Natural Hair Dye: The Coffee Edition

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Ignore my massive hair. I’m still getting used to my natural curls, which came back rather unexpectedly.
Like many people in their late 20s, I am going grey. I found my first grey hair when I was 21. I promptly screamed, then cried, and I’ve been dyeing my hair ever since.

Recently, I’ve had a growing concern for the things I put on my body and down the drain. On the body side of things, I have a large number of allergies and I’ve noticed that my skin is increasingly irritable. On the drain side of things, I want to make a conscious effort to use products that won’t harm the environment. I also find it important to buy environmentally and socially sustainable products.

Keeping in line with that concern, hair dye didn’t seem like the best product. I used to get my hair dyed at a salon, but my student and post-student budget no longer allowed that. Home hair dyes always left a burning, itching feeling on my scalp, which can’t be good. I decided to give them up, but letting my hair go grey didn’t feel like an option I was willing to try at 29.

Enter the world of natural hair dyes. Henna is the most popular choice amongst the crunchy, but I wasn’t sold. I dyed my hair with henna when I was a teenager and my stylist at the time gave me a huge lecture about how horrible it is for your hair. This may or may not be correct, but it is pretty permanent and the selection of colors here in Germany is limited. In addition, I still have to do some research on its sustainability. This is hard to do, because those who love it rave about how “natural” it is and those who hate it, well, hate it. I might still give it a try, but I wanted something to tide me over in the meantime.

I read a few blogger accounts of dyeing hair with coffee. I thought, “This one can’t hurt. I already drink a fair bit of coffee and have a constant supply of grounds.” I decided to try it.

It worked – sort of. It gave some coverage to my greys, reducing their appearance. However, it didn’t mask them completely. I’ll give you a run-through of the whole experience.

The Recipe:
Several blogs recommend mixing a cup of conditioner with 3/4 cups of brewed coffee and 2 tbsps of grounds. This seemed like it would be runny and would produce an extreme amount of “dye” for my shoulder-length hair. Another blogger recommended leaving out the brewed coffee as it made the mixture too runny, but I felt that just grounds and conditioner would be too pasty. I just ended up plopping some conditioner I had in the back of my closet (I normally condition my hair with apple cider vinegar) with a couple of tbsps each of brewed coffee from the bottom of the pot (classy) and the grounds left in the machine. It seemed fine, so I used it.

The Method:
I mixed everything in a bowl in the kitchen, then went to the bathroom and applied it to my hair. I covered my hair with a bag and let it sit for just over an hour. I rinsed it out in the shower. It took quite a bit of rinsing to get it out.

The Pros:

  • It’s all natural and recycles stuff I use in my kitchen.
  • It makes your hair smell wonderful.
  • It doesn’t irritate your skin.
  • It will not stain your skin at all.
  • It does colour your hair.
  • It doesn’t dry out your hair or leave it looking fried.
  • It’s super cheap.

The Cons:

  • Its coverage is kind of minimal.
  • It doesn’t last very long. I suspect I’ll have to repeat the process within the next two weeks.
  • It takes a long time to set. You need a good block of time to sit around the house with a bag over your hair.
  • Goodness, is it ever messy. It’s probably not worse than henna, from what I read, but you will get grounds everywhere.
  • It’s hard to rinse out.
  • You will shed coffee grounds for a while afterwards.
  • You may need to apply your “dye” twice in a row.

It may seem like the cons outweigh the pros, but most of the cons are fairly minor. It’s messy, but it’s easy to clean up. You need to apply it more often, but it’s not hard on your hair. You get the idea.

A few tips:

  • For the love of all that is holy, apply it over the sink or in the tub. You’ll find the cleanup easier if you can just wash away the grounds.
  • Coffee can stain fabric, so use an old towel to drape your shoulders or wear an old or black shirt.
  • If you use homemade shampoo like I do (I wash my hair with a mixture of baking soda and water), you may find it hard to rinse out your hair. Don’t be tempted to use normal shampoo like I was. After over a month of my homemade shampoo routine, it made my scalp itch and flake like crazy. The second time I applied it, I rinsed it out using conditioner, which was much kinder to my skin.
  • Make sure the conditioner you use is eco-friendly. I’m just saying this because, if you’re considering this, there’s a good chance that you care about this sort of thing. I’ve noticed that a lot of conditioners contain palm oil, which can be problematic.
  • You may want to warn your boyfriend/husband/roommates/family that you’re trying this.
  • You can only do this on brown hair. It will not work on blonde, red, or fully grey hair. Worse, it may just make your hair look dirty.

The verdict? I’d try this again. I might seek out a good permanent solution, but it works as a good temporary way to hide my greys.

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