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Be Green

Green Hair... not literally, of course!

Image courtesy anardana

Many of you have written or called and asked if there is an all-natural, safe way to colour hair. It's taken me a long time to find a solution because much of what I found on the internet and in health stores was marked "natural" or "organic" but still contained the same harmful chemicals that commercial dyes do. So what are these chemicals?

PPD stands for paraphenylenediamine, which apart from being a mouthful is actually banned for use on skin. Here's an interesting article on skin reactions to PPD. And here's what Health Canada has to say about it:

"Black henna" temporary tattoos are often sold and applied by artisans at markets, fairs and amusement parks in Canada and holiday or foreign travel destinations. Natural henna is redbrown in colour and is safe to use directly on skin, whereas "black henna" is produced when a colourant is added to natural henna. Some colourants are safe to add, but others, such as paraphenylenediamine (PPD), are not. PPD may be added to "black henna" ink by mixing it with hair dye. In some cases, hair dye is applied directly to the skin instead of a henna paste.

The use of PPD in cosmetics that are applied directly to the skin (such as temporary tattoos) can cause serious allergic reactions and poses a risk to the health and safety of the user. Therefore, cosmetics containing PPD that are applied directly to the skin are banned from sale in Canada. PPD is an acceptable ingredient for use in hair dyes that are rinsed off after a maximum of 30 minutes. When used correctly, hair dye does not come directly into contact with skin for prolonged periods of time.

Allergic reactions to PPD include red skin rashes, itching, blisters, open sores, and scarring within 2 to 10 days following application. These allergic reactions may also lead to sensitivities to other products such as hair dye, sun block and some types of clothing dyes.

Ammonia and hydrogen peroxide: Both these compounds can cause skin or lung irritation in sensitive individuals.

Now, my own sister got a rash following a black henna tattoo. It was awful: weeping sores, a burning sensation that prevented her from sleeping for two weeks, poor baby! It's been 10 years since she got that "temporary" tattoo, but you can still see a mishappen red scorpion on her upper arm. As far as her dermatologist is concerned, she can never use regular hair dye because her body has become hypersensitive to PPD. If you're like my sister, or are just uncomfortable with the idea of putting stuff on your hair when it's been banned for use on skin, keep reading. Because there's hope!

Hip hip HENNA!
I know what you're thinking. Henna is for redheads. Worse--it'll make you orange. But not necessarily. After literally months of research, I stumbled upon a brand called Light Mountain Naturals. The product is simply a blend of two herbs:
Lawsonia Inermis: That's just the fancy name for good old henna
Indigoferae Folium: More commonly called "indigo"

Depending on how they're blended, these two herbs will colour your hair anywhere from a strawberry blonde to a deep reddish black. No PPD. No ammonia. No hydrogen peroxide!

Want to know what Brett Plager, a master colourist at Salon Noir thought of this product? Keep reading. Or watch the video (after 7pm).
Note: If you had trouble with the link earlier, it's 'cos our resident web goddess, Molly, was on vacation. She's back, so the links are all active again.


Meet Alison Proteau. She's actually a long time CBC viewer (hoorah!) and sweetly volunteered to help test Light Mountain's Cover the Grey.
I don't have a picture (yet), but our other model, Ginette Verdone (if you watched the video, she's the one with more than 50% grey hair) is an awesome lady. She didn't cry (or even complain) when her hair went green. And don't worry, Brett fixed the problem (albeit with chemicals) and she's back to being a ravishing brunette. Photos to come, I promise!

So what it like colouring hair with henna?

Actually, it's fairly easy (if a little messy). Women all over South Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa have used henna for hair colouring and conditioning for centuries. Even Cleopatra used it. (Note: It must be said, a few slaves would come in handy while trying to reach those tricky back-of-the-head greys, but friends bribed with food and wine work just as well). Just... save the wine for after.

Here's what you have to keep in mind:
1. Henna often reacts with metals. This means you have to use DISTILLED water while mixing your mess. Anything else and you run the risk of going green. Literally! The metals found in water often mix iAlso, ceramic or plastic bowls, plastic brushes and latex or plastic gloves.

2. Henna stains skin and clothing: Make sure to avoid using pristine white towels and to protect all your nice light-coloured clothing and work surfaces. It also helps to slather some vaseline or moisturiser along your hairline to prevent orange skin.

3. A little help from friends: It helps to have more than a pair of hands to slather the goop on.

4. Some like it hot: Henna colour deepens when it comes into contact with heat. That's why Indian brides wear their bridal henna overnight (and ruin their mums' sheets--ask me, I should know!). The heat of one's body actually helps the dye darken. In a salon, folks are often put under one of those canopy dryers. At home, you can mimic this with a hair dryer (be careful not to burn yourself) or simply by leaving the stuff on for about 2 hours.

5. Henna DOESN'T prefer blondes: If you're a bottle blonde, henna is probably not for you. Bleached hair tends to get orange and brassy when it comes into contact with henna. Also, if you have coarse or very dry hair, henna can further exacerbate your problem.

6. Henna and allergies: It doesn't matter that henna and indigo are natural. You MUST use a patch test. Also, if you know that you are G6PD deficient, DON'T USE HENNA without speaking to your physician. Here's more info.

So here's what Brett thought:

Generally speaking Brett is rather comfortable working with henna. Unlike many colourists who flatly refuse to work with the stuff, has many clients that come to him for this express purpose. However, he had never worked with a henna-indigo blend before.
His overall impression was very positive. Especially for Alison. If you've watched the video, you can see that Alison was definitely brunette (and NOT red) after he was done colouring her hair. Working with indigo and henna requires two separate steps and makes the process longer than working just with henna. But Brett said he would use the colour again.

For Ginette: things didn't work out quite so well. It may have been because we were rushing a little because I only had the camera for a limited amount of time. Or it could be that the "Color the Gray" just didn't take on her hair. But she was left with grays that had the slightest tinge of old seaweed. Which, frankly, is taking this whole "Be Green" movement a tad too far! Luckily, Brett stepped in (with some chemical dye... sigh) and fixed the problem. Ginette has gone back to being the ravishing brunette she always was.

Natural hair colour requires a bit of experimentation. It helps to do a strand test (basically dye hair that you've gathered from your hair brush) so you'll know exactly what you're going to get. On the bright side, you can certainly fix your disasters the good old chemical way. The idea is to work with a colourist like Brett who's experienced in these matters.

Where to find Light Mountain Natural:

Here's the (somewhat) bad news: it isn't exactly widely available. I've got a listing for Nature Santé (4906 Queen- Mary; phone: 514-738-4638)

There's also Sol Natural Foods in Aylmer: 186 avenue de la Colline, Gatineau.
Phone: (819) 684-0512
If you know of somewhere else that sells this stuff, please write or call in so I can add it to the list. Thanks!

On a side note, I just want to mention something: Brett Plager has got to be one of the nicest and most helpful people I've ever come into contact with. I am seriously stunned by how willing he was to go out of his way to help me. He helped find volunteers to have their hair coloured, he freed up time on his schedule and he was open to experimentation with a colour he'd never tried. So I just want to say, he's fabulous! If I WERE to colour my hair, he'd be my guy.
If you want to see Brett, check out Salon Noir (97 Laurier West, corner St Urbain). Phone: (514) 278-2626

And now it's your turn: have you ever coloured your hair with henna or indigo? Would you be willing to switch?
Leave me a comment or call our Talkback Line: (514) 597-5626

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Comments (9)

Stephanie Baldwin


I've been using henna on my hair for a few years now and love it. I used to use drugstore dyes but found them harsh, smelly and expensive as the red color I prefer fades so quickly. I tried Lush's red henna (sold in a big block like a candy bar) and have never looked back. It is more time consuming than chemical dyes, but I just chop it up, mix it with boiling water (I use tap water, but might try with distilled next time), glop it on (with gloves, of course) and wrap my hair in Saran wrap. I leave it on for a few hours while I do my household chores then rinse out. The results are a lovely bright red that is shiny, healthy and conditioned. Best of all, the color actually grows out before it fades out, so I just have to touch up the roots every few months and the color blends perfectly! Plus it smells really nice... very earthy and fresh. I've even had highlights put in and had no trouble... it took strong stuff to get the henna out, but the results were subtle and looked very nice. I would recommend henna in a heartbeat, but as you so rightly mentioned, always do a strand test, first! ;)

Posted February 16, 2009 07:10 PM

Diane Roseman


I love Herbatint hair color (no amonia). I tried an all natural haircolor, Logona, that I had to order from the U.S., but it did not cover the grey. Herbatint is available at Health Tree and Loblaws, and is wonderful. No smell. Covers grey. Easy to use. Better than the expensive and smelly salon hair coloring!
Thanks, Diane Roseman.
P.S. I use only organic beauty products and natural cleaning products etc. I'm always researching new products out there.

Geeta writes:
Just so you know, Herbatint DOES contain small amounts of PPD. So if you have no sensitivity to it, great, but if (like my sister) you're allergic, you probably shouldn't use it.

Posted February 17, 2009 07:06 AM

Ginette Verdone


I just wanted to take the time and say thank you to Brett, Francis and Alison from Salon Noir. Brett is indeed fabulous. He chose a wonderful colour to cover my seaweed hair and Alison did a wonderful job at styling my hard to manage hair. I truly enjoyed the experience at trying to be green ! Thanks Geeta !

Posted February 17, 2009 07:16 PM

Alison Proteau


I had a lot of fun too!! It was quite an adventure for me. I wish I had the Salon Noir team every day!
Thanks for the adventure, Geeta.

Posted February 19, 2009 09:45 AM



I have been using Colora Brand henna (dark and medium brown) for years and years. It covers my nearly total grey completely, washes out gradually with a nice stripey effect that I much prefer to the roots problem encountered with most hair colours.

And it's cheaper.

I enjoy these "Green" broadcasts.

Yours truly


Posted February 19, 2009 10:37 AM

Geeta Nadkarni


Fatima called in to say:
She's been using henna for years. Fatima comes from Gujarat in India where dyeing your hair with henna is extremely common. She had a couple of tips: she says adding a tablespoon of coffee to your henna will help turn the colour brown instead of orange. Also, she recommends adding one egg (organic if possible) to the mix. This will add a deep conditioning effect.

Geeta adds:
Another listener called in to tell me that they've used the Lush Cocoa Rouge bar with great results. I found a video tutorial on YouTube for using this item.

Monica (the YouTube woman) has some great tips for keeping the process mess-free. But please, don't use as much plastic wrap as she does. Maybe try and use just one plastic bag that you can reuse for this purpose?

Posted February 19, 2009 11:21 AM

Alison Proteau


With this good henna experience I am much more willing to use it next time the hair needs some oomph.
I am curious about the coffee tip: In what form is this added? Ground? Perked? Powdered? Instant? I prefer the browness to the orangey effect.

Posted February 20, 2009 09:24 AM

Dina Rossi


Was using Gerlinda henna a long time ago...where can I get Henna, loved it then, need it now ..lol



Geeta says:
Hi Dina, I've posted a bunch of links within the post. You should be able to find henna at most health food stores or Indian markets (make sure to check it's the pure thing and not the stuff with PPD in it). You could also order it online from Lush:
Good luck!

Posted February 23, 2009 12:59 PM

Heba Frank


Hey ladies, I used to buy the Henna online from the US until I found an online store in Canada which sells raw Henna. I use it on my hair and I love it. The effects last even longer than the regular store-bought Henna. Check it out at www.greenorganic.ca
It is even cheaper!

Posted February 24, 2009 09:04 AM

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