Bright Red, Light Yellow, True Green, Pure White, Pastel Pink, & Strawberry Blond
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I sort of dye my hair. A lot.
The love affair began when I was 13, and has continued, uninterrupted, ever since. Seriously.
It started off eggplant, a dark auburny aubergine, inspired by the blossoming Grunge movement and, admittedly, My So-Called Life. Hey, what can I say? It was junior high. That show totally rocked.
By high school I was ‘that freaky blue-haired girl’, and I was a dye-hard. I went through a brief phase post-graduation, where I decided that I was an ‘adult’ now, and thus I had to ‘start acting like one’ (ha!). I got a job at a posh little boutique, started wearing mainstream clothing, and dyed my hair a normal color. Within 6 weeks I was miserable, alienated, and pretty much an alcoholic. A few months later I quite that job, quit the afternoon cocktails, and shaved my head down to the first guard. That was the only lesson I ever needed in the importance of self-expression.
My aesthetic is a huge part of who I am and it’s played an integral roll in my life. I make no excuses or apologies about that. At university I excelled within a highly competitive field. I was a model academic in every way – except for my appearance. It definitely worked in my favor though, and endeared me to my professors once they realized I could back it all up with intellect. Before my lab flew out to present our work at an international congress in Glasgow, my advisor asked me if I was going to tame down my [then magenta] hair. “Um, . . . no?” I cautiously replied. His answer: “Good.”
So suffice to say, my hair dye is here to stay. But how natural is it? And how healthy is it? I’ve received a lot of email regarding the topic, and so I wanted to address a few of the issues. I’ve got some good news, and some bad news.
Burgundy, Platinum, Cobalt, & Magenta
Is there such thing as a natural hair dye?
Short answer: sort of. There’s henna, but true henna only comes in one color (reddish-orange) and is rather hard to find. Most ‘hennas’ are sold as compound hennas, containing additional dyes, metallic salts, and other [toxic or nontoxic] chemicals. Other plant-based dyes, like indigo (to get blue-black) or woad (to get a dark brown) are available. But again, these are difficult to find in pure form.
If you’re hoping for candy apple red, neon orange, submarine yellow, granny smith green, turquoise blue, grape jelly purple, princess pink, or bright white, you’re simply out of luck. Same goes for bleach/lighteners. Sorry! Any compound product claiming to be ‘all-natural’ or ‘organic’, whether it be alternative or traditional colors, is blowing smoke. Don’t buy into it!
Have you ever used henna?
No – not yet! It’s next on my list though. Henna doesn’t react well with bleach or other dyes, so I have to grow out my roots and then shave my head. I’m looking forward to the experiments with henna. Stay tuned for a full report!
Is there any vegan hair dye?
Unfortunately, it’s pretty grim. Like the vast majority of cosmetics, most hair dyes (and/or their ingredients) are tested on animals. Luckily, the entire line of Manic Panic’s classic cream formula dyes, as well as their flashlightning bleach kits, are 100% animal and cruelty free. Woo-hoo!
How bad is the boxed stuff at the drug store?
Pretty bad. It’s ammonia-based and noxious (you can tell it’s trouble just by the smell). It’s probably not gonna kill you, but it’s certainly nothing you want to apply to your precious self.
What about the stuff my hairdresser uses?
Sorry, but it’s about the same. Ammonia-based and full of noxious chemicals. Plus, most hair dressers don’t know the first thing about real-world coloring (in my experience, and no offense to the good ones out there!). Stay true to the subculture; DO IT YOURSELF.
So, what do *you* use, then?
In my almost 15 years experience I’ve used everything imaginable, from the drugstore box dyes to Kool-Aid (yes the drink), from the revolving ‘trendy’ alt dyes like Fudge, Punky Colors, and Special Effects, to lemon juice + sunshine, from professional salon jobs to backyard experiments with Jello (yes the dessert).
These older-and-wiser days, I stick exclusively to Manic Panic. Most importantly, they’re vegan. But they also provide an excellent range of colors and they super-condition your hair. Plus, they’re the original old school alt dye, and I grew up on the stuff!
Manic Panic is a non-toxic, non-noxious, vegan vegetable-based semi-permanent product. They are NOT all natural, they are NOT organic, and they are NOT saving the world from environmental destruction. No illusions, okay?
I wrote to the company requesting further information, but I never heard back from them. So I decided to do a little sleuthing of my own, and began researching each and every ingredient. My goal was to accumulate an honest, unbiased assessment of the risk associated with use. I’ll be presenting these findings here, coming soon.
So, what’s your real hair color?
Ha! Wouldn’t you like to know!?
No seriously, I don’t actually know. Before my first dye job I was a towhead, like totally white-blond. But that was pre-puberty and I’m certain it’s darkened up since then. But to what, who knows? . . . and maybe we never will . . .