It’s a scientifically proven fact that dying your hair a new color will solve basically every problem in your life. If you're going through a bad break up, dye your hair. If you've just lost your job, dye your hair a color that you weren’t allowed to wear at work. If you have the stomach flu—okay, maybe not every single problem.
Still, hair dye can be a fun and important part of your beauty evolution. If you’re looking for an alternative to commercial hair dye, vegetable hair color is one hair-friendly way to achieve a new look. Plants like coffee, beets, and henna can achieve a range of colors, and they nourish your hair rather than damage it.
What is vegetable hair dye?
Long before anyone ever uttered the name “Clairol,” people were using vegetables, leaves, seeds, and other plant ingredients to dye their hair. These dyes are generally temporary, and they won’t change your hair as dramatically as synthetic permanent dyes. However, they’re also much milder and less harsh.
Some actual vegetables are used to create hair dye, like beets and carrots. However, other natural dyes are made from various other parts of plants, often the leaves. Henna, sage, and rosemary are three examples.
Vegetable hair dye is gentler on your hair
Many commercial hair dyes contain chemicals like ammonia and peroxide, and these dye formulas are prone to causing allergic reactions. “Natural” products can, of course, cause adverse reactions too, but vegetable hair dyes are safe for the vast majority of people. If anything, they often actually improve your hair health, in stark contrast to most commercial dyes.
These days, women are becoming much more savvy about the ingredients in their beauty products. Many beauty companies have followed suit, with “natural” or organic versions of popular products like shampoo and face wash, but the hair dye industry lags behind in this regard. Hair dye ingredient lists remain lengthy, some chemicals are scarier than others, and many of them have yet to be proven safe or unsafe.
One major pro of vegetable hair color? It’s easy to keep track of what’s in your hair dye when it only consists of one or two ingredients.
Achieve a range of colors
One of the most popular plant-based hair dyes is henna, a dye made from the leaves of the henna plant. It produces a vibrant red-orange color, and the pigment is easily buildable over time. Unlike many natural dyes, henna will not wash out. Other ways to achieve a red color include beet juice, rosehips, carrot juice, or calendula.
For brown hair, use coffee, tea, or ground walnut shells. Indigo is a blue dye made from the indigo plant. When mixed with henna, it also achieves a brown effect. To darken brown or black hair, use sage or rosemary.
To lighten blonde hair, try using chamomile tea, lemon juice, or apple cider vinegar. Other herbs like marigold or saffron can also work. These tricks only work on hair that’s already fair. Unfortunately, there is no plant that will lighten your hair like bleach will, particularly if you’re starting with brown or black hair.
Be prepared for some variation
Vegetable hair color isn’t as consistent as the store-bought kind. These are plants, so some variation should be expected. The color will also show up differently on different heads of hair. The pigment may even vary from batch to batch—just ask anyone who dyes her hair with henna regularly.
Realistically, you may have to do some tinkering with different plants to create the vegetable hair dye color of your dreams, but these ingredients are cheap, gentle, and possibly already in your house.
Neither your hair nor your wallet will mind some fun experimenting. Problems solved.
Kim Wong-Shing is a writer, lipstick junkie, and plant mama in New Orleans. She grew up in Philadelphia and went to Brown University. She's previously written about wellness, beauty, pop culture and other topics for LittleThings, NaturallyCurly, Lifehacker, HelloGiggles, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other publications.