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Hair dye comes in both synthetic and natural forms. While plant dyes are generally milder than synthetic ones, all types of color products can dry out hair without proper care.

Synthetic Hair Dye’s Affect on Hair

Synthetic or chemical hair dye is the most popular type for people to use at home or at the salon. The home hair color kits are user-friendly products that generally involve mixing the color and developer, and then applying it to either wet or dry hair. The dye stays on the hair for a specified time and then rinsed off and followed by a special conditioner. The products can be harsh, especially if overused or used incorrectly.

Synthetic hair dye comes in the following formulas:

Types of Hair Dyes

  • Temporary or semi-permanent color (level 1): Level 1 dye is made up of small color molecules that can pass the cuticle and cortex to deposit color without changing the natural pigments. These formulas do not contain peroxide or ammonia so they cannot lighten hair. The products can cover hair that is up to 50 percent gray but may not work well on resistant grays. Since the cuticle is still lifted during the coloring process, this method can still be drying and cause frizz so extra conditioning is necessary once hair is color-treated. Temporary color fades gradually over time, lasting for about 6 to 12 shampoos.
  • Demi-permanent color (level 2): Demi color penetrates the hair cuticle and once in the cortex, interact to create the color molecules. The formulas contain small amounts of peroxide that allow for a stronger color deposit, as well as better gray coverage, than level 1 color. The dye will not lighten natural pigments. Level 1 color lasts for up to 26 shampoos.
  • Permanent (level 3). Permanent dye is the only way to lighten hair or dramatically change a hair color because it changes the natural pigments. Formulas contain both peroxide and ammonia which permanently lighten the hair and then deposit the color. The original hair color combined with the dye color will determine the color results.

Any demi-permanent or permanent dye that penetrates the hair shaft with peroxide and/or ammonia in order to deposit color will cause natural hair protein loss. Since hair is made up of keratin protein, the loss of protein makes hair less able to hold onto moisture and may affect hair elasticity and general manageability. Once hair is chemically processed from either dye or a perm, the hair is more porous. In some instances, temporary and demi-permanent color deposits permanently on previously dyed or chemically-treated hair.

Natural Hair Dye’s Affect on Hair

Natural hair dye refers to plant-based hair color products, such as henna, herbal or vegetable dyes. These types of dyes are often available at health food stores or specialty stores. Most natural dyes are temporary and only affect a slight color change because they do not contain chemicals to lighten hair. The permanent natural products often still contain a small percentage of peroxide and may deposit color as well as a permanent synthetic one.

Henna from the plant Lawsonia Inermis is the most popular natural dye option. Henna coats the hair with permanent color without entering the hair shaft or changing its structure.

Natural Dye Vs Synthetic Hair Dye

It is important to only buy body art quality henna because there are many products labeled as henna that actually contain metal salts. These compound henna products are the ones negatively react with synthetic hair dye. True henna will not interact with synthetic hair dye and can be used over color-treated hair. One way to recognize compound henna is if it is any other color but red-orange. Pure henna can only deposit shades of red to hair. In order to get a shade of brown with red highlights, henna must be mixed with another plant, indigo. Even though henna only deposits red tones to hair, the results vary based on a person’s staring hair color. For example, a blond can get fiery red-orange hair while a brunette may get lovely dark auburn shade.

What Is the Safest Hair Dye?

While almost every type of hair dye, including henna, has critics about its long-term use on hair, many hair dye formulas can be used safely when used properly with gentle hair care. Synthetic dye’s harsh chemicals may cause allergic reactions or hair damage. Yet, some people still suffer allergic reactions or damage to natural color products. The best way to prevent hair damage from a hair dye is to research products and consumer reviews to find highly rated quality products, do strand tests, follow the manufacturer’s directions, and practice gentle hair care.

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