During my 5 years as owner of a natural beauty store and spa, I was struck by the number of women I spoke with (read: counseled) who were freaking out about gray hair; in particular, women who had developed an allergy to paraphenylenediamine (commonly referred to as PPD) and could no longer use commercial hair dyes.
Will Natural, Organic Hair Dye Cover Gray?
One conversation in particular stands out in my memory. Still in my 30’s at the time, I didn’t have much gray going on, and couldn’t understand the panic gray hair generated.
A first-time customer, who had recently developed an allergy to PPD, called to ask whether any of our hair color products could guarantee 100% gray coverage. I gave her my usual spiel, which can be summed up in a word as “no.”
Customer: “You mean it might not cover all the gray?”
Me: “Well, I suppose it might, depending on how much gray you have, hair texture, things like that. But more likely than not, some gray will still show.”
Customer: “But that’s not acceptable!” she replied, audibly distressed.
Me: “OK, well, I’m very sorry to hear that, but I don’t know what to tell you. I can help you get the best possible results from our PPD-free options, but I cannot promise it will cover 100%.”
Customer: “YOU ARE NOT HEARING ME!! THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!! I NEED ALL OF THE GRAY COVERED!!”
[She was yelling now.] Me: [very long pause] “In that case, the only option I can think of would be to buy a wig.”
Natural Hair Color: A Reality Check
Using natural hair dye to cover gray completely is unrealistic. If you, like the customer I mentioned earlier, would rather saw your legs off at the knees than live with gray hair, or were simply hoping I would tell you all about some incredible, permanent, non-toxic hair color brand you could run out and buy today, this article is probably going to be a bit of a letdown.
Now that I am in my 40s (sigh), I feel your pain, I really do.
It doesn’t change the reality of the situation, but at least I understand why so many women wish there were better options out there.
That being said, it isn’t all bad news. There are some pretty great natural hair color products, if you know where to look, how to use them, and what to expect.
In a follow up article I’ll cover a few of my favorite brands, and share with you some tips for getting the best results from them.
In the meantime, here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning to give non-toxic hair color a try (which I wholeheartedly recommend, by the way):
1. If your stylist/colorist tells you they’ve found a natural permanent hair color, do not believe them.
Before you post angry comments calling me anti-salon professional, please hear me out. Cosmetic chemistry is not typically included in their education or product training. I’ve run into many stylists who thought they had found a “natural” hair color – or worse, were told by the product rep it was natural – only to show me an ingredient label that included both peroxide and PPD every single time.
If finding hair color without these ingredients is important to you, and your stylist says they have found one, I suggest asking to see the ingredient list or, if that’s not possible, calling or emailing the company directly to confirm before giving it the green light.
2. Just because it’s at the natural foods co-op, that doesn’t mean it’s natural.
Yup, even the stuff at the natural food store isn’t always so natural. If it says “permanent,” odds are it still contains peroxide and PPD, albeit less than your average box of color, and usually with no ammonia.
That includes both NaturTint and HerbaTint, two of the most common co-op brands. Thankfully, pretty much all at-home color options have the ingredients listed on the box, so it’s easy to see what you’re getting before spending your money or risking your health.
3. Accept that it is not going to cover all the gray.
Nor are you likely to achieve a highly specific, consistent shade of color every time. The technology simply doesn’t exist (yet) in the world of non-toxic chemicals. Accept it now, and make life much easier for yourself and those around you.
If applied correctly, natural hair color will almost certainly give you some decent coverage of the grays, along with rich color, and a hefty dose of shine. Adjust your expectations accordingly, and you’re much more likely to be happy with the results.
Have you had good luck with PPD-free hair color? Are you in the “grey hair, don’t care” camp? Let us know in the comments below how you feel about natural hair dye.