On Hair Dye

September 17th, 2009 - filed under: The Fashion » Beauty and Cosmetics

hair_dye_2Bright 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.

hair_dye_1Burgundy, 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 . . .


  • http://ultimatemoneyblog.com/my-review-of-the-keeper-menstrual-cup Mrs. Money

    Ok- my favorite is the pure white. SEXY!

  • Erin

    The henna for hair site you linked to actually sells both indigo and henna, among other things. I’ve dyed my hair with only henna for nearly three years now. It used to be butt-cheek long and that was still all I used! It’s great, and you smell like carrots for a few days :)

  • Amber

    What’s your take on Pureology?

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Mrs. Money -Thanks!

    @ Erin – Yeah, Henna For Hair is a good resource. I’m looking forward to carrot hair!

    @ Amber – Pureology seems like a good company for hair care products. They don’t seem to do any hair dye, but as far as care and upkeep go, they seem good. I’ve used some stuff by them in the past and always had a good experience. Green, vegan, all that god stuff. =)

  • http://www.heathers-perspective.blogspot.com Heather

    I’ve been using pure (orange-red)henna since I was 17 (that really makes me feel old admitting that!). And yeah, it’s such a messy, time-consuming, pain in the butt process, but I LOVE it. I don’t even mind all the “sticks and leaves” in my hair that I fail to rinse out sometimes! I’m so fortunate that I can find the pure henna right here in Wisconsin! :)

  • http://www.giverecipe.com zerrin

    I’ve just discovered your blog and I saw this post. I love all those colors of your hair, you look wonderful! I love dying my hair, too, but not with as many colors as you do. Just wanted to say that I add 1/2 tbsp olive oil to the dye mixture whatever the color is. It makes my hair look healthier and brighter.

  • Cindy

    Hey Sayward –

    Just a bit of info from a fellow color addict. Like you, I haven’t had a natural hair color since my early teens, so I have a fair bit of experience with this!! I’ve been platinum blond to blue-black and most shades of blond, red and brown in between!! I switched to henna over a year ago when my overprocessed platinum hair started to feel bizarrely stretchy and mooshy when I combed it out after a shower, even with good conditioner. Even though my hair color used to change every week or two, I don’t think I’ll ever go back – I love henna that much.

    Regarding your comment that henna doesn’t react well with bleach or other hair dyes – that’s largely untrue. Henna has an unfairly earned bad rep in the modern beauty community that’s based largely on b.s. Pure henna is nothing short of magic. Henna that’s been falsely labelled, i.e. has metallic salts and other artificial ingredients will cause problems with bleach or dyes. So, really, it’s not the henna that’s ever been a problem, it’s the other ingredients involved, the ones that shady companies neglect to include on the labels.

    As someone who has colored your hair as often as you have, you’ve no doubt noticed 2 things – how repeated bleaching and dying leaves your hair frazzly and damaged, and that damaged hair bleeds out color fast, that you lose loads of color every time you wash your hair. Henna will never cause damage, since it doesn’t penetrate the cuticle, but coats the shaft of the hair strand instead. It will actually fill in small gaps in the hair cuticle, leaving it feeling stronger, smoother, and far shinier.

    The other cool thing is that, since it stains the hair, bonding completely with it, you don’t have to worry about it leaching out and coloring your fingernails or your towels every wash. My hair was so damaged, colored and bleached, that dye would bleed out, fading to some very weird colors, and not weird in a good way.

    The first time I used henna was at the recommendation of one of my ‘green girlfriends’, totally against my hairdresser’s advice, directly on top of super bleached, almost white hair. I couldn’t believe how shiny, smooth and healthy my hair looked, how ‘natural redhead’ the color turned out, and how well it lasted, not fading at all. For something that started as a desperation move, as the last step before shaving my head, it’s lasted a long time, and I really couldn’t be happier!

    As long as you think you can handle having the same color for a long time, henna is the best, healthiest way to go!! And, if you really want color variety, you can always play with indigo and henna blends. You have options from Lush’s Les Cacas to pure powdered henna from a health food store. You seem to be very creative as well as a scientist, so I’m SURE you’ll have a ton of fun!!

    P.S. I love the cobalt hair. You have the skin tone and the facial features to carry it off and look stunning in it!!

  • http://yahoo.com Allison

    You, are pretty much a freak( :
    like me when it comes to coloring your hair, but what about hena strippperr?

  • JackP

    I’ve currently got cling film all over my head trying out some black/indigo henna so We’ll see how it turns, I’m not hopefull so thanks for the vegan dye link :)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Heather – Hmm, sticks n’ leaves, you really sell it! Haha, just kidding of course. I can’t wait to give it a go!

    @ zerrin – Thanks m’ dear, and thanks for the tip! I’ve never heard of adding olive oil, but that makes perfect sense. I’ll have to give it a try.

    @ Cindy – Ah, mooshy hair, I’ve totally had that! Eww! And thanks for all the awesome advice! It’s obvious you speak from experience, and it’s so good to hear from someone with a long history using henna. So thanks! (and thanks on the cobalt, blue always was my ‘signature color’ =))

    @ Allison – Yup, a freak all the way! I don’t know about the exact product that your referring to, but if it’s called henna and claiming to remove color, it’s definitely a compound. It will have added ingredients, most of which are nasty. Watch out! It is impossible to remove color without harsh chemicals (this I KNOW, ha!)

    @ JackP – Haha, awesome. Good luck with the henna/indigo. Let me know how it turns out for you!

  • Kelly

    You mentioned “My So Called Life!” Awesome! I used to love that show!

    You, my dear, are beautiful and could be a model. Seriously. Your medley of colors is so fun!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Kelly – Yes! I actually own the DVD box set and re-watch it every few years. Jordan Catalano heartthrob forever, haha!

    And thanks lady, that’s really sweet of you to say. I do so love the medley!

  • Kelly

    Jordan Catalano… *swoons*
    Now, I have to track down that box set for rent at least! :o)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Kelly – Yes! It’s so fun marathoning with old episodes. Sooo nostalgic (and the clothes are AWESOME)

  • theWickedOne

    Hi Sayward, can you list the names of the colors/products you used in the photos above (if you remember them)? The colors look awesome! I especially like the green ;)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ theWickedOne – Thanks! Oh man, okay here is my best attempt:

    1st series 1st row –
    1) Special Effects brand, ‘Nuclear Red’
    2) bleached out burgundy taken to light yellow
    3) Punky Colour brand, ‘Apple Green’ (best EVER)

    1st series 2nd row –
    1) lots of 40 volume bleach, followed my Manic Panic brand ‘Virgin Snow’ as a toner
    2) Punky Colour brand ‘Rose Red’ MIXED with ‘Platinum Blonde Toner’ to make a pastel
    3) oh god who knows, something off the shelf at the drug store

    2nd series –
    1) another drugstore box dye, but similar to Punky Colour brand ‘Rubine’
    2) tons of bleach but no toner (& uber hairspray, ha!)
    3) Punky Colour brand ‘Atlantic Blue’, that’s my signature color
    4) Punky Colour brand ‘Rose Red’ over non-bleached hair

    I think that’s as good as I can get! Mostly Punky Colour because I was a true devotee before I went vegan. But Manic Panic is awesome, just leave it on for as many hours as you can before washing it out. Great stuff!


  • theWickedOne

    Great! Thanks :D I’m a mix of Pravana Violet and Raw True Blue at the moment. I’m definitely going to get the Apple Green soon.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ theWickedOne – That sounds beautiful!

  • theWickedOne

    What is your method to get color out of your hair? Say you have blue hair and want to dye it red…Do you bleach or strip it? Or do you just wait for it to grow out? I’ve just been dyeing over previous colors, but they don’t have the shocking brightness that freshly bleached hair gives to dye. (luv your blog btw)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ theWickedOne – BLEACH! Bleach and bleach and more bleach. Unfortunately, it’s the only way to go. And it’s damaging to hair and bad for you and it’s gotta be harsh on the environment. But if you want bright color, it’s a concession you have to make.

    Blue to red is hard. Getting blue completely out of hair is near impossible. You may have to use a transitional color for a few months, like blue to purple, and then purple to red.


  • Amanda

    At least you avoid having the greys come in ;) I was doing the Manic Panic thing from about 12-13-y-o too, until I got all “old” (ie. early 20s) and thought I had to be professional. Additionally, my chosen career path is one that emphasizes being natural; I haven’t found a middle ground anywhere (despite desperately wanting to dye my hair crazy bright colours again! I swear, it must be in the blood or genes or something!) Anyway, I discovered my first several grey hairs in the last year and it’s just more motive to dye my hair again :P

    Do you think people would go see a nutritionist with blue hair? ;) I suppose you have a holistic attitude toward life, and I would suggest that dyeing your hair hasn’t hampered your progress/success in life. Can you ever foresee a time when you’ll stop?

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Amanda – Actually, I aspire to BE a nutritionist with blue hair! So I’d have to say – I sure hope so! Ha!

    I do not foresee a time when I’ll ever stop. It’s just too much a part of me . . .

  • Katta

    Hi, Sayward. I don’t know if you are still replying to this blog but I came upon this for a google shirt for white toners.I’m an amature hair dresser and though I’ve been dying my hair crazy colors since I was very young there are certain products/colors I’ve never tried. My best friend is wishing to have white strips in her already almost naturally black hair. We’ve bleached it before and it has always come out well at a very yellowy blond. She’s bought a white toner from Special Effects and I wanted to know your personal take on Special Effects products.
    I’ve heard the best about Manic Panic’s toners but I wondered if you knew if others would still get you that same beautiful white without the grey brassiness.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Katta – I agree with you that Manic Panic is the best toner I’ve used. I have also used Special Effects though, and it’s a decent product – better than any of the more chemically ones you could get at a beauty supply store. I treat toner like I treat dye, in that I put it on and then leave it on for hours and hours. Then I rinse it out and don’t shampoo my hair for a couple of days, to give it extra time to ‘set’.

    As Im sure you know, going from black to white is a really difficult (near impossible) process. You’ll probably have to bleach-tone-bleach-tone-bleach-tone over a few months to get it as white as you want, with it getting a little lighter each time. But I’d say go with the Special Effects – it’s a totally solid product.

    Good luck! I’d be curious to know how it turns out!

  • Katta

    Thank you so much for you’re information Sayward. I’ve been worried both to disappoint my friend as well as destroying her hair. I’m sure you know how important a woman’s hair is…at least mine is rather important to me.

    I will sure let you know how it goes and I’m going to take your advice and bleach it out slowly over a period of months.I’ve read stories and had friends that bleached their hair four and five times in one day and come to me begging me to fix the mooshiness and or dry breakage and more often then not the only way to fix it is by cutting it off.

    Oh one question, did you ever get around to dying your hair with henna? I’m currently pregnant and I need to dye my hair fix some very serrious showing roots from how fast my hair is growing. I wanted to use the most natural product I could find(real henna) because I’ve heard some very bad things about chemical dyes and pregnancy, plus my skin is already dry enouh.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Katta – Oh, I’ve *been* that girl who bleached 3 times in a day and ended up with a head of moosh. So sad!

    I am using henna now and actually plan an article either end of this week or start of next. I’ve really enjoyed my henna experience and would definitely recommend it. Look out for the article coming soon!

  • Katta

    Thank you so much I look forward to reading about it.

  • Acacia

    according to your writings it doesnt seem like youve really used many natural dyes (heheh…my parents are hippies…theyve only let me bleach+dye 1nce and that was special effects red) but I was hoping for a blue that lasted a long time.. Ive been looking into indigo, but Ive only ever seen it used with henna to make a gorgeous black? do you know if when used by itself if it would make a bluish? please reply!!! XD

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Acacia – I’m not familiar with indigo, personally. But I know there’s a lot of information about it at http://www.hennaforhair.com

    Good luck! Let me know if you get good results – I’d love to know of a natural blue! =D

  • Alex

    How did Kool-Aid work for you? My daughter, a natural brunette, wants to try out blue Kool-Aid, but I’m not so sure.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Alex – Alas, Kool-Aid only works on very light hair. It won’t go over natural brunette without bleaching – which of course defeats the purpose of Kool-Aid. Sorry! =(

  • Carmen

    I’m a middleaged scot, love your site. Not vegan – yet! but your site is inspiring and have tried out some recipes. I have dyed my hair for years as I started going grey when I was 16. I have almost 100% silver hair – quite nice but not ready for that yet. I am allergic/or sensitive to hairdyes and my hair was in a terrible state so I went back to henna/indigo. I used to use just henna in my 20′s when I didn’t have too many grey hairs and it gives your hair luxurious shine and condition and a reddish tone- lovely. Now my hair is almost all grey/silver I apply henna first then indigo which isn’t perfect and is v time consuming but does give my hair a dk brown colour sometimes with reddish roots and bits. I add a tbsp of oil olive oil is good – to both mixes, not only does it seem to conditioner your hair but helps in the application of the goo. I also try not to use shampoo etc v often – it’s itchifying -but do use shikakai powder for a deep clean it’s fantastic.
    thanks for all your info and inspiration and you do look lovely with all your different colours

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Carmen – Thanks, and welcome to the site!

  • Hoopoe

    Henna can be played with make a range from orange to deep burgundy red the secret is what you add to it. Yoghurt (i’m not sure if this will work with your vegan yoghurt, cajput oil, clove tea, coffee, black tea, hibiscus tea, clove oil, lemon juice will give deeper colours. Furthermore, you must mix it up and let it sit for a while (2-8hrs). Some henna after an hour will produce a very rich colour.

  • http://no unknown

    could you be interview for an traverse city michigan middle school newspaper? for a hair dye story

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ unknown – Hey, shoot me an email info AT bonzaiaphrodite DOT com

  • Jacob

    This site is pretty awesome.

  • Redheadreadin

    So weird, that’s my hometown….what middle school?

  • Moki

    This TOTALLY helps with someplace to start looking for my mother and I on cruelty free dyes.. She will not do henna on our hair, she’s worked with it with grim results, lol. Every name or lead counts to us. Thanks Say! x

  • Maya the Bee

    Alright, I needed good advice on how to continue my blue hair love affair without going to the Salon. Never has the internet hooked me up with an over the top boon! Thanks for the hair dye advice, and EVERYTHING ELSE RADICALLY wonderful on your sight!!! Shedang lady this is awesome!!

  • SarahP

    OMG, I totally forgot about My So Called Life. Great show to watch in junior high!!! :D

  • HermeticWonderer


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