A woman with coloured hair out in nature.

Jen, owner of Clover Earthkind Hair Salon, fills us in on eco-friendly colours. Turns out they do exist!

What hair dye chemicals should be avoided?

Avoid ammonia, petrochemicals, sulfates, phthalates, parabens and P-phenylenediamine.

It’s difficult to find permanent colours that are free of PPD. PPD-free products can use aminophenols, but if you’re allergic or sensitive to PPD you may also be sensitive to those, too. Find a hairdresser educated in the prefixes of these chemicals!

What’s in eco-friendly hair dyes?

Many are henna or vegetable-based (from roots and fruits), others are oil-based. Some are paired with hydrogen peroxide to help the colour last longer.

Many hennas won’t disclose ingredients, but labels may list aslawsonia inermis leaf, indigoferae tinctoria leaf, walnut, or pure indigo. So-called “black henna” may be derived from indigo (from the plant indogoferae tinctoria), but may also contain PPD. Those sensitive to PPD should avoid black hennas.

Most vegetable-based colours are called “stains”—they coat the hair but aren’t absorbed below the cuticle of the hair shaft. Ingredients will be similar to henna but may contain dispersed inks (like pigments used in tattoos).

How long do eco-friendly hair dyes last?

Look for semi-permanent products with no ammonia or PPD/PTD. These hair colours rinse out a little with every shampoo and last between six to twelve washes. Some also contain certified organic ingredients and are vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, gluten, GMO- and cruelty-free. A natural-based permanent is longer lasting than a chemically loaded dye. Without harsh corrosives like ammonia, the hair cuticle remains intact — allowing for colour molecules to have a long and healthy life in your hair!

How expensive are eco-friendly hair dyes?

Health food store brands range from $10 to $20—some are 30 bucks for two ounces. Salon brands should be comparable in price to standard brands. But many salons charge 5-15 per cent for a “greener” colour.

Will eco-friendly hair dye cover greys?

Yes. But you need a small percentage of chemicals to have true permanent coverage. Most “natural” colours are grey-blending more than grey-covering.

Where can I get eco-friendly hair dye?

DIY-ers can try health food stores or organic grocers. If you like bright reds, violets or gold and have naturally lighter hair, lily stamens or belladonna flower, turmeric or even beet juice can do a wonderful job of tinting the hair and even refresh older highlights. Always wear gloves!

Aveda contains ammonia (a low percentage). Other professional brands claim to be “ammonia-free” but contain high levels of petrochemicals and ammonium hydroxide.

Before you book, ask the salon about the ingredients in the hair dyes they provide.