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Hair Dyes Tips to Know About

Written by Irina Webb
Hair Dyes
What My Hair Looks Like Now in the Sun

All chemical hair dyes (including Organic Color Systems) have toxic chemicals that damage the hair and may potentially cause allergy or increase the risk of autoimmune disease or even cancer. Swedish researchers found a link between permanent hair dyes and rheumatoid arthritis.

The good news is that there is a truly organic hair dye I tried recently, and I’d like to share my experience with you. Last week, I applied it for the first time, and I achieved the hair color I’d wanted for a long time. See the picture on the right.


How Hair Dyes are Made and Regulated

The hair dyes used in most hair dye products are derived from petroleum and coal tar. The FDA normally does not test products itself, but these products are so potentially dangerous that it makes exception for petroleum and coal tar dyes used in food. Hair dyes are not tested and certified by the FDA; they are only subject to the FDA’s approval.


Permanent Hair Dyes Damage the Hair

While research on the long-term health effects of hair dyes is scarce and conflicting, the damage they do to the hair is more agreed upon. There are two things that have to happen for a permanent hair dye to work. First, the hair cuticle has to be lifted so the hair dye gets into the hair shaft. The hair cuticle, the outer layer of protection, is not meant to be lifted, so it gets damaged. Another thing that has to happen is that your current hair color pigment gets destroyed. You won’t see the damage because the hair dyes coat your hair making your hair smooth and shiny. You will see the damage when the hair dye comes off your hair.


Three More Things to Know Before You Use Hair Dyes

I had used hair dyes since I was 25. I wish I knew back then what I know now. I understand that we all want to be beautiful and have fun in life. I do not want to stop you from it. What I want is for you to make educated choices. The more I dig deeper, the more I understand that we can’t eliminate toxins from our lives. But we can reduce toxins to the amounts that our bodies can handle. Here is what you need to know about hair dyes to decide if you can handle them.

  1. Darker permanent hair dyes are generally more toxic than lighter colors
  2. Hair dyes may expose you to elevated levels of heavy metals
  3. If you are pregnant, your doctor will advise you against using hair dyes in the first trimester. In addition, however, and what doctors don’t tell you is that a female egg is more sensitive to environmental toxins in the 3 months before it is ovulated. (This information is provided by Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH.)


What My Hair Looked Like

Hair Dyes_Henna Before
My Hair Before Henna

Right after I had a baby, I started getting a few gray hairs. Please see the picture.  Also, the hair close to the scalp was dark brown, while the rest of the hair was much lighter, almost a copper color from sun exposure and as a result of the last time I dyed it with chemical hair dye about one year ago (I wish I didn’t do that). So, naturally I wanted my hair to be more uniform.


I decided to use 100% henna

After I received a lot of encouraging comments from my blog readers, I decided to try henna. Henna is fine powder of dried and crushed leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant. When darker color is desired, indigo can be used along with henna. Indigo is a powder, too, made from dried and crushed leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria plant.


Is henna safe?

As with everything, if something is truly natural or even certified organic, it can’t be assumed that is absolutely safe. If a plant is powerful enough to affect a change, the flip side of the coin is that it may also be powerful enough to cause harm. Henna is approved by the FDA to be used as hair color, but it’s not approved by the FDA for tattoos or color around the eyes. There is no information about indigo on the FDA’s website.

In 2005, the European Scientific Commission on Consumer Products assessed the safety of henna as a hair dye and concluded, “The SCCP is of the opinion that the information submitted is insufficient to assess the safe use of the substance as a hair dye.” As a result of conflicting results, more in vitro studies are needed to determine whether henna may be genotoxic” (which may lead to cancer). I am still trying to understand why the studies are performed in vitro where the cells do not have the protective layer of the skin. This is not how we use plant powders, extracts, or oils. (In my research experience, most in vitro studies find a link betweens plants and genotoxicity.) This study, for instance, found that orally administered henna to mice has anti-cancerous properties.


Why I decided to use henna

  1. Henna does not have the same environmental concerns that chemical dyes do.
  2. This study found that henna has low levels of lead ranging from 2.29 ppm to 65.98 ppm. The full study states that only black henna has lead content in double digits. My understanding is that pure henna can’t be black, meaning that lead probably comes from added materials, not from the henna itself.
  3. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by pure henna is very rare according to an article published in Allergy Journal (volume 56 (10) – Oct. 2001).


One More Thing to Know About Henna

When buying henna, make sure that it is pure henna without added chemicals to it, such as PPD. Watch out for black henna.


How I Applied Henna

I watched numerous videos online, talked to a lot of hairdressers, and experimented with the strands of my hair. I concluded that in my case I need 100% henna without indigo.

I was lucky to find a hairdresser who applied henna. I wanted to go to a professional to see how she does it, but next time I will probably do it at home. She mixed henna with brewed coffee, waited for 10 min, and applied it to my hair. She applied it only where I had darker hair. And I spent 20 minutes under a hair dryer.


The Result of Henna Application

Hair Dyes_Henna
Gray Hair Turned Golden

I am very happy with the result. I have uniform hair with a dark copper tint. The gray hairs turned golden (see the picture) and became attractive highlights. Henna is also a great conditioner, making the hair shiny and healthy.


Henna Recipes

Everybody has different hair and color preferences, so there are a lot of different recipes out there. Some of you shared your recipes. Here are two recipes that you might find helpful, either because you have more gray hair than I do or you do not like reddish overtones.


Hair Dyes
Uniform Hair After Henna


I adore henna, I will never go back to poison! I use a 50:50 mix of henna/indigo to get brown. You do the henna powder with a bit of lemon and water and I add cloves for scent the night before you dye to let it do its thing overnight. Then mix indigo about 20 min before you start with nice warm water. Then mix the two. I found about six hours to get good grey coverage for me. I saran wrap and cover with a towel to keep things warm. It entertains my toddler to no end. There is little difference from my natural color after the first week and my grey turns golden and I loveee it! Yes you have to plan and commit time, but it is worth it I think, I’ve never had a dye I have been so happy with.

I should say I use the indigo because tinting my hair reddish would make my husband super unhappy haha. What I read is indigo doesn’t stick to hair well, but it sticks to henna. Henna would do the work sticking to the hair. Don’t know if its true, but it has been great for me. Do strand tests using hair out of your hairbrush and a tiny bit of powder to decide how long to leave it and what percentages you like. Anything less them half and half was too red for me. I put the hair and gooed it up good in a sandwich bag in my pocket to keep it warm. Worked out well, I did a few with different percentages and rinsed them at four and six hours. I just did my roots for three hours and the gold over grey is a little pale, but it still worked out.



Yes you can cover grey with henna!! I am living proof… I decided to give up box and salon color for my health and did exhaustive research on this. If you do a two-step henna color process it works!! And I don’t have red hair now either! My 70% grey hair is VERY stubborn (I am 48) and I was feeling hopeless until I learned about Color the Grey by Light Mountain (I think a few other henna kits may use a two step process) and while it is time consuming (and messy -read all the Amazon reviews for tips) I couldn’t be happier with the color (I use Light Brown and achieve a med to dark brown with slight auburn highlights where the grey used to be). I put step one on for about 30 minutes, rinse then apply the second step for 45-60 minutes. So using this kit I only have henna on my head for a total of 1-2 hours. After coloring my whole head twice I now only do the roots. My hair is stronger, less frizzy, thicker and shinier. I get compliments on the shine and color all the time. It took me so long to figure this option out, I want to let more people know you don’t have to go grey!!


Where to Buy Henna

As you can see, you can make henna work for all kinds of hair. And it is possible to do it at home while busy with other things. The henna Lisa referred to is available on Amazon.



Conclusion About Henna

I wish there were more hairdressers who would provide henna in their salons. Unfortunately, beauty schools do not teach henna. Please share this post and tell us your henna recipe, if you have one. Let’s give henna the credit it deserves!





48 thoughts on “Hair Dyes Tips to Know About”

  1. Can you share who you used for those of us in Marin? Also do people have experience with Henna when there is A LOT of grey hair Maybe 35%

    1. Sure. The hairdresser’s name is Selma, and she is super nice. The problem is that they do everything in the salon, including keratin treatments so make sure to schedule an appointment when there are no keratin treatments done at the same time. The good news is that they have really good ventilation system so the place does not smell toxic. With 35% you will need to use indigo in addition to henna. Good luck! Here is Selma’s website: Tell Selma “hi” from me.

    2. Irina,

      What would you recommend if more than 70% of hair is grey hair and the age is 54? Thank you

  2. This is great Irina – thank you so much! I was wondering about henna coloring for the hair. I have a lot of gray hairs after I had my son but didn’t want to use toxic hair color. I’d been wanting to try the henna hair color but didn’t know if they were non-toxic or not so I’m so glad you wrote this. No more pulling gray hairs!

  3. Hi Irina, I used the Light Mountain henna dye back in the 80’s, prior to any gray hairs, but here’s my issue: Two problems – I found that my hair seemed to get very dry (broomstick yucky), and that the light/medium brown color I was using/attempting, actually left me with an orange “halo” effect across my entire head of hair! While I used to have golden-red highlights it never looked or felt orange halo looking! My hair color really did not look at all natural. Yours looks great, but I wonder how you truly achieve it without getting it to have that red tinge/completely dyed look, and, now that I have about 20-30% percent gray, have it cover the gray as well. In advance, thank you for your answer, and your blog.

    1. Hi Ila, I wish I could tell you more than I said in the post. Everybody’s hair is different and there are many other factors that go into the process, which may vary the results. For instance, chlorinated hard water may make your hair dry and prevent henna to work well. Also, does your shampoo have waxes or silicones? That might be another factor. You might want to consult with a hairdresser who uses henna in your area. Good luck!

  4. Hi,
    Can I use Henna if my hair is colored already? I use the box from Whole Foods.
    Also have you tried dying w/ coffee or tea? That’s something I would like to try.

    1. Yes, the hairdresser mixed henna with coffee. It helps for the color to stay longer. I believe you can use henna on colored hair.

  5. Hi Irina,
    thank you for all the information. I have been using henna myself for many years but now I getting to a point where the percentage of gray hair is too high so the final outcome is not great. Yesterday, I found out an alarming thing though! European Union published a study in 2002 on toxicity of lawsone, which is the main pigment in henna. It seems that this substance has mutagenic effects :-O What do you think about it? Unfortunately, I am not sure what the average dosage of lawsone during dyeing is so how harmful this stuff is. Thank you for your opinion. I am looking for alternatives and cannot find a good one.

    1. Hi Elaine: it is tough one! The study you cited is consistent with the study I mentioned in the post. It appears that henna is not as harmless as we might think. I would still vote for henna over chemical dye as it is an environment-friendly option. I am currently working with a company that has been developing a revolutionary approach to hair coloring. And I hope I will be able to report back on the product sooner than I get too many gray hairs to get too desperate. 🙂

      1. Hi Irina, reading your comment above and it’s been 5 years since you wrote it. Do you happen to have any update on the revolutionary approach to hair coloring you mention above and what company that is? thank you!

          1. Hi, Irina: I agree that Hairprint color restorer doesn’t work for everybody. It depends on the texture of your hair, how much grey you have, what other haircare products you are using. And even your water matters too. ~Irina

  6. Pingback: Organic Hair Color: Buyer Beware! | I Read Labels For You

  7. I used henna for more than a year, and it colored my hair which is at least 80% gray, very well. I bought it from It was great but it seems to have interacted with a keratosis on the side of my face. My dermatologist removed it and said it was benign, but wants me to stop using henna. So I am trying natural hair color, wish I had read your blog first. Madison Reed didn’t work all that well and my hair didn’t feel good after. Now I just tried Tints of Nature which feels better and looks better too, but they are upfront about using small amounts of Ppd, which of course is not good. Still probably better than Madison Reed.
    I am wondering whether to try hairprint. Would it work on very gray hair that has been color treated?

  8. I used henna for about 3 years because of chemical sensitivity from commercial hair dyes. It is important to realize that it permanently bonds to the hair shaft and there is NO WAY to get rid of it. I found that it did condition my hair, but over time the color got darker and darker because it stays on the hair and it’s virtually impossible to “only color the roots” (those who have experienced the mess that is henna will know what I mean!). It does provide gray coverage but it turned my grays an unattractive orangey color that I disliked. It is also very orangey the first few days until the color mellows out a bit. I have reluctantly turned back to commercial hair dyes until I can figure something else out because I am on year 2 of trying to grow out this henna and still haven’t gotten rid of all of it!

  9. I would be very interested to hear about the product you are working to develop. So discouraged to learn there is really nothing out there that is totally non-toxic, it seems including henna. Also, so many use deceptive advertising. I used a liquid hair dye, Surya. It’s comes across as organic, even good for you but made my face hair fall out in a scary amount. The questionable ingredients are listed on the very bottom of the package in tiny print, impossible to read if you don’t have x-ray eyes. Please do let me know if you have a product coming out that you can recommend as totally natural and on harmful. Many thanks, Rita

  10. Hey Irina,

    I came across your post coz i was researching less chemical for hair color. I used lorial for few years and now i am having drastic hair fall.
    I have read about heena but i doubt about indigo , is Indigo must to mix with Heena.
    I have heard Indigo is dangerous that hair color 🙁

  11. After 8 years of boxed dye to cover the grey, I switched to henna and indigo for a black/dark coverage. I’ve been buying from Henna Color Labs (based in Portland) for a year straight now after quitting chemical dyes “cold turkey”. It’s been working really well, but yes it is messy to apply! I am curious about Hairpint, maybe it’ll work even better.

  12. Hello, Henna products come from some countries which deliberately use pesticides. I’ve seen terrible reports from India on pesticides they use i.e. for teas. Not sure how to make sure that Henna is pesticide free as it is very popular on the market today. Word “Organic” is overly too much used and I am not sure where quality control testing is being done, if at all. If done in the country of origin, I don’t believe it.

  13. Hello Irina,
    Someone already asked the same question I have but I didn’t see an answer….. I have been using commercial hair dye for over 10 years and desperately want a less toxic alternative.
    Does Hairprint work on hair that is 50%+ gray and already dyed with commercial hair dye ?? Also does the hair need to be”prepared” in order for it to work? Thank you.

  14. I’ve tried Hairprint twice and both times I felt off (lightheaded, weak, low blood sugar like symptoms) while the product was on my head, and weakness and malaise for hours after. In fact, the second time I was unable to stand the first step application and washed it off after about 1/2 hr. Has anyone else experienced even the slightest negative effects?

  15. Is there a men’s demi-permanent product (fades over several weeks during washing) without PPD or PTD? Hairprint looks promising but it says roots will show, which I can’t let happen. I have over 50% grey.


    1. Hi, Kevin, demi-permanent hair colors do not normally contain PPD and its close relatives. However, demi-permanent products may not work for you either as you are over 50% gray. ~Irina

    1. I have used Surya Brasil Henna CREAM (their henna Cream is definitely not pure henna – it does contain chemicals), so there are health and environmental concerns (see EWG database). When I used their henna cream product I experienced significant hair loss – literally I felt that a significant clump of hair fell out! I hope that it is re-growing now… It has only been a few months. I will not use this particular product again.
      Surya Brasil also sells pure Henna powder (and similar natural powders). I believe their Henna powders are completely natural and do not contain metallic salts or other impurities – I believe this is true and would make them safe to use, though I have not tried their henna powders. I have used other brands of pure henna (powder) and have been pleased with the results – still working on the ideal recipe of henna and indigo etc for my hair and desired color!

  16. Hi Irina,
    I was just reading this and saw my comment ( Rita, August 2016 ) and wanted to correct a typo. I wrote about using Surya. I noticed it says that ” there was a loss of face hair” – please remove the word “face”.
    It is only supposed to say that there was a loss of hair after using this product. The loss was from my scalp. Don’t know why the word “face” is in there but it is misleading. Thank You, Rita

  17. This is a review for Irina Webb. She is so wonderful!! A true friend to all of us, she is out there finding out the truth of what products are really made of, and has a way of talking things out with product makers to actually successfully get the truth. I just used her private service to check on a permanent all-plan hair color from Radico, Color me Organic. After her detective skills I used it yesterday and it was a great success! Love the product so far. I will see how long it lasts, but so far the color is rich and warm brown, not the black I am used to getting when I try plant-based hair dyes. I heard from Irina right away after I approached her to check for me on the hair color system, and she got back to me so quickly! Gave me lots of info on the product, and a thumbs up. This was at a great low cost, and she is so kind and reassuring about what she found. Try her for your questions, you will be VERY pleased!! Val from SF Bay area

  18. Thank you for fighting the good fight! I’ve been using henna on my hair since I turned 18 years old (about to turn 35) and there is nothing better than it. It gives amazing color, strengthens and thickens the hair and takes even care of most scalp issues – even soothes my psoriasis! Not enough good things can be said about pure natural henna without additives – and cassia (colourless henna). I use between 50% henna and 50% cassia to 33% henna and 66% cassia (depends on how deep I want the red to be.

    1. Yes, I do. It is a chemical hair color that happens to have henna as one of many colorants. I believe it is not accurate to market it as henna. ~Irina

    2. Some nice true henna (lawsonia) dyes at and I have no affiliation with either of these business, I just like their products and use them. Irina, what do you think of these two small companies and their products?

      1. I like Mountain Rose Herbs and from the henna perspective, Morrocco Method is fine. Basically, if you want true henna/herbal hair color, look for powders that you mix with water before application. ~Irina

  19. Hi – I’m wondering how hightlights compare — if it’s not all-over dye and doesn’t touch the scalp, does it pose the same type/level of risk?

    1. Yes – highlights would be safer because of your reducing contact with the scalp. Thank you for asking, Tricia. ~Irina

  20. Kathleen Ebanez

    Hi Irina,
    I have been coloring my hair since I was 16, over 40 years. I am currently battling with black mold toxicity and am reluctant to use anything unnatural ever again. I am finding I am sensitive to many things now and am super cautious of everything. My hair is light golden blond and I do have white (not grey) hair that is at the temples area. I would like to try the henna colors but I only see post about brown, red, and black colors. Is there a henna for blond colors? Also, if yes, which brands would carry it and which do you suggest.
    Thank you for your posts and for all you do to make our lives better.
    Sincerely, Kathleen E.

    1. Hi Kathleen: you might look into cassia. It is not henna but works like henna for blonds. Thank you for asking. ~Irina

  21. Hi Irina,

    Thank you so much for all your research and sharing!

    It seems you have had positive experiences with henna and hair print. What is keeping you dedicated to hair print over henna? Are there any advantages?


    1. Thank you for asking. May I ask what makes you think that I am dedicated to Hairprint? I am in the process of updating the content on the website so it would be helpful to know. Thank you in advance! ~Irina

  22. I am allergic to every hair dye brand there is. I can either bleach and not touch my scalp, let the gray blend in and pray my hair doesn’t fall out from bleach. Or try henna and become dark headed. I have narrowed it down to two brands; Lush or Morrocco. Any thoughts on these two brands ?

    Thank you


    1. Hi Chelsea,
      Your story sounds a little like mine. I found a good product you could try. It does work! I have used it for years with good success. I am now experimenting with letting my hair go gray– I’m almost 70, retired, and just don’t want to do the work at home. It only lasted 2-3 weeks, so upkeep was a lot of work!
      Good for quite a few years, though, while I was still working. Its called Radico and is organic, safe color. Contact them at Radico USA Store. I hope it works for you!! Val

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