How to colour your hair without nasty chemicals

An expert weighs in on the dos and don’ts of tinting your hair without using harsh, damaging dyes.

In ancient times, Egyptians used henna to cover greys, while Greeks and Romans extracted dyes from plants.

It’s only more recently that chemical dyes became the norm for colouring hair.

But the pendulum looks to be swinging back towards tradition, with natural hair colours gaining a resurgence due to a few factors:

  • Conscious consumers are better informed and cautious about chemicals they’re exposed to, including hair colour.
  • Allergic reactions to commercial hair dyes, particularly for those with sensitive skin.
  • Hair damage: Even with bonding agents that help protect hair follicles, it’s impossible to dye hair without damaging it to some extent. Since most natural dyes coat the hair rather than penetrate it, there’s typically less damage on a surface level.

A passion for natural hair care, born out of necessity

Melbourne hairdresser Sarah Di Iorio was a bottle blonde for years before she started to experience allergic reactions on her scalp.

“After several years as a senior hairdresser, I, and many of my clients had adverse reactions to colours and common hair products,” she says.

This became a catalyst for Sarah to learn about healthier, natural alternatives.

“It’s amazing the amount of different harsh and toxic chemicals that are found in common hair products,” says Sarah.

“Typically, each of these chemicals plays a role in a particular result that is needed.

“However, there are alternatives as long as you can find products that still provide the same result.”

Sarah launched Organika Hair salon, dedicated to natural and organic hair colour and haircare, with co-founder Lisa Pace in 2009.

Busting natural hair colour myths

Sarah says there is a lot of scepticism around natural hair colour.

“There can be a perception that health-conscious products don’t work,” says Sarah.

“However, I can absolutely confirm that when you do the work and source world-leading products and use the correct techniques, the results are even better than some of the high-end mainstream colours used in salons today.”

Even henna – which has a reputation for irreversibly staining your hair – has its place as a natural hair colour, says Sarah.

“But isn’t suitable for all hair types,’ says Sarah.

“It gets a bad rep because it can be rather difficult to remove, which therefore can make it restricting.”

How to embrace natural hair products

  • Not all organic dyes are 100 per cent certified or entirely free of harsh chemicals, so be sure to familiarise yourself with the ingredients in the dye you plan to use and avoid potentially harmful chemicals such as ammonia, resorcinol, parabens and phthalates.
  • If you like to regularly switch up your hair, avoid certain dyes like henna that can be difficult to remove or lift.
  • Organic dyes are typically gentler on the scalp so are usually suitable for those with sensitive skin. But even so, do a strand test to ensure you don’t have a reaction.
  • Like traditional hair colour, it’s advised to introduce a colour protective shampoo and conditioner into your routine to add vibrancy and increase longevity.

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Written by Charlotte Brundrett