• Small Sustainable Swaps

Hair Dye

Normally I don’t dye my hair. I have in the past but to be honest I find the upkeep a bit of a hassle! The exception to this is during school holidays when I will often choose to dye my hair with a semi-permanent purple for a bit of a change (purple being my favourite colour). With the changes I have been making to live more sustainably this has become something that I want to re-assess. The use of single use plastics is one aspect but also, I have become more aware of the ingredients that are used to make this type of product.

What is hair dye?

Hair dye uses chemicals to affect the natural pigments within the hair shaft, either removing them, replacing them or covering them up. You can get temporary, semi-permanent and permanent hair dyes which will last for different lengths of time and provide different levels of colour and coverage dependent on your base colour.

Some of the problems with hair dyes

Because chemicals are usually involved in hair dyes it can result in damage to your hair, skin reactions or even unexpected colour results. Therefore, hair dyes always recommend doing a patch test before using on your hair. I haven’t experienced any of these issues but that isn’t to say I won’t in the future.

It is additionally important to consider the fact that when you wash the hair dye off it goes down the drain into the water system where the chemicals even in small quantities may cause issues in the local waterways. One example of this is ammonia consequently it is important to select hair dye that does not contain ammonia.

Another aspect to consider is the packaging and application method needed. Many hair dyes come in plastic bottles or tubes which may not always be recyclable. Furthermore, they usually recommend wearing gloves when you apply the hair dye due to the high likely hood of staining your hands if you don’t. These are often supplied with the hair dye and designed to be disposed of after use.


When looking into alternatives the main option would seem to be Henna hair dyes. This is available from a range of places including Lush. I haven’t tried henna and from what I have read there seems to be mixed reviews on its effectiveness. Unfortunately, it is only available in a limited number of mainly natural colours. Henna is made from the lawsonia inermis shrub and works by sitting on the surface of the hair and slowly sinking in. It is still important to carefully check the quality of the henna and how it is designed to work. Henna can be sourced plastic free. For me henna is not the solution as it can’t offer the purple colour, I am looking for, but it may work for you.

An alternative I have found that may be a good option is from Lime Crime. Their hair dye is vegetable based containing vegan ingredients and no ammonia, PPD, peroxide or bleach. It does come in a plastic bottle which can be recycled or reused. They offer a good range of bold, bright colours including purple!

Another alternative offering bright, bold colours is Shrine. Their hair dye does come in a plastic bottle but is designed to offer a multiple number of applications. Recycled plastic is used to make the items in the kit. You add the desired number of drops to your own conditioner. The hair dye is vegan and cruelty free.

The final alternative I have found is Bleach London. On their website they state, “We don’t want the manufacturing of our products to create unnecessary pollution or inflict any damage to the planet or its inhabitants.” In their salons they offer refillable glass bottles and they have removed the single use tools from their kits. Their products are vegan and cruelty free. Bottles brought online are made from recycled plastic and can be recycled after use.

When it comes to the need for plastic gloves, I have a pair that I got with a previous dye that I have been reusing and will continue to do this until they become unusable. I have also reused an old take away container if colours have required mixing of different elements.

My choice

As I only dye my hair during school holidays it will be a couple of months before I can do it again. I think I will try Shrine first as this is designed to have multiple applications and allows for choosing your own strength.

It would be great to hear what har dyes you have found that are more sustainable choices.

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