8 Natural Hair Dyes That Are Kind to Your Hair and Look Amazing

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Byrdie / Sabrina Jiang

We’ll cut right to the chase here—finding a hair dye that’s entirely chemically free is virtually impossible. Not to mention that terms like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ aren’t regulated, so even if you see them slapped across the label of hair color, it’s important to take those claims with a grain of salt. That being said, if you’re looking for a more natural hair color—be it because you’re pregnant, going vegan, or simply trying to be a more conscious consumer—your best bet is to do some ingredient sleuthing and know which ones to steer clear of.

One big one? Para-phenylenediamine, or PPD, has the potential to cause everything from a minor skin reaction to even, yikes, anaphylactic shock. (Thankfully, the latter is very rare.) "Every time you color your hair, your immune system registers a foreign particle on the scalp," says Rob Forgione, co-founder of My.Haircare. "Most of the time there's no problem, but there can be a time when somebody has a PPD color on their hair, and they have a reaction.” And that could happen after 40 years or on the first time, he adds. Ammonia is another good ingredient to avoid, not to mention one that can be damaging to your hair, as is resorcinol, an ingredient that may affect thyroid function.

The good news: There is plenty of plant- and henna-based hair colors out there that offer a safer and less damaging alternative to traditional dyes.

Check out our favorite natural hair dyes below.

Best Overall: Biolage Haircolor

Matrix Biolage Haircolor

Courtesy of Sleekshop

What We Like
  • Wide shade range

  • No developer required

  • Minimal ingredient list

What We Don't Like
  • Reviewers note package directions could be better

Who else recommends it? Good Housekeeping also picked the Biolage Haircolor.

There are 20 shades of this color available, all of which contain, wait for it, only 10 ingredients or less and are anywhere from 82% to 100% plant-based. It relies on a purified version of henna for the wide array of tones, which range from both trendy rainbow shades to natural browns and blondes. While the product is meant for the pros, those who are going to DIY will appreciate that it only needs to be mixed with water, no separate developer is required.

Active Ingredients: Henna | Type: Plant-based | Shades: 20 | Size: 3.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Budget: Revlon Total Color Permanent Hair Color

Revlon Total Color
What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Long-lasting

  • Hydrating

What We Don't Like
  • Reviewers note color doesn't match the box

For those who don’t like to break the bank on boxed dye, this is a great choice. The cream formula is not only inexpensive, but it’s also free of a litany of ingredients, including ammonia, parabens, sulfates, silicones, and phthalates. (FYI, it does contain resorcinol, however.) The cream formula doesn’t drip, and the permanent color lasts for up to six weeks, while also completely covering any pesky grays. Bonus points for the inclusion of a botanical-based, conditioning gloss.

Active Ingredients: Cannabis Sativa (hemp) seed oil, sesame oil (brunettes), black tea (dark hair), cranberry (reds), chamomile (blondes) | Type: Permanent | Shades: 16 | Size: 2.5 fluid ounces (developer), 1.7 fluid ounces (cream colorant), 1.7 fluid ounces (conditioning gloss) | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Drugstore: Clairol Natural Instincts

4.9
Clairol Natural Instincts Demi-Permanent Hair Color

 Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Wide shade range

  • Affordable

  • Hydrating

What We Don't Like
  • Not ideal for a complete color change

Ultra-gentle and ammonia-free, this bargain buy is made with 80% naturally-derived ingredients, such as coconut and aloe vera, just to name a few. Because it’s a demi-permanent color (expect it to last up to 28 washes), it’s best for helping to blend in smaller amounts of gray or enhancing your natural shade and shine, rather than a complete color change. Still, there are over 35 colors to choose from, an extensive mix of blonde, brown, black, and red tones.

Active Ingredients: Coconut, aloe vera | Type: Demi-permanent | Shades: 38 | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Henna: Rainbow Research Henna Hair Color

Rainbow Research Henna Botanical Hair Color
What We Like
  • 100% natural

  • Minimal ingredient list

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Application period is longer than other options

If you want an entirely natural option, henna-based color is the only way to go. There’s literally nothing else in this formula besides henna, available in nine colors. Keep in mind that application can take a little bit of getting used to (you add boiling water to the powder to create an oatmeal-like consistency before painting onto your hair), and the color will only last for four to six weeks. Still, happy reviewers rave not only about the natural formula but also how natural the result is.

Active Ingredients: Henna | Type: Plant-based | Shades: 13 | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Permanent Hair Color: Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit

Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit

Ulta

What We Like
  • Wide shade range

  • Hydrating

  • Drip- and run-free

What We Don't Like
  • Pricier than other options

This brand touts the distinction of having the first ‘six-free’ permanent hair color, free of ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, PDD, phthalates, and gluten. Instead, it’s packed with hydrating and nourishing ingredients—think keratin and argan oil—to both improve the look and feel of your strands. Bonus points for the complete gray coverage it delivers, as well as the thick cream formula that won’t run or drip.

Active Ingredients: Argan oil, keratin, ginseng extract | Type: Permanent | Shades: 36 | Size: 1.7 ounces (radiant cream color), 2.5 ounces (conditioning color activator), 0.7 ounces (barrier cream), 0.5 ounces (color protecting shampoo and conditioner) | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Semi-Permanent Color: Maria Nila Colour Refresh

4
Colour Refresh Dusty Pink

Maria Nila

What We Like
  • Great for temporary changes

  • Ammonia-free

  • Customizable with White Mix (sold separately)

What We Don't Like
  • Pricier than other options

For commitment-phobes and/or those who just want a temporary color change, this wash-out formula is a great pick. Each of the 17 shades (ranging from bolder to more subdued options) lasts anywhere from four to 10 shampoos. And to the point of natural, the formula is ammonia-free, and 100% vegan, and cruelty-free, with certifications from PETA, Leaping Bunny, and the Vegan Society.

Active Ingredients: Argan oil | Type: Non-permanent | Shades: 17 | Size: 3.4 or 10.1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Bright Colors: Manic Panic Virgin Snow (Toner) - Classic High Voltage

Manic Panic Virgin Snow Hair Toner
What We Like
  • Wide shade range

  • Ammonia-free

  • Long-lasting

What We Don't Like
  • Must bleach dark hair for best results

If you’re looking for bold, rainbow-inspired colors, this pick is a great choice. PPD-, ammonia-, resorcinol-, and paraben-free, the formula is also vegan and cruelty-free. Not to mention that there over 40 of said trendy shades to pick from (and even some that will glow under a black light if you really want to get wild.) The color will last up to six weeks, though keep in mind you’ll get the most vibrant results on hair that’s either naturally light or has already been bleached.

Type: Semi-permanent | Shades: 86 | Size: 4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Dark Hair: Schwarzkopf Simply Color

Schwarzkopf Simply Color
What We Like
  • Ammonia-free

  • Dermatologist-tested

  • Easy to rinse out

What We Don't Like
  • Reviewers note color doesn't match the box

There are 18 shades of this permanent color available, nine of which are geared towards a range of brown and black tones. Ammonia-, alcohol-, and silicone-free, it’s also dermatologist-tested, a boon for those with sensitive scalps. Still, the dye is full-on permanent, super vibrant, and touts 100% gray coverage, always a plus, especially on darker hair.

Active Ingredients: Botanical oat milk, soy protein, argan oil | Type: Permanent | Shades: 18 | Size: 2.0 fluid ounces (tube color cream), 2.0 fluid ounces (developer lotion), 1.7 fluid ounces (nourishing conditioner) | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Final Verdict

Hair dyes are by definition filled with chemicals. If you want to go entirely chemical-free, a pure henna-based color, like the Rainbow Research Henna Hair Color (view at Amazon), is really the only option. That being said, the Biolage Haircolor (view at Sleek Shop) is our top pick, also using minimal ingredients and being anywhere from 82% to 100% plant-based. Otherwise, seek out formulas that are free of ammonia, PPD, and resorcinol, like the Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit (view at Ulta), which has the added benefit of being packed with hydrating ingredients.

What to Look for in a Natural Hair Dye

Free of the Big Three

The three major chemicals that you’ll want to steer clear of if you’re seeking a more natural hair dye are ammonia, PPD, and resorcinol.

The Coverage

Many of the more natural hair dyes out there are demi-permanent formulas, meaning they’ll gradually wash out. But if you’re looking for a more dramatic result and/or need gray coverage, permanent formulas are the way to go.

FAQ
  • What can I dye my hair with naturally?

    Henna is a popular choice for dying hair without using store-bought dyes. It’s a plant-based dye that deposits color, typically red, dark brown, or black. Other options to dye hair naturally include black tea for dark hair, chamomile for blondes, and cranberry for reds. Keep in mind your results may be a lot subtler than if you used a traditional hair dye.

  • How can I color my gray hair naturally?

    Henna powder is a good choice for coloring gray hair. Henna comes in several colors and is easier to control than some other types of home-dying plant-based techniques, like coffee or tea.

  • How can I dye my hair without damaging it at home?

    You can dye your hair at home without damaging it by using a product like pure henna without any additives. Be sure not to leave it on too long to avoid damaging the hair. Otherwise, you can choose a demi or semi-permanent color that deposits color and doesn’t use peroxide or bleach to lift, and therefore damage hair.

Why Trust Byrdie?

Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. 

Meet the Expert

Rob Forgione is a color specialist and the co-founder of My.Haircare, a line of clean and vegan hair care products and colors for consumers and professionals.

According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any natural hair dyes from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at contact@byrdie.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Helaskoski E, Suojalehto H, Virtanen H, Airaksinen L, Kuuliala O, Aalto-Korte K, Pesonen M. Occupational asthma, rhinitis, and contact urticaria caused by oxidative hair dyes in hairdressers. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2014 Jan;112(1):46-52. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2013.10.002

  2. Welsch F. Routes and modes of administration of resorcinol and their relationship to potential manifestations of thyroid gland toxicity in animals and man. Int J Toxicol. 2008 Jan-Feb;27(1):59-63. doi:10.1080/10915810701876687

  3. 8 best hair dyes made with natural ingredients for 2022. Good Housekeeping. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty-products/hair-dye-reviews/advice/a17382/non-toxic-hair-dyes-55021302

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