetable-based (from roots and fruits), others are oil-based. Some are paired with hydrogen peroxide to help the colour last longer.

Many hennas won't disclose ingredients, but labels may list aslawsonia inermis leaf, indigoferae tinctoria leaf, walnut, or pure indigo. So-called "black henna" may be derived from indigo (from the plant indogoferae tinctoria), but may also contain PPD. Those sensitive to PPD should avoid black hennas.

Most vegetable-based colours are called "stains"—they coat the hair but aren't absorbed below the cuticle of the hair shaft. Ingredients will be similar to henna but may contain dispersed inks (like pigments used in tattoos).

How long do eco-friendly hair dyes last?

Colours with chemicals have longer staying power. Tints of Nature's ammonia and PPD/PTD Free Semi-Permanent hair colours rinse out a little with every shampoo and last between six to twelve washes. They also contain certified organic ingredients and are vegan and vegetarian friendly, gluten, GMO and cruelty free. A natural-based permanent is longer lasting than your standard, chemically loaded dye. Without harsh corrosives like ammonia, the hair cuticle remains intact—allowing for colour molecules to have a long and healthy life in your hair!

How expensive are eco-friendly hair dyes?

Health food store brands range from $10 to $20—some are 30 bucks for two ounces. Salon brands should be comparable in price to standard brands. But many salons charge 5-15 per cent for a "greener" colour.

Will eco-friendly hair dye cover greys?

Yes. But you need a small percentage of chemicals to have true permanent coverage. Most "natural" colours are grey-blending more than grey-covering.

Where can I get eco-friendly hair dye?

DIY-ers can try health food stores or organic grocers. If you like bright reds, violets or gold and have naturally lighter hair, lily stamens or belladonna flower, turmeric or even beet juice can do a wonderful job of tinting the hair and even refresh older highlights. Always wear gloves!

Aveda contains ammonia (a low percentage). Other professional brands claim to be "ammonia-free" but contain high levels of petrochemicals and ammonium hydroxide.

Before you book, ask the salon about the ingredients in the hair dyes they provide.

Have you switched to an eco-friendly hair salon?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

February 5, 2012

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Jun 17, 2016
5:13 AM

This is a great article, useful in the conversation with my daughter about hair dye. However

Dec 29, 2015
11:01 AM

well im suffering for 2 months from loreal hair color.eventhough i used it for 10 years i had a terrible reaction.ppd in that product is an allergan . so be aware of this the dark colors are worse because of ppd. loreal told me that the fda knows this and because it in so many products thet cant band it.tatoo artists were advised also .what it does is keep your color longer,and the color from be aware of this in any product if you get sick.eventually,i hope this itch goes away.also you should read about the pesticides in food you eat especially eggplant,cucumbers etc the pesticide in are foods say thats whats causng this breakout of cancer.we had it long ago in the 50s but,today its everyday someone has me lost part of my lung,told it was from smoking after so many years since im 16teen to 72 i smoked .no doctor is going to tell you its what your eating.when i looked at the list i told my sisters i have 6 and told them to be more aware of what they are doing.i hope this is posted because hair dyes are dangerous incliding beautiy palors.i just hope you all gone on line and ck what your veggies have on thm. tu dot

Sep 15, 2015
2:39 AM

I normally avoid hair dying. and if it is a must thing then I opt for ammonia free hair dye or henna.

hair building fibres

Aug 27, 2015
2:35 AM

Thank you for posting such an informative blog.

Aug 06, 2015
7:58 PM

Organic Colour Systems Professional colour is an option for people who want no resorcinol, no ammonia, no toxins, no toxic fragrances. Imported from the U.K.

Jul 03, 2015
2:38 PM

I work in a salon and we use Organic Colour Systems and recycle using Greencircle salons. OCS is extremely low in PPD (0.06%), no PTD, no resorcinol or toluenes, no ammonia and it will cover greys permanently. Any look you can get with traditional colours can be achieved! You can contact them to see where your nearest salon is.

I find it strange that the only brand they mention is Aveda, which is not natural at all, they just have a great marketing team. Too bad, there are so many brands I could mention that are better.

Jun 11, 2014
9:58 AM

I have been using body art quality henna (which is just the plant ground into a powder, as Alayne said) that I order online to dye my hair for over five years. I mix it with amla to maintain my curl, cassia to tone down the bright red, and sometimes indigo when I want to add black lowlights (I use foils). I have about 20% grey and the henna covers it, although it is very bright red. I apply henna to all of my hair about once a year, and only do root touchups once a month, because henna doesn’t fade that much and will layer (so your ends will be darker than your roots, if you repeatedly apply to all of your hair).

There is a lot of information online about recipes, common myths, etc. I’ve dyed my hair with conventional a number of times with no issues — from what I’ve read online, this is fine if you’re using body art quality henna.

Henna only comes in one colour, and that colour depends on your natural colour. You can mix it with other plants (like indigo) to achieve different colours, but it isn’t precise. You have to be comfortable with that.

I tried the Lush henna blocks in the past and they do not cover my grey.

Nov 29, 2013
9:11 AM

A few more brands or product names would have been HELPFUL.

Nov 26, 2013
1:18 PM

When I was pregnant with my second child I started using henna on my hair because I was getting a lot of white hair and I didn’t want to use chemicals. I have some east indian friends who advised me. There are a lot of pricey coloured hair hennas that you can buy, but real pure henna is just red, and used straight can be pretty bright. If you get a pack of it from the east indian grocer — like the kind used for body decor, it is much cheaper, and more pure. It is just the henna powder from the plant.

To darken pure henna, I soak it in strong coffee inside a cast iron container for a few hours prior to application. I then cover any exposed skin with Vaseline to keep it from changing colour. Using protective gloves, I comb in the henna around the face, making sure that it is applied as close to the roots as possible, then I work the rest through with my fingers. When it looks like a big muddy mess, piled on top of my head, I clip it together and put a bag over it to keep the mess contained. I then wait for 1.5 to 2 hours depending on how dark I want the colour. I rinse it out as much as possible. Use a bit of conditioner, but avoid the shampoo so that the colour is not rinsed away. When the water runs clear I stop. Do not shampoo for 24 hours. It gives it a nice deep auburn colour that brightens my face and blends in the white with lighter reddish highlights. I get a lot of compliments on it and it costs me no more than a dollar a month to do. I repeat this process every couple of months when it starts to fade and roots are beginning to show.

Be advised that once henna is used on the hair, other dyes cannot be used until all the color is removed. I’m stuck on it for now because it is economical, looks good and is healthier than the alternatives.

Apr 25, 2013
10:03 PM

pls give me a soap recipe. thanks

Apr 19, 2013
1:47 PM

I have been using Herbatint for years and it covers greys nicely. You can also mix colours (check out their charts) to get some really nice rich results. You can get it at your local health stores, or purchase it on-line for those of you in rural areas. Google it for more info and list of suppliers.

Mar 19, 2013
4:48 PM

Beet juice intrigues me. I’m due for a dye so maybe I’ll try this. I’d love it if it were a pinky-purple. I usually dye it purple.

Feb 25, 2012
10:58 AM

Sorry, but eco color is still a unicorn. I am not saying that no one out there has nice eco friendly hair color — I am just saying that most either started with nice hair that they just enhanced, or are kidding themselves on how nice it looks. Many over the counter hennas and health food store brands are not even truly eco friendly or toxic-free. They tend not to have 'stop processing' built in so they can ruin your color/texture. And good luck if you ever change your mind — you pretty much have to grow henna out due to the nature of how it sticks onto the hair.

I am pro harm reduction. Use a salon that has strict recycling/waste policies and you will find you will leave an even smaller footprint than if you bought an over the counter "echo" product. The last salon I worked at recycled almost everything and used 1/10 the amount of color due to precise application and measuring.

Feb 25, 2012
2:22 AM

Thank you for this post!

What worked best for me is going back to my natural haircolour.

The natural haircolour usually is much more beautiful and lively than you would expect (I had not seen mine for decades

Feb 24, 2012
9:57 PM

Would you be able to provide us with te brand names please?

Feb 24, 2012
6:52 PM

Would like to know if one used turmeric or beet juice in your hair, how long would the colour last? I am 50, i started colouring in my 20's . By age 40 , i had enough with mess, cost, time, stink , and what I knew could not be good for the environment. I cut my hair short and stopped colouring. I love my brown/ grey hair. It would be fun to add temporary colour, but certainly not neccesary. Embrace the greys, the wrinkles, etc. I still wear my Converses, and love live bands. I may be old , but i am not mature. 50 is only a number. Be proud of your age. It reflects another wonderful year spent with family, friends , nature. Celebrate!

Feb 24, 2012
3:01 PM

Hi, I have always wondered if additives in our foods contribute to the cancer that over runns our lives today as oppsed to 50 or 100 years ago?

Feb 24, 2012
1:10 PM

We carry Light Mountain Henna products at What's In Store ( and they do have a Cover Your Grey product that I have found is quite effective. I believe it to be the most natural one we could find. The process for using Henna does tend to be a bit longer than conventional dye, and it doesn't have a pretty scent, but it is an effective way to obtain lovely colour without subjecting yourself to nasty chemicals.

Feb 24, 2012
12:29 PM

It would be helpful to list brands that are "safe" and where they can be found, instead of just listing what to avoid.

Feb 21, 2012
7:09 AM

hey everybody! i just tried this new dye and i think it is way better than the regualar stuff!! thanks for telling me about this.

Feb 16, 2012
6:56 AM

Dear: David suzuki foundation. I have just finished reading your article on eco-friendly hair dye. I was very intersested in your opinoin and your ideas about hair dye. but i have a few questions for you. 1: Where do you get these products if you live in a small town.? 2:who has invented this product.? 3:what is more effective "eco-friendly hair dye" , or "regular hair dye".?

Feb 06, 2012
2:13 PM

Also, if you are a fan of red, a box of henna powder from an Indian Grocery only costs about $2!!!!! And is pure henna and doesn't contain any of the additives you have to worry about in boxed hair colours.

Feb 06, 2012
7:14 AM

Thanks, Lindsay! I have had my hair dyed with organic systems twice and I feel it is a better option than the typical chemical dyes. Also, the salon lets me take my hair to compost and reuses the foils. I wash them at home and bring them back!

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