Looking for an alternative to chemical hair dye? Herbal hair dyes are not only safe and inexpensive—they are often more natural-looking than their commercial counterparts. Herbs produce more muted changes in your hair color, which makes them an excellent choice if you want a little change rather than a dramatic difference. They are also a great option for covering up grey hair. Because they lack the chemical fixatives found in commercial hair dyes, they behave more like stains or temporary hair color (fading after several weeks or months).
However, herbal dyes should still be tested out on a small patch of hair to avoid unpleasant color-changing surprises! Choose a spot on the underside, so you can see how the color affects your hair before you apply it to your whole head.
1. Lemon juice
For just a little bit of lightening and some golden color, lemon juice is the easiest and fastest choice. The citric acid works as a natural bleaching agent, giving you moderate highlights. But lemon juice can also dry out your hair, so it’s important to condition at the same time.
To use: In a spray bottle, mix ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice with ½ cup distilled water and 1tbsp almond oil. Shake to mix, then spray through damp hair. Comb your hair to evenly distribute the lemon juice, then allow your hair to air dry. You’ll notice even more lightening if you air dry in the sun.
2. Chamomile and calendula tea
For a deeper and more golden blonde color, chamomile and calendula are your go-to herbs. They can lighten brown or red hair as well as blonde, and will help fade the brassy color that can be caused by UV exposure.
To use: Boil one quart of water, then add ½ cup each of chamomile and calendula flowers. Allow them to steep for thirty minutes, then strain the liquid. Allow it to cool completely, then pour or spray on your hair. Work the mixture all the way through from roots to tips, then comb out to make sure the color is evenly distributed. Let the dye sit for 20-30 minutes, then rinse with cool water and allow your hair to dry.
3. Calendula and hibiscus
Calendula can also help you achieve a strawberry blonde color when combined with hibiscus flowers. More hibiscus will create a darker auburn shade, and more calendula will result in a red-gold; the recipe here is for a lighter strawberry blonde.
To use: Boil one quart of water, then add ½ cup of dried calendula flowers and 2tbsp of hibiscus petals. Let the tea steep for thirty minutes, then cool completely. Use it as a hair rinse after washing your hair as normal, then allow your hair to air dry (preferably in the sun). Repeat once a day until your desired shade is achieved.
For a darker, longer-lasting red, henna is the most well-known herbal dye. The color from a henna dye will last for several months. However, henna won’t cover grey—at most, it will change the hair around it and minimize its appearance.
To use: Apply coconut oil around your hairline, neck, and ears to avoid staining the skin. Slowly add boiling water to 1 cup of henna, stirring to combine. Add ¼ cup of lemon juice, stirring until the dye is a creamy consistency. While wearing plastic gloves, apply the henna mixture to your hair, working it through thoroughly. Cover your hair in saran wrap and allow the dye to sit for 20-30 minutes. Rinse hair with cold water, then hot water, until the dye mixture is washed out.
5. Nettle & sage leaf
When boiled, sage and nettle leaf create a dark stain that can be applied to your hair for a deep brunette color. The sage will also bring out some red and gold highlights, creating an especially natural-looking final hue.
To use: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, then add ½ cup of sage leaf and ½ cup of nettle leaf. Let the mixture simmer until the liquid is very dark. Allow it to cool, and strain the herbs out. Spray the mixture through your hair an hour before showering, and comb to distribute the color. Wash and condition as normal, rinse with the dye once more, and allow your hair to air dry. Your hair will darken further each time you use the dye, so you can repeat the process daily for a deeper brunette color.
6. Black walnut
Black walnut is a natural stain that can be used to produce a very deep brown or almost black color. The dye is very strong, creates long-lasting color, and is especially good at covering grey hair. This also means it can stain your hands, skin, and towels, so be sure to wear gloves and only use old towels.
To use: Put ¼ cup of black walnut powder in a tea bag or cheesecloth, and allow to steep overnight in one quart of water. Before use, apply coconut oil around your ears, hairline, and neck to avoid coloring the skin. Place a towel over your shoulders, and slowly pour the mixture through your hair, using a brush or comb to work it from the roots or tips. Allow your hair to dry fully before removing the towel or touching your hair with bare hands.