One of the questions we get asked about most often is about herbal hair dyes and how they affect your hair. In this article, we’ll discuss how dying your hair with conventional dyes is different than with natural dyes, as well as some of the benefits and drawbacks of using both.
Conventional Hair Dyes
Let’s talk about what happens when your hair is dyed. When you use conventional dyes on your strands, you can choose from a variety of types, including permanent, semi-permanent, temporary, and gradual. Permanent hair dyes are the most common dyes used, and are also the most damaging to the hair shaft. This is because an oxidative reaction must occur in order for the color (pigment) to enter the hair shaft.
During this reaction, the cuticle swells and allows hydrogen peroxide, the oxidizing agent, to penetrate the cortex (which, if you remember, is the main layer of the hair). Hydrogen peroxide then breaks the bond between your natural pigment and a protein. This process lightens the hair and removes the color. Then the goal is to reform protein pigment bonds, but with a new color. This is not always a perfect reformation which is one reason hair that is colored often needs a bit of extra protein.
Because the cuticle layer must be lifted during the dying process, it is subsequently damaged and cannot return perfectly back to its original, sealed state. This can make it difficult for protein to penetrate the hair to repair the cortex fully. Deep conditioning with protein before and after may help minimize some damage, but most protein works on the hair surface.
Olaplex No. 3 and CurlSmith Bond Salve are “bond building” treatments that help strengthen the current bonds of the hair without adding additional protein. These products often do not contain protein themselves but help many people with color damaged hair. You can use these products monthly and/or after coloring.
Natural Hair Dyes
As previously mentioned, dying the hair can be a damaging process- but how do natural hair dyes like henna affect the hair? Dying with natural hair dyes isn’t nearly as damaging as using permanent coloring, because the dye doesn’t actually penetrate the cortex. Instead, it lays on the outer surface of the hair and binds to the keratin, creating a quick stain. Because it isn’t penetrating the cortex, the cuticle layer doesn’t have to be lifted. However, just because it doesn’t damage the cuticle layer doesn’t necessarily mean it reacts well to everyone’s hair. We highly recommend performing a patch test before dying your hair to ensure that your skin doesn’t have any adverse reactions.
So should I dye my hair?
It is entirely up to you! If your hair is excessively damaged, you may want to avoid dye treatments that lift color, instead using dye treatments that deposit color. If you choose to use bleach or permanent dyes to your hair, make sure to take steps to protect your hair from damage. This includes bond building treatments to strengthen your hair before a chemical treatment; or using styling products that contain sealing ingredients to protect the cuticle layer. You can also use alternatives like henna, which can be more gentle on the hair.
Harrison S., Sinclair Rodney. “Hair colouring, permanent styling and hair structure”, Journal of cosmetic dermatology. 2 (2003): 180-5. DOI 10.1111/j.1473-2130.2004.00064.x
Gallo, F. et al. “Henna through the centuries: a quick HPTLC analysis proposal to check henna identity.” Revista Brasileira De Farmacognosia-brazilian Journal of Pharmacognosy 24 (2014): 133-140.