I turned 50 in December. I know, where does the time go? I wanted to have my hair cut into a new style since I’d been growing it out and pulling it back for years. And along with the new cut I thought about color, especially with all the gray hair I have! I wrote an article a few weeks ago on natural fabric dyes and it got me thinking about natural herbal hair dyes. One well known natural dye is henna, but there are many herbs and natural substances that can also be used.
Natural Herbal Hair Dyes
While most herbal material can be made into a strong tea and rinsed through the hair, there are a few more steps that can make the dye last longer. And for anyone who has dark hair with gray coming through, you know how important that is! Here’s the basic method:
- Chop or mash your herbal material. (See rest of article for suggestions on what to use for your hair color.) You can use fresh or dried for most applications, though specifics are noted with certain herbs. The smaller the material is, the more surface area can be exposed to hair, and therefore, creates a stronger and darker dye.
- Make a paste by mixing the herbs with some hot water. Add a small amount of water at a time until you get a thick paste the consistency of toothpaste. Hot water will open the pores of the herbs and allow more color to be released.
- For colors that require making a tea, use a large amount of herbs – ½ cup of herbs to 2 cups water. Use hot water and steep as long as it takes to cool off. Strain herbs out and transfer tea to a squirt bottle to make application easier.
- If using a tea, squirt onto scalp and hair, repeating until tea is gone. Twist hair, secure on top of head, and cover with a damp towel or shower cap. If using a paste, apply the paste to the roots and cover with a damp towel or shower cap.
- For both types of preparation, leave on for a half hour or so and rinse out. I suggest doing it in the shower or over a bathtub because it can make quite a mess.
- If possible, dry your hair in the sun. It will give it more natural highlights.
- Most of these dyes are semi-permanent. They will last a few weeks. Hair usually grows out faster than color fades. To keep the color, reapply a few times per month or more.
What herbs to use for certain hair colors
All hair is different and may take longer to soak up color or maybe no time at all. Some hair grows faster while others just plug along slowly. Some colors of hair react differently to different colors. Here’s a list of herbs that work best for each hair color type.
Blonde hair will usually take up more color that most others. Lemon juice works well for light blonde and some darker blondes. A tea made from chamomile and calendula will work for darker blonde types. (Find dried chamomile flowers here and dried calendula flowers here.)
Rhubarb root makes golden honey tones. Simmer the root in water and cool. Use as you would with other tea methods.
It’s also possible that other berberine-containing roots such as mahonia (Oregon Grape Root), yellowroot, bayberry or yellow dock could work, but I have found no reports of individuals using them.
For brown hair, use a strong black tea or coffee solution.
You can also make a tea from nettle, rosemary and sage. Sage has long been used to cover gray hair. Use it weekly to get better coverage on gray that keeps coming back. (Find dried nettle leaf, dried rosemary, and dried sage leaf here.)
For red hair, nothing beats tomato juice. Massage a generous amount into hair, lightly squeeze out any excess, then pile on top of head. Cover with a plastic bag or shower cap, and leave on for at least 30 minutes.
You can also make a tea from hibiscus flowers and calendula. By adjusting the amount of each, you can vary the shade of brown. And both are full of antioxidants, which are very healthy for you hair. (Find hibiscus flowers here and dried calendula flowers here.)
Pureed beets will give your hair a reddish purple tone. And all red tones of hair will pick up highlights from a vinegar rinse (like this) used after any hair color.
True black hair is difficult to work with. Black walnut powder will give you very dark, almost black hair. Indigo will give you blue-black hair, but most sources say it should be used with or after henna treatments. (Find black walnut powder here.)
There are very few precautions you need to take while using herbs to color you hair, but some should always be followed. The most important ones are to use gloves and protect the surface you’re working on. Remember, you’re working with dye. Black walnut powder should not be used by those with thyroid problems. And always be sure your solutions are cool before using. DO NOT use them hot! Injury to the scalp could occur. Don’t allow any of the dyes to get into your eyes or mouth. And don’t be afraid to experiment!
ith those types of hair! Not sure why you’d want to use herbal hair dyes? Read the ingredients and then get back to me!
Herbs for Light Hair
I’ve tried several basic herbal variations including:
- Pure, strong Chamomile Tea (brewed with 1/2 cup herbs per 2 cups water) and sprayed or poured on hair and left on for several hours. Sitting in the sun during this time will enhance the lightening effect.
- Fresh squeezed lemon juice, sprayed and brushed through hair and left on for several hours (in the sun) will also produce natural highlights.
- A chamomile tea rinse at the end of each shower (leave in hair!) will produce smooth, silky hair and naturally lighter hair over time.
For a stronger and faster effect, I’ve used the following recipe. It has left my hair very blonde, easy to work with and not yellowy/brassy at all.
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 cups of strong chamomile tea
- 1/2 cup strong calendula tea (optional and will produce more golden tones)
Mix all ingredients in a spray bottle or other small bottle. Shake well before each use. Spray or pour into hair and brush through to get even. This works best when applied to hair directly before sun exposure and left in for 1-2 hours before being rinsed out. Can be used several times a week until desired color is reached. I suggest putting this in your hair and doing a kettlebell workout in the sun for maximum benefit
You can also use this as a rinse at the end of a shower (and then lightly rinse with water) though it will take longer to have an effect. This will not have an overnight dramatic effect, though when I’ve put it in my hair before gardening in the sun for a few hours I definitely noticed a difference.
Herbs for Red Hair
These will create a red/dark strawberry blonde tint in lighter hair and an auburn tint in darker hair. The effects are cumulative, so extended use over time will create a more vibrant red. The easiest thing is to make it part of your hair care routine if you want continual red hair.
- 2 cups of water
- 1/2 cup of calendula flowers or fresh marigold petals from your garden
- 2 tablespoons (or more for more red hues) of hibiscus petals (also available from Mountain Rose Herbs)
Boil the water and simmer with the calendula/marigold and hibiscus for at least half an hour. Strain off the flowers and store in the fridge. Use as a final hair rinse at the end of each shower. Dry hair in the sun if possible. Repeat daily until desired shade is maintained and then every few days to maintain.
If you want faster and more permanent results, you can use Henna Hair Color from Mountain Rose Herbs. This is the only brand I can vouch for the quality of, and the results are very dramatic. They have a lot of color variations with red hues (and darker ones) and the results last for several months (or longer if you wash your hair less often). They won’t completely cover grey hair, but will darken it. Don’t use on chemically treated hair or test on a small section before using on the whole head!
Herbs for Brown Hair
It is easiest to darken hair that is already light brown or darker, though these colors will even darken blonde tones. Always test on a small part of hair before using on the whole head, especially on chemically treated hair. Used as a rinse, these will also darken grey hair over time. The more they are used, the darker the results. For faster, dramatic effect, use a Henna Color Like Black, Dark Brown or Mahogany. For a slower or more gentle tone, use these herbs:
Simmer the herbs with water in a small pan for at least 30 minutes or until water is very dark. Remove from heat and when cool, strain herbs out, making sure all small pieces are removed (I use cheesecloth). Store mix in the fridge. Spray or brush into hair about an hour before showering each day, then shampoo as normal. Can also use as a rinse and leave on at the end of each shower. Repeat until desired color is reached. It has a cumulative effect and you probably won’t notice much difference the first few days. The herbs in this mix are also great for getting rid of dandruff and for increasing hair growth…
Herbs for Dark Brown Hair or Black Hair
If you have very light hair, it will be difficult to get really dark hues with just herbs, though with enough patience, it can be done. I’ve listed herbs that work, and you can use any combination. As always, test on a small section of hair before using. Henna hair colors will provide really dark results that last longer, but if you want to go dark gradually, these are the recipes I’ve tried:
- For very dark hair, put 1/4 cup of Black Walnut Powder in a tea bag or cheesecloth bag and steep in 3 cups of water in a quart mason jar for at least 6 hours or overnight. Use as a rinse in the shower for hair and dry in the sun if possible. This will create VERY DARK hair, especially if you have dry or color treated hair. It will also provide the darkest coverage for grey hair. Repeat daily or as needed to darken and maintain dark shade.
- Use strong brewed black tea as a final rinse to darken any color hair. This is also nourishing for the hair and will provide a temporary darkening effect on most hair types. Repeat as necessary to get desired shade and sun-dry if possible.
With any of these herbal hair colors, make sure to test on a small part of your hair first, especially with color treated hair and especially with the henna colors as they have more lasting effects. Experiment with any of the above and mixtures of them to get the right mix for your hair!
Ever used natural hair colors or rinses? Please let me know below!
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