It's estimated that 70% of women in America today dye their hair. Whether it's to highlight their natural color, cover grays, or don a whole new look, using hair dye has become the norm. In fact, when I dyed my hair for the first time last year, my friends and co-workers were astonished. How had I gotten all the way into my 20s without booking a single color session, or a bad teen boxed dye phase?
The biggest factor was that I liked my natural hair color. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about exposing my strands to harsh, damaging chemicals. My hair is so sensitive that I stockpile hair masks and oils like it's my job—shout out to Olaplex's take-home treatment and Kiehl's Olive Oil Deeply Repairative Hair Pak, $25. Everyone has been warned about the dangers of hair dye at some point; even though those warnings are to encourage safety (not deter you), it's still enough to make anyone a bit hesitant.
You're left with are a few options; one is dying your hair organically. With fewer chemicals and more natural ingredients, it gives users peace of mind—and maybe even healthier hair. But how does the color payoff and longevity compare? We asked some experts to find out.
Organic vs. Conventional
According to Stephanie Brown, Colorist at Nunzio Saviano Salon in NYC, there's a significant difference between conventional and organic hair dyes. "There are fewer chemicals and usually no ammonia in organic hair dyes." Ammonia is the ingredient that conventional dye formulas use to penetrate the hair cuticle and deposit color. It has the potential to severely damage and weaken the hair, which is why people with sensitive strands (like myself) might find organic hair dye to be a better, healthier option.
Organic Doesn't Mean 100% Natural
Brown cautions that not all organic dyes are completely natural. "They are not chemical-free," she says. While chemicals are present, they "rely on botanical ingredients and naturally derived ingredients." The only truly 100% natural hair dye is henna, but even that has some serious drawbacks. Brown says henna-based dyes are "actually pretty harsh on the hair because they contain metallic salts." In other words, natural doesn't always mean healthy. It's possible other additives or ingredients can still harm the hair.
How to Choose
So what's the best plan of action, then? It's to choose the healthiest option, not only for our hair, but for bodies too. After all, hair dye can come in direct contact with our skin, and we're all about erring on the side of caution. Brown actually sees conventional hair dye as fine unless her clients have damaged or weakened hair. "In my professional opinion, organic hair dye is less harsh on your hair. If my clients are sensitive, I use this product," she says.
Roya Adjory is the founder of Nori's Eco Salon, L.A.'s first green-certified hair salon. It operates without any toxic chemicals whatsoever, to the point that even the paint on the walls and insulation is eco-conscious. For hair color, it uses Natulique, which is a haircare brand that is certified organic by the USDA. To Adjory, this is the only organic hair color option. She calls it "the mildest composition available in the world," but it's functional, too, with 100% gray coverage, long-lasting color, and shine. Each shade of dye is composed of over 98% naturally derived ingredients, and it's able to deposit pigment through natural ingredients like hydrolyzed wheat protein.
Natulique is designed for salon use only, so you'll have to find a professional supplier. Adjory swears by the intense color pay off it imparts and hair health it maintains. But if you plan to use an organic hair color that isn't backed by a professional, Brown says results will vary. "The colors tend to be duller," she says. On top of that, some might only last as long as a semi- or demi-permanent dye.
There's not really an answer to whether organic hair color is better. It has fewer harsh chemicals, making it safer for prolonged use, but it may result in less vividness and longevity (depending on the type you use). Whether you choose to use a conventional or an organic dye, both Adjory and Brown recommend turning to a professional for all of your hair color needs. They'll know what works best for your hair and what doesn't, saving you from spending more time and money trying to correct a bad dye job.