Sure, you want to cover those grays, but you also want the most gentle, natural approach to hair color. Which color is best for you? 

"The only truly 'natural' hair color is henna," says Stephanie Scuoppo, stylist at the Miano Viel Salon & Spa in New York City. "Henna is only good for those who have virgin, medium to dark brown hair." Since henna is limited to copper and reddish tones, it's not for everyone, and the potential textural side effects make this an unattractive option for some.

Henna can leave hair feeling dry and stiff, adds Scuoppo. "On the flip side, other types of color available in the professional and consumer market use plant extracts, no ammonia, and lower volume peroxide to minimize damage to the hair and to be gentler on the scalp."

Allergic Reactions to Hair Dye

"Natural" or plant-based dyes are usually free from ingredients like p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), toluene, ammonia, and parabens. Proponents claim that these plant-based dyes are gentler on both your hair and scalp and pose less risk for an allergic reaction. However, without standard guidelines, there's no guarantee that products labeled "natural" do not include these chemicals.

What's more, while some of the chemicals in traditional hair dye can cause reactions, going "natural" may have the same risks. "Though rare, people can be allergic to PPD or paraphenylenediamine, which is a common chemical in permanent hair dyes, says Rebecca Baxt, board certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at New York University.  People can also be allergic to ingredients in "natural" hair color, such as lemon juice, chamomile tea, black tea, walnut shells, henna, coffee, beet juice, carrot juice, and saffron.

Baxt notes that other than being allergic to the dye, she's not aware of any real danger from hair dye. "The dye goes on the hair, which is dead, and the small portion that may be absorbed into the skin can cause a localized reaction if you are allergic," she explains.

Scuoppo recommends that the best way to make a safe, sustainable hair color choice is to speak with an experienced color specialist. Your dermatologist can address any concerns you may still have about the dangers of hair dye.

Stephanie Scuoppo reviewed this article.


Baxt, Dr. Rebecca. Board Certified Dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at New York University.

Scuoppo, Stephanie. Hairstylist: Miano Viel Salon & Spa, New York, NY.