As we grow older, our hair gradually turns gray, losing its natural color. For some, this process begins as early as the 20s. Many women are not ready for such a big change. Some want to hold onto their natural hair color, while others choose to enhance gray or white hair. Like most dark fibers, brunette or black hair doesn't show color as readily as blond or light brown; it is also resistant to accepting color and requires more color. Natural colors are stains; they don't contain chemicals that enable drastic changes, so their coloring power, particularly on naturally dark hair, is subtle.
The complex hair shaft of kinky and curly hair requires more color and gray hair is very resistant. To top it off, hair grows 1/4-1/2” per month, making coloring hair a real challenge. Shown resistance, we have a tendency to reach for permanent color rather than gentle solutions—this can lead to damage, especially if relaxers or straighteners are also used. This article is written for those seeking natural ways to enrich graying hair. Botanical rinses work with existing color, providing subtle highlights, increased shine and youthful vibrancy without making permanent changes.
Red Hot Oil
Reddish highlights warm sallow skin and enliven dingy, gray hair. A rich red hue can be created from the roots of the herb alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria), extracted into oil. Red Hot Oil conditions dry hair and colors it simultaneously. Apply as a hot oil treatment.
1/3 cup alkanet root, cut and sifted 2/3 cup sweet almond, safflower or olive oil
Yield: two or more applications (depending on hair length) Shelf life: 1 year
Place alkanet root in sterile, dry jar with screw top. Fill jar with oil. Set in window. Steep 24 hours; swirl periodically. Warm 1/4-cup red oil; apply heated. Divide hair into four sections. Part hair 1/4” at a time and apply oil from roots to tip. Put on plastic cap; then wrap head in towel. Leave on 45 minutes, then shampoo.
The Catch Method
The catch method is a way of infusing hair with natural dyes using repeated applications. Place large bowl in sink or bath tub. Lean over the bowl. Pour herbal rinse over hair from pitcher. Squeeze rinse into bowl. Pour liquid into pitcher. Repeat application 10-12 times.
This recipe features madder root (Rubia tinctorum), a relative of alkanet root, which was featured in the previous recipe. Flamin’ Red works well on medium or dark brown hair. As a progressive dye, the color intensifies with repeated use.
1 1/2 cups water 1/3 cup madder root 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Makes: approximately 12 ounces Shelf Life: use within 24 hours
Boil water. Add madder root. Stir; cover; reduce heat to medium. Simmer 30 minutes. Add vinegar then simmer 30 more minutes. Reduce heat to low; steep 1/2 hour more. Strain. Cool. Apply using catch method (see sidebar).
One of the strongest hair dyes is henna (Lawsonia inermis). People have enjoyed henna since the civilizations of Ancient Egypt. Legend holds that both Cleopatra and Nefertiti has lovely red hair. Henna brings out reddish highlights in the most resistant hair, including graying hair. Henna is not recommended on hair that has been dyed recently with commercial dyes; a chemical reaction occurs, turning hair black. Henna is also not recommended for hair that is more than 50% gray. To use packaged henna, follow manufacturer's directions. Enhance the packaged henna as follows.
- Shampoo hair first
- Enhance red tones by using cognac, red wine, carrot juice, cranberry juice, hibiscus tea or rosehip tea in place of water
- Tint and scent: add vanilla extract for scent or any combination of ground allspice, cinnamon or cloves for enriched brown tones (Limit spices to a teaspoon. Avoid use on abraded scalp or on sensitive or allergic individuals).
- To minimize brassiness, use strong black coffee, rosemary, sage or black tea in place of the water
- For body: add flat beer or hops tea in place of water
- Add mayonnaise to quench dryness
- Attract moisture with yogurt, sour cream, honey or molasses
- Follow up with a hot oil treatment to counteract dryness
Rosemary (Rosmarimus officinalis) and Sage (Salvia officinalis) Rinse
This is an age-old formula for blending gray hair into darkly colored hair. It works on the same principle as tea or coffee—staining; facilitated by the concentration of tannins.
1 1/2-cups distilled water 1 teaspoon each dried rosemary and sage
Yield: approximately 12 ounces Shelf life: 2 weeks
Boil water; add herbs. Cover; reduce heat to medium. Simmer 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low; simmer 20 minutes. Turn off heat; steep 1 hour. Strain. Apply using catch method.
Alternative: use 3 cups strong coffee or black tea. To prepare: brew 3 tablespoons loose Assam, Ceylon, Oolong tea or three Tetley tea bags in three cups boiled water. Cool. Apply using catch method.
Tobacco Herbal Rinse
Tobacco (Nicotianna spp.) rinse is one of the most effective ways of quickly staining graying hair. This rinse adds golden, auburn tones.
1 1/2 cups distilled water 1/4 cup dried tobacco 2 tablespoons vinegar
Yield: Approximately 12 ounces Shelf Life: 1 month, refrigerated
Boil water; add tobacco. Reduce heat to medium low; cover. Infuse 40 minutes. Remove from heat; add vinegar; steep 20 minutes. Strain. Apply using catch method.
Bulk Henna and Herbs: San Francisco Herb & Natural Food Co. 47444 Kato Road Fremont, 94538 510.770.1215 firstname.lastname@example.org
Packaged henna: Health food stores and specialty markets such as Whole Foods and Sally’s Beauty Supply