For Natural Hair Color, Color Your Hair with Natural Dyes

If your hair color is looking a little tarnished, color your hair with one of these natural dyes, including chamomile, sage, henna shrub and black walnut hulls.

| March/April 1982


By experimenting with the formulas in this article, you’ll be well on your way to achieving just about any hair shade you’d like, without resorting to expensive, unsafe chemical dyes.


Lots of people occasionally have the urge to change or enhance their hair color, but are unwilling to use the harsh and, in some cases, potentially harmful hair dying chemicals found in most commercial dyes and color rinses.

If you’re concerned about the hazards that hair color ingredients present, you’ll be glad to learn that you can achieve results similar to those possible with beauty shop products, quickly, inexpensively and safely. Just as men and women have done for thousands of years, you can change your basic hair color, put new highlights in your locks or naturally darken gray strands using natural hair colors.

How Natural Dyes Work

Although there are a few especially potent exceptions (such as henna and walnut hulls, both of which I’ll discuss later), most herbal dyes act progressively, that is, they should be used repetitively over a period of time until the desired shade is achieved. Furthermore, I don’t know of any herb that'll actually serve as a bleach, but there are plant-based colorants that will highlight, darken, lighten or cover the gray in your hair.

Despite their versatility, however, herbal infusions cannot match the strength of commercial preparations, and, unless you decide to dye your curls black, an organic rinse won't cover your hair’s present shade. The best idea is to simply enrich the natural color of your hair, so avoid trying to make drastic changes (such as turning blond tresses to a very deep shade or dyeing gray hair darker than it was originally). You should also keep in mind that herbal dyes aren’t permanent and will fade unless renewed occasionally.

If you’ve recently used commercial dyes, color rinses or straighteners on your hair, you’d be wise to test any herbaceous dyestuff before applying it to your head, since chemical residues left in your locks may make it impossible to predict the action of the natural treatment.

To perform the evaluation, you'll need to save some snips of hair from your next trim or cut a lock from the nape of your neck and prepare a small amount of whatever dye recipe you want to try. Following the instructions for that mixture, apply it to a sample of hair, then rinse the lock thoroughly and let it dry (in direct sunlight, if possible). Observe the result under strong, natural light, and if you want more or less color, simply adjust the number of rinses and/or the timing accordingly. After a couple of trial runs, you should be able to produce exactly the shade you want.

12/5/2014 12:03:12 PM

Love Your Color by CoSaMo, 85% natural, no PPD, ammonia, or peroxide!

7/24/2014 12:12:58 AM

Thanks for the tips. Quite a few thing to keep in mind.

3/18/2014 7:40:09 AM

Henna/Indigo are the best! It does no damage to the hair. I use Rainbow Henna (available at healthfood stores or online) that is a mix of henna and other herbs such as indigo, chamomile, etc. It makes my hair so soft and shiny. It works just as well as regular hair dyes, but does not kill the hair. I do have some greys, but I mix mine with black coffee, apple cider vinegar, and yogurt. I leave it on for 90 min w/ a plastic bag and then a towel. It's a little messier than dye, but your hair will thank you, plus there are no chemicals like herbatint or naturcolor. I do this every two months and I get tons of compliments. It's only about $6 for a container of this henna. Try it out! If you like it, you can order it in bulk on Amazon!

gloria villalba meza
3/15/2013 1:45:55 AM

SANOTINT LIGHT is the most effective & natural permanent hair dye product on the market. It is the first natural hair color that is P-Phenylenediamine Free (NO PPD) Ammonia Free and Paraben Free. It has been especially formulated for people with sensitive skin. It contains natural ingredients like Golden Millet that rich in silica, which nourishes and protects your hair. www,lavitanuovainc,com Sanotint is here

anthony morrocco
11/2/2012 7:02:11 PM

Try Morrocco Method henna. It is completely natural and looks fanttastic! Plus, it's made easy with 7 how-to videos, and great customer support.

schelli nimz
1/11/2012 6:32:11 AM

Faith- You are correct, there is no such thing as black henna. The powders and dyes sold as black henna usually have some nasty toxic chemicals in them. There is also no "clear" henna. Henna is red and that's it! You can modify the color with other herbs and extracts. To get a true black hair dye, you do a base layer of henna, and then another dye session using indigo. It gives a very nice natural black. I have to disagree with the author on henna. I have been using it since I was a teenager (I am 40 now). I have a lot of gray in my hair and henna covers it beautifully. Henna is brassy the first couple of days after dyeing, but it oxidizes to a more muted and natural shade very quickly. Henna also applies better as an "acid" dye. Human hair is like wool and other protien fibers. I mix mine with straight lemon juice and a little bit of coconut oil for extra conditioning. There is no need to heat anything, just let it sit covered for about 8 hours to get the best dye release. You can modify henna by making a strong tea of rose hips, or mexican saffron (you still use the lemon juice as the main liquid though). Beet juice, cherries, and red wine have all produced nice results too. The longer you leave a henna dye on, the more intense the color. I put a plastic shopping bag over my hair and cover it all up with a bandana and sleep on it. There are some great resources on the web, and tons of photos of the varying shades you can achieve with henna mixed with other natural ingredients!

8/29/2011 11:58:26 PM

Tips for walnut dying: After making the walnut "juice" (simmering, straining, etc), boil it down for another 30 minutes to thicken it. Add a tsp of corn starch (pre-dissolved in a tbsp of cold water). You can then mix the (room temp / cold) dying liquid in with a blended avocado, or a whipped egg white, or honey and oil, or thick conditioner, or full fat mayo. This will make it WAY easier to apply (and it's so good for your hair) and it will give you a few seconds to wipe it off before your skin before it stains (pure liquid stains much more quickly). Use a squirt bottle to access the back of your head without drips. Cover your head with a bag after and gently blow dry your head (don't melt the bag) - the heat will help the dying the process. And while you can use just about any part of the walnut, the husks are the best. You can get these for free outside in the fall if you know where to look! You'll want to use 5-10 walnut husks per dye application depending on the size of the husks, how finely you crush them and how much hair you have. Freeze extra hulls for use during the rest of the year. Don't forget to eat the walnuts! After hulling, let them dry for a month in an old onion bag and then crack with a hammer.

teresa neville
7/15/2011 11:56:23 AM

Has anyone tried any other type flower/plant on dark hair that is that is about 1/3 gray? I am interested in the results. I'm scared to try it without hearing how it's worked before on someone!thanks T:~)

4/13/2011 4:02:00 PM

I started dying my hair with tea a few months ago. I use one large teabag of Lipton, one regular teabag of Rooibos (roy-boss). I start the tea before bed (cold water), warm it slightly before my shower, then pour it over my towel-dried hair. My silver hair is now a very soft and natural golden brown. In the light it has definition and highlights. I leave the tea in and let it dry. I repeat every other day. My commercially dyed ends are almost grown out. The tea dye is much prettier than any commercial product I used.

9/4/2009 1:31:16 PM

Naturtint Hair Color is the best! This is an excellent product and is all natural as far as I know. It covers gray hair and will not wash out like henna does. My hair look healthy and shiny. It does not dry your hair like the harsh chemicals do. I discovered it and will not use anything else. My Grandmother died from breast cancer and have several aunts with breast cancer, so I try to be careful about the things I use and eat.

8/25/2009 5:26:18 PM

use the organic soaps from after you and before you use a natural dye...your color will look and last much longer since you will be using an organic soap produc. S

6/24/2009 8:40:39 AM

Herbal preps are an excellent way to gently enhance colour/mask grey. I have successfully used a dried sage steep to enhance my honey tones/brown hair with quick and terrific results. [That's the plus side] Unfortunately, the sage has also sent my blood pressure temporarily through the roof. As a one-time chesmist, I did a bit of sleuthing and found that indeed sage does do this. The active ingredient in sage stimulates local ciruclation (terrific! as this will help hair growth) but it also has systemic effects (not so terrific :/ ). It is contraindicated for those with hypertension and should not be used in the 1st trimester of pregnancy. So we shouldn't forget, that everything must be used respectfully and with caution. Anyone tried wallnut hulls??

5/25/2009 6:28:24 PM

Faith, What you are speaking of is para-phenylenediamine (PPD), an amine compound used in many hair dyes that can cause serious reactions. The term "black henna" refers to something that doesn't exist: henna strictly imparts a red tone to hair. Any other color indicates there are other compounds added to the dye. See this site for more information: There are natural and safe ways to obtain brown or black hair through various mixes of henna and indigo plants, which are also listed on the above site in greater detail. Good luck.

faith rosenquist_1
5/13/2009 6:12:28 AM

I really enjoyed the natural hair colorant article and just have one concern, based on rumors about black henna having dangerous compounds in it that leach into your body and cause some type of permanent damage to it. This info came from a doctor that investigates ingredients in cosmetics and body care products. I used to use a henna with a black base pretty frequently as I wanted ash (not black, but light brown without the traditional red tones) color. I stopped after reading the article by a Dr. Christine --- as she seemed sincere and quite knowledgeable. Since painting the hands with henna is popular, and black is often used, I would like to hear more about this as I am sure most people are unaware of any dangers here. We should remember that just because a product is plant based does not mean that it may not have poisonous side effects.

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