Vegetable Vs. Chemical Hair Coloring

Dramatic hair color changes must come from chemical dyes.

Photo: Hemera Technologies/ Images

You may covet Gwyneth Paltrow’s blond locks, Kate Beckinsale’s brown mane or Emma Stone’s fiery red tresses, but your quest for the perfect head of hair may put your health at risk. Chemical dyes effectively cover gray hair and can change a brunette into a blonde in a matter of hours, but at what cost? You may get less permanent results with natural, vegetable dyes, but these products do offer a safer coloring alternative.

Chemical Dye Dangers

The Environmental Working Group reported in 2007 that 82 percent of hair dyes and bleaches are contaminated with a cancer-causing impurity called 1,4-dioxane. Chemical hair dyes also give off choking fumes and can burn sensitive skin. After regular use, permanent chemical dyes can damage the hair shaft – leaving your strands brittle and dry. A review of multiple studies looking at the relationship between chemical hair dye and bladder cancer published in the January/February 2005 issue of “Public Health Reports” concluded that the use of chemical hair dye increased the risk of developing bladder cancer by 22 to 50 percent.

How Chemical Dyes Work

Chemical dyes color your hair by penetrating the outer layer of the hair shaft. They use chemicals that break down this cuticle, allowing your desired color to seep in. Catherine Saint Louis, in a March 2010 issue of the “The New York Times,” referred to these chemicals as being as delicate as a can opener – leaving your hair’s outer layer jagged and vulnerable to breakage and dryness. Some hair dyes use less harsh chemicals to make this cuticle opening process a bit less harsh, but they still contain numerous chemicals whose safety has not been thoroughly vetted through scientific research.

Vegetable Dyes

Vegetable dyes may make you think of smearing carrot juice or beet extract on your hair to get new color. The term actually refers to any plant-based pigment that is friendly for strict vegetarians and does not contain chemical components. You find these dyes in health food markets or natural beauty stores. Henna and chamomile dyes are considered vegetable dyes. These dyes alter your hair’s hue by coating the outer shaft, but they usually wash out in six to eight shampoos.


Hair dyes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so dyes that claim to be all-natural may not be. Vegetable-based dyes, especially those labeled as permanent or semi-permanent, may still contain harmful chemicals. John Corbett, Ph.D., told “Vegetarian Times” in 1998 that any hair dye ingredient list containing the words “amino,” “nitro,” “phenyl” or colors starting with the letters “HC” is not natural. If you seek to drastically change your color – say emulate Pink’s bleachy locks – you’ll have to endure more toxins. Vegetable dyes are also less effective at covering stubborn grays. If you select a vegetable dye labeled “tint,” you will need to reapply it every time you shampoo.

Related Videos


Add to this Article



Just for you

What type are you?

Choose your Body Type
or Register
Daily Look


How would you like to register?

Register with Facebook
  • It's fast, easy and hassle-free
  • One-click log-in and commenting
Register with
  • Use your email to create your account