Women have been coloring their hair for centuries, starting long before the development of modern hair dyes. But how did they do it? Throughout history, natural hair dyes have been created from materials at hand, including some plants and vegetables that we might consider only for cooking today.

How Vegetable Hair Dye Works

Most plant-based hair dyes work by coating the hair shaft with color. This is different from permanent dyes that penetrate the shaft to change its color. Vegetable dyes are temporary and usually wash out completely after a few shampoos. Even though you shouldn't expect to see the kind of radical color change you can achieve with permanent dye, natural hair dyes can give your hair a healthy color boost and add shine.

Types of Vegetable Dye Hair

If you want to make your own vegetable hair dye, you can experiment with some of the ingredients in your kitchen. Both coffee and tea can be used for hair dye. Brew as usual and apply directly to the hair, or mix with some hair conditioner. Leave on for at least an hour, then rinse with a solution of water and apple cider vinegar to make the color last longer. You can also make hair dye by simmering herbs in water. For red hair, try calendula or rosehips. Rosemary and sage are good for dark hair, while blonde hair can be brightened with chamomile tea. Beet or carrot juice add red highlights to any hair color.

Henna, one of the most popular natural hair dye ingredients, is made from the leaves of the henna plant. It produces a red-orange shade that works best for brunettes or redheads. Some commercial henna products are mixed with indigo, a blue dye made from the indigo plant, for a more brown effect. Walnut shells are another source of color for brown hair. Crush them and boil for 30 minutes, then strain and apply to hair when cool. Leave on hair for at least an hour before rinsing.

Why Try Vegetable Hair Dye?

The majority of permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes sold commercially use chemicals that could be harmful to your health, especially if you're allergic to them. According to The Good Housekeeping Institute, hair dye is one of the worst offenders among beauty products when it comes to harsh chemicals like ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and phenylenediamine (PPD). Some pregnant women turn to vegetable hair dyes to avoid exposing their unborn child to chemicals. The same is true for women who are breastfeeding. To be safe, most doctors recommend that pregnant women wait until the second trimester before using any type of hair dye.

While there’s no proof that the chemicals in commercial hair dye products cause permanent health problems, they can be hard on your hair, leaving it dry and brittle. Vegetable hair dye contains only natural ingredients that won’t harm your hair and may, in fact, leave it in better condition. Since they’re not permanent, you can experiment with different colors without making a lasting change.

About the Author

Catie Watson

Catie Watson is a freelance writer with a lifelong love of fashion and interior design. She has a degree in English, attended the Art Institute of San Francisco and spent several years working as a theatrical costumer. She writes for HERLIFE Magazine and a variety of websites and print publications.