Super Natural Hair Color

PHOTOGRAPHY: Rahua

Coloring your hair without harsh chemicals is still a challenge. But it is getting easier.

I first colored my hair in 7th grade. Some friends and I got our hands on a bottle of peroxide-filled Sun-In, sprayed our heads and watched as—after extensive blow-drying—our locks turned a rainbow of shades from strawberry blonde to Archie-comic orange, depending on how dark we were when we started. Since then, I’ve dyed my hair unabashedly from streaked blonde to chestnut, from auburn to platinum. Until now.

When I was recently pregnant, I found myself wondering about the chemicals that usually prettied my roots. Based on pungent smell alone, those were clearly not ideal to inhale or absorb while growing a human being in my belly. But I hardly wanted to walk around looking unkempt.

I have learned to adore natural skincare products and even shampoos and conditioners, but I was doubtful about how natural hair color could possibly turn my naturally ashy shade golden. Didn’t hair color experts need bleach for that?That’s when I decided to investigate. And the options I discovered are impressive.

Healthy Henna
Historically, the go-to ingredient for natural hair color has been henna. The plant-derived color, often associated with temporary tattoos, has limitations, but it can do the job. Marianne Griffeth, owner and lead chemist at green personal care product development company, Prima Fleur, used it herself. “Years ago, I used henna and loved it until my hair had too much gray and it got a bit brassy,” she explains. “I think hennas are beautiful, when they are good quality. They can also be blended with essential oils and other beneficial herbs to add shine and conditioning.” Other herbal extracts can tint, she adds, but not permanently.

Henna is, in fact, still a mainstay of natural hair color for companies like Germany’s Logona, active in this arena since the 1980s. Originally, the company—then called L’Orien Goods—was importing henna colors from Morocco, until synthetic colorants were discovered in them. That’s when the company began to research and mix its own versions, with organic henna from Egypt and colorants like beetroot, ground walnut shell and indigo leaf. The first round was released in the early 1990s. “It took us 10 years to develop a patented process to extract henna, which is the primary colorant in our hair color creams. We are also currently working on new plant-based colorants,” says Heinz-Jürgen Weiland, board member and head of research and development.

Why Go Natural?
Of course, the most obvious benefit of using these natural dyes is avoiding toxic chemicals. As Marko Kucher—the onetime CEO at Logocos America (Logona’s U.S. chapter) and the founder of MaKe Natural Business Solutions—points out, the European Union takes these dangers very seriously, treating hair dyes like the U.S. treats cigarettes. “The chemicals in conventional hair colors are among the most harmful substances found in cosmetics,” he despairs. “In the EU, hair colors have to be labeled with warning labels...and cannot be marketed to [children] under 16 years old.” Kucher also laments that many supposedly “natural” products in the U.S. are actually just as toxic, with many of the same chemicals, just combined with a few plant extracts.

Another plus to going natural, as Weiland points out, is that synthetics penetrate the hair shaft, while plant hair color only coats the outside of the strands, which is gentler and healthier for the hair itself. “The benefit is that your hair gets stronger,” says Kucher.Still, there are challenges: “It is not possible to make hair lighter,” Weiland says. “The original hair color always shines through a little.” Kucher acknowledges that, to make hair lighter, peroxide is necessary. Adds Weiland, “The most difficult is gray coverage for dark or black hair.”

Herbatint Permanent Haircolor Gel offers 100 percent coverage of gray, with no ammonia, alcohol or parabens, and eight organic herbal extracts to nourish the hair. And, the company recently became B-corp certified, indicating a rigorous commitment to transparent, ethical business practices. “Increasingly consumers are making choices not just based on the attributes of the products they purchase but of the companies that produce those products,” says Pierce Sioussat, CEO and president of Bioforce USA, the leading distributor of Herbatint in the U.S. “The fact that Herbatint has gone through such a rigorous certification process demonstrates its true commitment to using business as a force for good, something that resonates with consumers.”

And SheaMoisture, a family company established in 1912 by “Grandma Sofi,” makes it its business to specifically target gray sans henna with its Hair Color System kits. The product has soy protein to strengthen, flax seed oil for shine, certified organic glycerin for moisture retention and finally, of course, certified organic shea butter from Northern Ghana, the cornerstone of its line. “It’s important to us to have a therapeutic ingredient in the formulation that helps to repair hair damage, while promoting healthy growth, shine and manageability,” says Richelieu Dennis, founder and CEO.

Growing Demand
Not surprisingly, there is a greater demand for natural hair color—as in every other sector of the green market—as people become informed, according to Clelia Angelon and Wanda Malhotra, the mother-daughter team behind Surya Brasil. “Year in and year out, we have seen a growth in the market for natural, healthy and safe hair color,” says Malhotra, CEO and marketing director.

Surya Brasil has certainly had success. In 1976, Angelon first began formulating natural hair color in response to allergies and eventually launched her products in 1995. The resulting Henna Cream Color does not contain ammonia, parabens, peroxide, GMOs or gluten, to name a few irritants. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free. Meanwhile, great color is not based on henna alone. For hair products, Surya Brasil also relies on botanicals from the Amazon, like buriti, murumuru and cupuaçu and also brahmi for scalp soothing. Its Professional Curly Hair collection relies on a marine ingredient derived from brown algae with “safe sulfated polysaccharides” for better texture. Again, though it offers 15 shades, highlights are not an option, but the colors can be mixed and matched.

Hairstylists and Colorists
More stylists and colorists are taking note of these advances and doing what they can to go more natural. Jamal Hammadi, who has handled the tresses of everyone from Naomi Watts to Jennifer Lopez and has his own eco-certified line of styling products, Hamadi Organics, mixes his own elixirs to enhance natural hair color, adding pomegranate for redheads or lemon and chamomile to lighten blondes. For hennas, he relies on Mountain Rose Herbs and, for packaged natural color, on NaturColor and Palette by Nature.

Naomi Knights—a color specialist who recently opened Nama salon and education space in LA’s Highland Park and who counts Pink and Scarlett Johansson as clients—has also taken an interest in more natural hair color. She began investigating about 10 years ago. “What I’ve experienced is that the natural dyes tend to look more real on darker shades and redheads,” she explains. “It’s hard to get that kind of natural reflective quality when trying to cover gray or make the hair lighter, since you are taking away and replacing pigment, as opposed to just adding pigment when going darker or glossing a red.”

She likes Davines’ Finest Pigments glosses: “I use this as the icing on the cake to enhance the shine of the color, add pigments, tone and play with color in a safe way. It uses pigments derived from natural ingredients such as the lycopene of tomatoes for the bright red shades, saffron for copper, ginger for gold [and] walnut for brown. The base is a plant cellulose with a rose oil infusion, so it smells delicious.” Davines also has a line she likes called A New Colour, which uses vegetable melanin and carotenoids derived from natural ingredients to lift, deposit and cover gray. “I also love the Rahua treatment for a leave-in long lasting oil,” she says.

Mauricio Cifuentes, hairstylist and owner at Mauricio Hair Studio, also counts Rahua products as a favorite for maintaining color. In 2008, he turned to nontoxic organic hair care after developing health issues related to the fumes of mainstream products. At the time, he felt lucky to discover some great alternatives from Europe. These days, for color and texturizing, he relies on O & M, Organic Color Systems and Organic Keratin. He is even happy with the blond options. “Their hair dyes are ammonia free, PPD’s free and formaldehyde free and their ingredients are mostly plant derivatives, oil-based, with a lot of antioxidants and proteins that restore and give vibrant colors and clean blondes that I’ve never seen before with any other brands.”

Care for Your Hair
As always, sulfate-free shampoos are recommended for maintaining color, as they are designed to strip hair less. Says natural hair care line Briogeo’s founder, Nancy Twine, “Avoiding shampoos containing sulfates is essential for color-treated hair. Sulfates are harsh detergents [that] can strip the hair of color, leaving it full and faded.” Briogeo uses more mild coconut-derived cleansers instead.

Clearly, the options are myriad. As Cifuentes notes, “I just hope that hairstylists will stop being afraid of using these alternatives that are only good for their health. This is definitely the future of the hair industry!”

Take good care of your colored hair with these healthy, healing products that keep color vibrant and strengthen the strands.

Kenza Prickly Pear Nourishing Hair Mask

This richly luxurious hair mask is perfect for any type of thirsty hair: curly, straight, colored, sun-baked, superdry. From a Moroccan-woman-owned company that supports positive social change for women, it’s loaded with prickly pear, argan, black seed and jojoba oils that will soften and strengthen parched strands in no time. kenza-international-beauty-nyc.com

Rahua Color Full Hair Mask

For all shades of color-treated hair, this deeply moisturizing mask, infused with rain forest plants and proteins and certified organic ingredients, will strengthen and protect colored hair, and leave it soft and silky. rahua.com

Hamadi Texture Powder Dry Shampoo

This dry shampoo—comes in a shade for red, blonde and brown hair—is not only great for on the go, it will allow you to shampoo less frequently, helping to extend the life of your color. With essential oils of ylang-ylang and magnolia, a soft and gentle product for color-treated or any type of hair. hamadibeauty.com

Intelligent Nutrients Pureserve Shampoo & Conditioner for Color-Treated Hair

With tilia, a plant that seals in moisture and blocks UV rays; quinoa, a natural protein that conditions and adds shine; and brown algae to help hair retain important minerals, these products strengthen hair and retain color longer. intelligentnutrients.com


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Nora Zelevansky

Nora Zelevansky

Nora Zelevansky is the author of upcoming novel, Will You Won't You Want Me?, and Semi-Charmed Life. Her writing has appeared in ELLE, T Magazine (The New York Times), Town & Country, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair, among others. She lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, New York.
Nora Zelevansky

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