Ecocolors has a soy and flax base, and uses rosemary extract as a hair conditioner.© Ecocolors
Vegetal ($14.99 for three applications) from the Herbatint company lasts only five to six washes and is a vegetable-based color preparation containing no ammonia, peroxide or PPD. It is an alternative to harsher chemicals, although it has to be used more often as it just coats the hair shaft without penetrating it. Another permanent preparation is the ammonia-free Naturtint ($10.99 per box), which is enriched with oat, soy, corn and wheat extracts.
Ecocolors is another entry into the permanent dye category. It contains ammonia and peroxide at low concentrations. Founded by Lisa Saul, formerly a lab scientist, Ecocolors ($13.50 per box) has a soy and flax base and uses rosemary extract to condition the hair and flower essences instead of artificial scents. Saul got interested in alternatives to traditional hair dyes in 1990, when she was pregnant and worried about unnecessary chemical exposure. "I wanted to protect myself and my children," she says. Although no link has been found thus far between hair coloring and the health of the unborn, Saul’s concerns register with many women who want to avoid toxins when pregnant. Ecocolors will be in health stores this summer, and is available on the Internet.
Naturcolor ($14.95 per box), an import from Europe, also covers gray hair and improves hair condition. This product comes with an applicator (unlike Herbatint); you can mix only as much as you need and use the rest later.
For a truly natural hair dye option, consider henna, which is made from the powdered leaves of a desert shrub called Lawsonia. Henna has been used for thousands of years to color hair and skin. (Cleopatra was a famed proponent.) Although it seems to pose no health risks, some sensitive people might still experience allergies when using it.
Rainbow Henna makes a variety of completely organic colors ($6.95 for four ounces), since henna is not just for red hair or highlights. Black hair and a huge variety of reds, light and dark browns and blondes can all benefit from henna’s coloring and super conditioning properties. Like any semi-permanent dye, it will only coat the hair and lasts an average of six weeks. But one advantage to henna is that it can be mixed with ingredients from the kitchen to customize color, like coffee to deepen brown tones, tea to add highlights to light brown and blonde, and apple cider vinegar to help hold color on resistant gray hair.
Tony Farish, a former Clairol employee who now owns Rainbow Research—the parent company of Rainbow Henna—made the switch to natural products in 1976. "Because henna is natural, there are limits to what you can do with it. You can’t lighten or bleach with it, but you can use it on some gray hair, and brown shades work particularly well," he says. Another henna dye company is Light Mountain, which sells application kits that are convenient for those used to traditional home hair coloring packages ($5.50 per box, $10.98 for gray-covering formula).
With many of these dyes available at health food stores and supermarkets, the choice is yours. And don’t forget, you can bring any natural coloring or henna to your hairdresser if it’s not carried there. Most hair colorists are happy to use a product that a customer prefers.
There are also quite a few natural options available exclusively to salons. One popular brand is Tocco Magico from Italy. Let your colorists know that you are interested in fewer chemicals for both your health and theirs.
STARRE VARTAN, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, has been coloring her hair continuously since she was 16.