What Dye Can I Use If I'm Allergic to Hair Color?

Always test a new dye, even a natural one, before slathering it on.

Photo: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

Technically speaking, everyone’s allergic to commercial hair dye. Hair dye contains harsh chemicals like peroxide and ammonia — chemicals that will stress out your hair and scalp over time, regardless of who you are. But if your hair stands on end at the lightest encounter with hair dye, you’re not out of the color club just yet. There are far gentler options for your sensitive scalp.

Chemical-Free Henna

Henna is a plant containing a reddish dye molecule in its leaves. When the leaves are made into a paste, you can apply henna to your hair to dye it red-orange without having to worry about harsh chemicals. However, any henna product that claims to dye your hair a different color (black or blond, for example) contains more than just henna -- meaning it could cause a bad reaction against your skin.

Other Plants and Herbs

Tea wasn’t just made for drinking: In fact, a few tea bags may be all you need to get the hair color you’re hoping for. To enhance the color you’re sporting now, steep two tea bags in 2 cups of water. Use chamomile tea to bring out blond hair, red rooibos tea to enhance ginger tresses and black tea to add richness to a brunette shade. Cool the tea to room temperature and massage it through your hair, leaving it on for 10 minutes before washing and conditioning. Repeat this gentle color booster every week for shiny, lustrous hair.

Semi-Permanent Color

If you want more than just a subtle change of hair color, semi-permanent dye may be the way to go. Although it does contain trace amounts of peroxide, semi-permanent color is free of ammonia. This type of dye coats your strands with a new color and washes out after several shampoos. However, your color options are diverse: Commercial semi-permanent dye comes in both natural shades and punky hues like blue, green and pink. However, because it does still contain chemicals, test a small amount of this dye on a hidden patch of skin to make sure you’re not allergic before you begin.

Natural Hair Lightening

Because peroxide is the ingredient in hair dye that allows your tresses to lighten up, there are few gentle (peroxide-free) alternatives to lightening your hair. However, you can obtain some natural highlights by mixing lemon juice with olive oil, working it through your hair, and lying out in the sun. Though it won’t take a brunette mane from dark to platinum, it will bring out some auburn or coppery highlights. Just make sure to moisturize your mane afterward, because lemon juice can dry out your tresses.

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