I’ve always been a low-maintenance girl when it comes to hair. When you have as much thick, coarse hair as I do, you either have to become a slave to the blow dryer, or just refuse to play the game. I chose the latter. Also, the kind of hair I really wanted wasn’t just straight, smooth black hair, such as my hair is on its best behavior. What I coveted was wavy, chestnut brown tresses with a slight sultry, “tousled” look. Unfortunately, my hair doesn’t know how to tousle, and more importantly, it’s naturally soft black.
In college, I used to nurse hopes for that perfect bohemian hair, dying it myself in my dorm room using various DIY kits, most often Feria or Preference. The result was often hit or miss–sometimes I would end up with even darker brown than I started (ugh), and other times it would be too red, or too brassy. After college, I dyed my hair much less frequently–and since making the switch to all natural beauty products in the past year, I had’t touched the (hair dye) bottle at all. Using natural, chemical-free products on my skin was so healing that it changed my attitude toward coloring my hair, as well–and I contented myself with using just natural shampoo and conditioner.
However, in face of imminent college reunion, I decided to color my hair once again–and challenged myself to find a more natural option. According to studies, consistent users of permanent hair dye have increased risk of cancer, due to exposure to harmful chemicals. Common ingredients in hair dyes include: ammonia, lead, mercury, ethanolamine, peroxide and the coal-tar derived chemicals. Not to mention, L’Oreal (maker of Feria and Preference) tests its products on animals. None of that was the cost I was willing to pay for glamour! So first I turned to my health store and found Herbatint, a UK brand that is formulated without ammonia, parabens, phenylenediamine (PPD-known skin sensitizer), and less peroxide. The brand is also vegan and cruelty-free. But after toying with the swatches for a few minutes, I put the box down. Having struggled with finding the right color on my own, I just wasn’t sure I could do it again. Plus, the box firmly says you can’t go more than 2 shades lighter, and what I really needed was 3 shades (!).
For those of you who really want au naturel hair color, henna might be your best option. Henna is a type of shrub that has been used to color hair and skin since 3400 BCE. With that much history behind it, you know it’s going to be pretty safe–except, FDA has not approved henna for skin application, which can cause serious allergic reaction in some people. It is approved for hair coloring, though there are certain drawbacks there as well. You can’t use it over chemically dyed hair. You also need to leave it on for 2 or more hours (!) for the color to develop. Finally, it only comes in red-based colors–and while auburn looks gorgeous on other people, it doesn’t play well with my face.
It was time I enlisted professional help. I go to the only salon I’ve ever liked in New York, Scott J. Aveda Salon in Morningside Heights. My hairstylist, Oxana, promises me that it would be no problem going 2 shades lighter. “How about 5?” She says, picking a medium brown swatch. I plead with her that my hair is super resistant to coloring and she reluctantly upgrades me to a 6. Oxana’s straight bob is as dark as my own hair–she is Mongolian-Russian, and knows her way around Asian hair. She also reassures me that their Aveda hair dye is a natural option: it is made of 99% “natural” ingredients (meaning plant or non-petroleum mineral), and while it isn’t safe to ingest (like much of my skincare products these days), it is vegan and cruelty-free.*
The whole thing, from dye to wash, to cut and blow dry, takes about 2 hours. My hair is a rich, chocolate brown, which makes me look a little softer and less forbidding. Dare I say…it reflects a little more light around the face? Also, Oxana has worked her magic with the blow dryer and made voluminous, lush waves with my hair. After paying, I can’t resist taking a selfie! Who cares if there are swarms of Columbia students around and I look ridiculous taking selfie on a random street corner. I totally feel like Princess Kate with my new hair–even if just for a day.
Related: Why Hair Turns Gray
*Some Aveda products do contain beeswax, so check their website.
Photo: Martha Sarah via Flickr; Peaceful Dumpling