Natural Hair Color Enhancers

Ready for a change? You can transform your looks with milder products that minimize potential carcinogens. Of course, it’s impossible to achieve enduring color with zero chemicals–but natural options are on the up and up. Remember to always test for allergies by applying a small patch behind your ear and letting it sit for 24 hours, and dye a few strands before you commit to the color.

Permanent dyes open and penetrate the cuticle to infuse your locks with color that stays vibrant until hair grows out. Many products, though, contain resorcinol–a known irritant–or petroleum-based coal tar to make color last longer. “In lab studies, contaminants such as benzopyrene in coal tar have been associated with cancers,” says Kristan Markey, a chemist and research analyst for the Environmental Working Group, “and resorcinol is a possible endocrine disrupter. But long-term risks are less clear.” For a more healthful approach, search out brands that use minimal amounts of ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, coal tar, and parabens. “Changing hair is complex chemistry,” says Markey, “you’re doing reactions, and you need to know what’s in your products.” Note that ammonia- and peroxide-free dyes won’t lighten natural hair color and are best used for darkening and blending gray.

To steer clear of petroleum byproducts and other carcinogens altogether, look for a semipermanent (sometimes called temporary) dye or color-enhancing rinse that contains botanical hues that coat hair cuticles rather than opening them. Semipermanent shades are perfect for those who want to test a less dramatic look: Chamomile and lemon extract make blond tones richer; henna enhances red highlights; and walnut or coffee bean extract will bring out brunettes” depth. No matter what color you’re going for, look for products containing sunflower seed extract to help protect color from fading. Semipermanent tints will last for four to six weeks while rinses need to be reapplied with every wash.

A luster-enhancing botanical famously used by Cleopatra, henna is a powder derived from the ground leaves of the Middle Eastern Lawsonia inermis shrub. In its natural state, the dye is a deep, rich red, but it can be combined with other plant-based hues for a wide range of shades. The catch: Henna coats hair shafts and may disrupt the effectiveness of perms and permanent dyes.

Delicious Living is the go-to resource for the natural and organic lifestyle, helping readers eat well, live green, and stay healthy. Visit for more articles and free recipes.

By Katie Arnold, Delicious Living


Kayla B.
Kayla B.7 years ago

Casey C:
Henna does not lighten hair. Henna is a natural plant that tints the hair a natural red tone. If your hair is black it will shine through as plummy highlights. If you're a blond you'll be a redhead. What henna can't do is change dark hair to light.

Henna is a powder that must be mixed to create a thick paste. How did you shampoo your hair with it?? Unless, you bought a commercial shampoo that claimed to have a bit of henna in it?

Chances are the shampoo you were using had a sulfate ingredient high on top of the list without much of anything else to condition the hair with. Which would have dried out your hair.

Kayla B.
Kayla B.7 years ago

Julie Fremont:
Pure henna does not contain any metals. You are misinformed.
For more information on pure henna visit

There are no ill effects to returning to chemical hair dyes after using henna. However, bleaching is not suggested if you have had a henna/indigo treatment, unless it's done by a professional.

Casey C.
Casey C.8 years ago

I would just like to point out that having used each chamomile, lemon, and henna, I unfortunately know that they are not semi-permanent. In fact, anything that lightens hair is always permanent. That said, Henna can both lighten and darken hair and the types that darken hair do tend to fade. I learned the hard way though that even Henna types that claim not to impart color will make hair very dry with daily use. I used a shampoo with that plant for a few months and finally realized that it was making my hair brittle. My hairdresser told me she had seen it before. So hair-dyers beware - just because it's natural doesn't make it safe!

Crow Noir
Crow N8 years ago

I couldn't find this mentioned in another article; and please, if anyone knows of any harmful affects from these products please email me. - For years I had dark blond/light brown hair. My skin itched and burned when i washed my hands, bathed, anything involving our area's tap water. It is very chlorinated, sometimes smelling as strongly as a hotel pool. My husband bought a shower filter for me and not only could i comfortably take a shower, but my hair became the dark brunette I always seen myself as! A friend recently moved to the area and his wonderful hair with in a week was dull and lifeless. (Also, he's a blond and the water here turned it a pale not-so-nice brown.) We talked him into buying one of the filters and his hair is almost as bouncy and shiny as it was before. He's grateful to us for the advice. Hopefully this suggestion can help someone else. If you can't afford a whole house system this is a nice alternative. (We bought the GE filter. I think the cartridges are about $40 but they only need to be changed about every six months.)

Mars Bar
Mars Bar8 years ago

L'oreal tests on animals - enough said !!!

anastasia mitchell

What ever happened to lore'els temporary color treatments? remember they had like ten colors, and would wash out... They used to have them in the drug stores... It seemed as if they were good for beginers...
I wish I would have stuck to that I allways like a change, but when my one pony tail braid turns to the equivilence of what my pigtail braids used to be its not good. (Luckily I used to have a full head of hair so its not to late to save it. I just miss the natural thickness it used to be)

Sharon Hoehner
Sharie Fox8 years ago

My teenage daughter would like to darken her hair. She's light brown now and would like a darker brown, preferably one that will naturally lighten again since she doesn't know if she wants it to be permanent. I suggested henna but we've been unable to find that anything natural here locally. Not in the health food stores and not in drug stores. If someone could refer me to an online source to buy a safe product, I'd be really grateful. You can email me directly at or just post here. Regular hair dye makes a person quite susceptible to bladder problems including cancer and since she's had years of bladder/kidney meridian issues she can't afford to risk the toxic stuff even once.

Rochelle d.
Rochelle d8 years ago

If you use all natural henna (the kind you have to leave on your hair for at least six hours) it is actually fine. I have hair that hangs way past my waist and switch between permanent dye and henna quite often. When you want to obtain a rich black colour, mix some indigo powder (also the all natural stuff) with your henna for amazing results. I order 1kg bags directly from India as it is not available in my country.

Julie Fremont
Julie Fremont8 years ago

Under no circumstances do you use regular hair color with Henna. If your hair has been colored dont use Henna on top of it. Henna has metals in it and when mixed with regular color it WILL melt your hair, dont ever think of perming on top it either same result. I am a prefessional hairdresser and have see it all.