How To Learn HAIR DYE


If you’ve been exploring the world of natural hair dyes or have grown weary of dropping $100+ on your salon trips, this post is for you. I’m going to talk about everything you need to know about hair dye, from ingredients used to lightening your natural color, but I also want to make it clear that this post is not a pitch for any specific brand or product for bisexual hair dye. This list will give you a broad overview of what’s out there and help point you in the right direction so that if anyone wants to find a more detailed article on how to do something they are less familiar with they can go do research themselves.

1. Hair Dye Ingredients

There are about 20 different chemicals that go into hair dye. While this may sound scary, most of them are actually natural and/or man-made. It’s also important to realize that the majority of hair dyes only use about 5 or so of these chemicals in their formulations, so you’re really not exposed to a lot of unknowns. Here’s a list of what goes into each chemical and what they do:


These are the basic building blocks of many colorants. They form when water and ammonium chloride (an organic compound) react with one another in a process called ammonia oxidation. The final product is a combination of ammonia and several different types of amines which include: butylamine, dimethylamine, diethylamine, monoethanolamine, and others. 

Butylene Glycol:  

This liquid is a humectant (a substance that attracts water to itself) and it plays the part of holding your hair dye together (quite literally). It also helps with penetration into the hair shaft. 


Citric Acid:  

This chemical is mostly used as an acidity regulator. It’s been used in the food industry for over a century and is quite safe. It can also change the texture of some dyes so that they are less watery and easier to apply.


A man-made silicone, Dimethicone is usually used to keep hair dye from drying out too quickly. It also helps with coverage, although it doesn’t penetrate too deeply into the hair shaft. 


This chemical forms a protective barrier on skin and hair to stop bacterial growth (acne, harmful microbes, etc.). It’s considered by the FDA to be quite safe and has been shown not to cause allergies or irritation.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate:  

(SLS)  This chemical is actually considered to be a mild skin irritant so I wanted to make sure that you know this beforehand. SLS is used in a lot of hair care products because it’s a surfactant and has great water solubility but its impact on the body has not been studied extensively (read here and here).

Tocopheryl Acetate:  

Vitamin E or Tocopherol acetate, is thought to fight internal damage (free radicals) caused by UV exposure. It’s also an antioxidant that gives hair dyes their polyphenol content, helping dye molecules remain in the hair longer.

2. The Technical Stuff

The mineral and chemical makeup of your hair color is what determines how it will react to certain chemicals, how long it lasts, whether or not it can be easily washed out and what kind of color you can expect. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking at different types of dye:


A lot of natural hair dye recipes will call for ammonia, because this is the way people used to lighten their hair before hydrogen peroxide was invented (in 1917). The idea with ammonia is that it can be easily converted to hydrogen peroxide, which will bleach hair from the inside out. One of the problems with using ammonia is that it’s really harsh on your hair so if you don’t maintain a healthy scalp you may end up with dry, brittle locks. The other issue is that it may not bleach enough color out of your hair, so you’ll end up looking like a blond/light brown who has no idea how to handle their gray (see: what my ex-boyfriend was). There are lots of people who do use ammonia on their hair, but they should be using something called a “gentler” form of ammonia. Look for something called “sodium hydroxide”, which is what you’re more likely to find in a natural hair dye.


This stands for Para-phenylenediamine, the chemical used in most commercial hair dyes. It can cause a lot of skin irritation and sensitivities when exposed to sunlight, because it forms free radicals (like Magnesium and Zinc Oxide), which may cause cell damage and even cancer. However, PPD has been used in hair dyes since the early to mid 1800s so it doesn’t have any negative health effects that we don’t already know about. 

Sodium Hydroxide:  

This chemical has a pH of about 13 which is slightly alkaline, which helps it to penetrate hair shafts. When the pH value drops, it will work more like a strong acid. It’s important to note that whenever you’re using something like ammonia that has ever-changing pH values and you aren’t sure what the final color will be, you should test the product on an “invisible” area of your hair first (meaning an area that is not very visible). This way you can make sure that all of the different colors and shades have been removed.


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