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Sorry: Organic Hair Dye is a Myth – And Here’s Why

Sarah Federico, Beauty & Wellness Writer

Terminology matters. Especially when it comes to hair color.

It’s estimated that over 70% of American women dye their hair regularly. But as salon enthusiasts double down on their devotion to color, buzz words such as organic, clean and natural continue to shove their way to the forefront of beauty aisles and Ista-captions, everywhere. And the seeming dichotomy made us wonder: does a truly organic hair color exist? We turned to the experts to separate fact from fiction.

How to Distinguish Folklore from Fact

When it comes to hair color, “there’s no such thing as organic,” says Valerie George, VP or Research and Development and Color Chemist at John Paul Mitchell Systems.

Furthermore, even when packaging claims to be all-natural, organic or chemical-free – these statements can be outright false. This is because the two regulating agencies, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, have not come to an agreement on the definition of the term organic.

“Other than henna, any commercially available hair dye – store-bought for home use or found in salons – uses chemical actives for them to work,” says Birnur Aral, Ph.D., Director of Good Housekeeping Institute’s Health, Beauty and Environmental Sciences Lab. “By and large, these chemicals are synthesized substances.”

So … What ABOUT Henna?

Color fans beware – there’s a reason why stylists often suggest avoiding natures natural color. Henna, once applied to strands, is nearly impossible to remove – and results tend to lack consistency and predictability.

“Henna, like all plant-based materials, contains heavy metals due to growing in soil. It’s very difficult to remove heavy metals when the henna is processed to make it ready for coloring the hair,” says George. “When bleach comes in contact with the heavy metals from the henna, uncontrollable reactions can occur with high heat, which can burn the consumer or dissolve the hair.”

Safe, Clean and (more) Green Color Options

The good news is, hair dye doesn’t have to be organic or all-natural in order to be safe – and there are ways to keep both your health and the planet in mind when it comes to coloring your hair. Conventional “hair dye can be made as clean as possible,” confirms Chris Appleton, celebrity stylist to Kim Kardashian West and Jennifer Lopez.

Look for formulas that forgo the use of six questionable ingredients: Ammonia, resorcinol, parabens, phthalates, PPD and gluten. We’re sharing our favorite options, here.

Elumen by Goldwell. Exceptional color results – minus the chemical cocktail. Formulated without the use of peroxide, ammonia, and PPD’s, Elumen delivers 37% more shine, 76% more color intensity, and 20 % longer durability when compared to conventional demi-permanent and permanent hair colors. Boasting 32 shades ranging from natural to colorful, the assortment of hues penetrates deep into the hair, creating intensity, longevity and a deep shine effect.

EOS by Wella. Ingredient-conscious consumers will find a lot to love about this eco-friendly color line. From sun-kissed blondes to cinnamon reds and chocolatey brunettes, you can expect multi-tonal results brimming with richness and depth. While this 89% plant-based product can deliver a spectrum of results – plus touts a zero-damage formula – it’s not well-suited to covering natural grays. Expect up-to 50% gray coverage, which can be likened to the blurring effect filter found on your phone.      

tbh by Schwarzkopf Professional. New to Schwarzkopf, tbh formulas are crafted with 92% naturally derived ingredients. With up to 50% less ammonia vs. standard permanent hair color, 26 shades work to illuminate the hair’s natural highs and lows. Clear, straightforward ingredients take the confusion out of color – plus create truly authentic results.

So, while you might not be able to completely eschew the use of chemicals and additives when it comes to changing the color of your hair, you can certainly lean into lines that have dedicated themselves to pushing the boundaries – and are creating more sustainable solutions for your hair and our planet.