My Search for a Natural Hair Dye – Does Honey Lightening Work?

The recipe reads like a sweet treat…honey, cinnamon, cardamom, coconut oil…along with olive oil and distilled water. But it’s not a dessert, it’s a recipe for natural hair dye.

Recently, I’ve been on the search for a much more natural alternative to traditional hair color, and while some cosmetic companies are making “better for you” colors, with less of the toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens, there are still questions over the safety over the continued use of hair coloring products.

Finding less toxic personal care and cosmetic alternatives is always a priority for me, but since I am a woman of child-bearing age and now on a pre-conception path, I’m even more concerned about these toxins. The majority of them, especially in personal care products and cosmetics, are potent endocrine disruptors and while healthy for no one, that is certainly not ideal when preparing to conceive.

So, my research turned up few options, but one seemed to hold promise. Honey lightening. That is, using honey, in a certain dilution of distilled water to lighten the hair naturally. Since I’m a natural dark blonde, this seemed a perfect fit. I simply had some dark roots that needed a hint of color. Honey lightening is not new. And, there are websites and forums and photographs and testimonials and how-to’s all over the internet about the right way to do it. I researched for days and crafted what I thought was the best recipe- a compilation of all those I could find.

So how is this supposed to work? Well honey has natural peroxide. And, as we ladies know, peroxide is generally used in chemical hair colors to achieve that bleaching effect. The distilled water is necessary for proper dilution, and distilled is recommended instead of tap water because the impurities (and even natural minerals) in unfiltered and undistilled water can deactivate the peroxide, thus rendering it useless. So, last time I went to Whole Foods, I made sure to cart home a gallon of distilled water.

Even though you can use just honey and distilled water, the addition of certain other natural ingredients can heighten it’s effectiveness. By adding other peroxide donating ingredients, like cinnamon, cardamom, coconut oil and olive oil, the effect is supposed to be more potent. Certain honeys will work, and some more than others, so you have to be sure to use the right kind. I decided upon a blend of honey to hedge my bets a bit. There is a honey, called jarrah honey, that is available in Australia and New Zealand that is said to have a much higher peroxide content (and more healing properties as well) and work much better for this purpose, but it’s gobs of money. The shipping alone, over $75, put it WAY out of the budget for simply a trial of honey hair lightening.

This method, while seeming relatively simple, is not exactly a piece of cake. After the ingredients are mixed thoroughly (yes, oil and water and dry spices and honey must mix well- a blender did help somewhat) the solution must sit for an hour to develop the proper strength. Then, the VERY watery mixture must be applied to the hair, catching the drippings so that it can be reapplied 4-5 times, and then you must sit, wet-headed and dripping, for at least an hour and a half. Needless to say, it’d taken me several days and a good deal of planning to find this kind of uninterrupted time, but I did finally manage to carve out a space on Saturday afternoon.

Here is the recipe I came up with, based upon a dozen variations I found online:

4 TBL honey (half local clover honey and half raw wildflower honey)
1 TBL ground organic cinnamon
1 TBL ground organic cardamom
1 TBL organic unfiltered olive oil
1 TBL raw virgin coconut oil
1 cup distilled water

So, as you can see, I did not skimp on ingredient quality, possibly making this the most expensive hair color I’ve ever used! I had all this on hand, (well after buying the water) but that raw honey is no joke- it’s pricey! Anyway, I mixed it, let it sit and applied it, catching the drippings and reapplying it at least 4 times. I did find that a squeeze bottle helped to apply it the first time, and then I just dumped the bowl over my hair the subsequent times. I massaged it in very well and coated each strand of hair. I concentrated on the roots, which needed the most lightening. Then, hair somewhat sticky and dripping wet, piled on top of my head, I wrapped in a towel and waited for over an hour and a half. At least it smelled pleasant…

It took three washings until my hair felt clean in the shower and I got out and towel dried it. It sure didn’t look any lighter, but it often takes a good blow-drying for even the effects of chemical color to be realized. So, after about 15-20 minutes of blow drying (it didn’t seem to want to dry completely) I checked out the results.

Not. one. bit. lighter.

Nope, not a shade, not a glint, not a shine lighter. And, my hair still has honey residue and/or oil in it…it’s soft, but it looks unwashed, and I just don’t have the energy or desire to wash it yet again. That will have to wait until later, so up in a clip it went. I certainly won’t be leaving the house today…

So, what happened here? Was it the wrong kind of honey? The wrong recipe? Was there a detail I missed that is crucial to the success of honey lightening? I’m not sure, but I’m not eager to try again and waste more money and precious real food resources to find out. I’d love to hear about your experiences with natural coloring techniques- have you tried any? Found any that work? Comment and let me know :)
For more on natural hair color, including honey lightening check out:
Home Safe Home by Debra Lynn Dadd from ktani
Toxic Free by Debra Lynn Dadd
Naturopathy in the 21st century
10 Essential Herbs

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