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By Jc of The Natural Haven

There is a world of possibilities with hair colour and natural hair is the ideal base for it given there is no additional chemical process (e.g relaxing) which can greatly weaken hair. Here is your guide to what is in commercial hair colour.

There are three main ways to colour hair

*Editor’s Note: The British spelling of the world color is used throughout this article.

1. Bleaching

The colour of hair arises from melanin located inside the cortex. In order to permanently change the colour of very dark hair to a lighter colour (for example going from black to dark brown or from dark brown to light brown or blonde), it is almost always necessary to first bleach it. Commercial bleach kits generally contain either hydrogen peroxide or ammonium hydroxide as bleaching agents. These ingredients work at high pH (normally 8 or more) so that the cuticle can be lifted and allow penetration of the bleach which then breaks down the melanin.

Bleaching in general is not gentle to hair and affects the hair’s mechanical strength as well as disrupts the cuticle.

2. Permanent Hair Colour

Permanent hair colour is essentially a way to replace the pigment inside the hair with a colour of choice. A broad spectrum of colours can be achieved with permanent hair colour (from the normal spectrum – black, brown, blonde and red to the more adventurous spectrum – pink,purple,green, yellow etc). Normally permanent hair colour starts with a bleaching process as described above and then a pigment of choice is used to replace the colour inside the hair shaft. The ingredients in permanent hair colour usually include an agent to create the high pH alkaline environment (e.g ammonia), a bleach to lighten colour (e.g peroxide ) and pigment of various intensities (e.g benzene/phenol compounds .A common example is PPD)

Permanent hair colour processing is also in general not gentle as it involves a bleaching process as well as high pH.

3. Semi permanent /Demi permanent

Semi permanent colour is different from permanent hair colour because bleaching is not normally necessary to achieve the final colour. Many semi permanent colours use low levels of ammonia to create a high pH environment but others have no ammonia. The pigment is placed usually underneath the cuticle and sometimes can penetrate to the outer regions of the cortex. Depending on porosity (the more porous the hair, the further the colour can penetrate) and how often hair is washed/wetted, the hair colour can last for a 2-3 weeks. It will eventually fade away and semi permanent colours cannot lighten hair. Very dark hair will not have a noticeable change without the use of bleach to initially lighten hair.

Demi permanent colour is generally used to temporarily cover grey hair. It is similar to semi permanent colour in many aspects  but the key differences are that normally the colour is normally just deposited on the outside of hair (so less cuticle damage) and while a high pH environment is also normally needed, often chemically weaker substitutes for ammonia can be used. Demi permanent colours tend to be darker and have a tendency to build up easily on hair. They normally last much longer than semi permanent hair colour – 1-2 months.  Not all companies distinguish between ‘demi-permanent’ and ‘semi permanent’.

Semi and demi permanent colour processes are both regarded as much gentler than permanent colour or bleaching (provided that hair is not bleached prior to the process).

Final Word

The process of getting permanent hair colour will almost always involve high pH (to lift the cuticle), bleach (to destroy melanin) and then the pigment added (to create the new colour).

Many naturals often ask me about Aveda (were you about to ask?) because they state that their hair colour ingredients are 97% naturally derived.  Many naturals therefore think that the process is different and more gentle. I did request the ingredients from Aveda and the listing does show that some products do have ammonium hydroxide (bleach) and even PPD was listed. (PPD is a common hair dye which is known to produce allergic reactions in some people. You may know it from the warnings about black henna/pico henna. Some countries are looking to or have already banned it).

Does this mean that Aveda colour is not naturally derived – no in fact both of these ingredients can be made from natural ingredients. The important thing is to know that the permanent hair colouring process is essentially making a chemical change to hair regardless of whether the dye is naturally derived or not.

Choosing to permanently colour your hair means making a choice to weaken your hair, this does not mean your hair will break or fall off. If done correctly, you can achieve good colour results and maintain your hair. However, not all hair will be able to be permanently coloured without damage. Coming up next is the guide to the actual process of getting the colour in the salon.

Ladies, have you ever colored your hair? Have you ever considered it? Share your experiences below!

Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pp 347-371, 1993
Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pp 133-140, 1997
Journal of Cosmetic Science, pp377-389, 2001

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55 Comments on "The Natural’s Guide to Bleaching and Hair Color, Part 1"

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[…] BGLH: The Natural’s Guide to Bleaching and Hair Colour: Part One […]

Casey Jones

Thanks for the hair color tips. I love yours! I wish my hair was as curly as yours is. It looks so great.

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I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
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I heard honey is a good and natural hair dye. Lemon is good too. I’m going to try honey on my dreadlocks and see how it works out! #team natural#


oooo. let me know how that works out. I have natural hair and was thinking about doing a semi permanent dye to color it blonde. But it looks like it won’t work. So la la. I’ve only colored my hair 3 X in my life. Always use semi. Maybe I’ll just stay dark and gray. LOL. I went natural to move away from peroxides and ammonia associate with relaxers. Loving it!

im Dominican and have very full curly hair. i am pretty adventurous with my hair and have cut it short, cut it into a mohawk, relaxed it, as well as dyed and bleached it. currently im letting it grow out and have been bleaching it in order to get a platinum blonde. being that i relaxed about a year or 2 ago i was hesitant to bleach bc it havent cut my hair and was afraid it would further damage my hair. i decided to start conditioning my hair and trying natural hair masques in order to strengthen my hair… Read more »

I’m scared my texture will change ;/


This is really fascinating, You are a very professional blogger. I have joined your feed and stay up for in search of extra of your wonderful post. Additionally, I have shared your website in my social networks


Is developer the same thing as bleach??

Tamara South

I use henna on my hair and I love it. It changed my hair color and lasted for months if you are interested in the company I use let me know.


Dark & Lovely Broke my hair off, Revlon broke my hair off and Feria broke my hair off. Clairol for black women hair dye is really good and so is Garnier.. but I’ve noticed that dying my hair has changed the texture of my hair and has loosened up my curls. I am currently transitioning from dying my and going back to the color Yahweh gave me… but sometimes that blonde be calling me to come back LoL

Candice Selby

I went to my stylist a few months ago to get color and he bleached my hair without me knowing it. I was in tears when I looked at what my hair color was when I left there. It was horrible! I did not have a lot of breakage but, my texture was different where I had the color. I will probably color again but, I will NOT bleach.

I have recently colored (Bleached) my natural hair. I purposely chose to have only the ends – about 3″ out of 8″ length – done just in case this was a disaster. It wasn’t. I like it, some days. I have now been there, done that. I’ll never say never but I think for the goals I have in mind for my hair this was not the smartest thing I could have done. And I probably won’t be trying this again. I don’t see any horrendous damage, however, I can feel the rough, dry ends and have had to alter… Read more »

I dyed my hair with Dark&Lovely’s Honey Blonde about 2 months ago and I’ve indeed had to up the moisture in my daily hair routine. However, before I even got the color I’d been doing weekly deep conditioning with honey and olive oil. The bottom line is that if you’re considering permanent hair color,you must have a strict hair regimen.

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Hey All,

I’ve been bleaching my hair for the past 5 years & definitely don’t think it is for the faint of heart. Your hair must be in OPTIMAL condition before going through the chemical process. I’ve found that on my 3c/4a hair the most important thing is to deep condition with EVERY WASH, keep my hair moisturized and maintain a good balance of protein.

I say test it out on a strand before diving in head first.


I recently got my hair bleached and colored for the first time and it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!! Getting your hair bleached is very harsh, the chemical stinks and your hair becomes very very fragile. The first month was rough, but once I found the right leave in conditioner and oil I will never look back! My natural hair color is 1-1b and I got it dyed magenta and violet…sounds a but strange but I LLOOVVEE it. My advice is go to a professional, find a GREAT leave in and cut back on the flat iron
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I used to have relaxed hair back in June. For my prom I had my hair relaxed and the back of it colored (bleached then blued), despite what I’ve been previously warned, I listened to the hairdresser and did everything in one trip. I regretted so much the moment my hair fell out in the sink. The one blessing is that the incident pushed me to grow out my perm, something I’ve been wanted to do for 3 years now but it just seemed to inconvenient. I have box braids in now and my hair has grown 2 1/2 inches… Read more »

My hair is natural and permanently colored “natural Black.” I want to color it a vibrant copper red. I’ve been told that I’ll have to “lift” the black first and then color immediately. Sounds like alotta wear and tear on my hair, but, I really wanna go red. Any tips?


i’ve gotten it highlighted. the first time was a subtle red. the 2nd time was a light brown. this time around it was more of a dark brown. it’s been awhile so now the color is starting to lighten up. i make sure to keep my hair moisturized and to deep condition every 2 weeks so that it wont dry up and break off.

Shani Drake

I’ve bleached my hair in the past at a salon but it’s been a few years and now I want to try it myself. My hair is black and I want it to be blonde, is it OK to do more than one bleaching in one day.


I would like to hear from anyone with dreadlocks who have dyed them. I’m wondering if it would be more difficult especially if you can’t moisturize your hair with thick conditioners like you would with loose strands.
I’ve been thinking about bleaching my locs for a long time now. I feel like my hair has been at its healthiest in this state so I definitely don’t want to reverse that. But I also think because it’s in this state my hair would deal with bleaching better.

Trainee Rapunzel

I bleached my locks when I had them and the hair stood strong, but it was much drier as a result…

Hi everyone! I’ve been colouring my hair most of my life and went ginger blonde (bleached) when I first went natural nearly two years ago. I colour my hair every 3-4 months using Creme of Nature Textures and Tones Ginger Blonde. I have very thick, coarse and extremely cozily hair. To be honest I have suffered no damage at all. My curls do get dry sometimes but only I drop off my regime for a couple of days. Moisture moisture moisture is the key! I do a hot oil treatment on Saturdays, steam and deep condition on Sundays and wet… Read more »
I am so glad someone finally broke the haircoloring thing down. So many naturals play around with the idea of coloring their hair but don’t know where to begin. Thank you for this! There’s a huge stigma associated with coloring your hair — hair breakage, dryness, damage, etc. — but in my experience (both as a dyed natural & an ex-hairstylist) because natural hair is virgin hair (meaning hair that’s not chemically altered with a relaxer or texturizer), it can take much more than we think. (For the record: I HATE the term ‘virgin hair,’ but it’s a terminology that’s… Read more »

omg, that shade. I want.
And obviously, you’re beautiful.


love the color! looks great and pretty curls


I love the colour of your hair! I’m thinking this is the colour I want my hair to be…lol the only catch is I have very dark skin, so I know it will look insane to some. I thought it would be fun and if its not as entertaining as I thought it would be I could just cover it with a dark rinse right? (I know little about colouring obviously…but I look forward to learning!)


I color my hair. I realize that it makes my hair more dry/ extremely dry actually. I just have to make sure to give it even more TLC than i usually do. I wouldn’t tell someone not to color their hair. It’s just that if you do; remember that it strips your hair and can be drying. My hair is naturally dark brown and kind of dusty looking. Dying my hair black makes my face and hair look better. So…

i love dye. i would not bleach again, even though currently i do have bleached strands that are about 3 inches down from my roots. I’ve been growing it out since january, and i’ll probly opt for less damaging processes. my hair actually looks very good because i deep condition a lot and conditioner is my best friend. bleach dries your hair a lot, so that’s the biggest detractor from using bleach. I’ll more than likely choose darker colors than blonde in future to dye my hair, and may look into henna and indigo. i think that if you know… Read more »

I just decided the other day that I wanted to dye my hair. I’m thinking of a dark brown/red color but I’m so unsure of how to go about dying it myself. I’ve only had highlights in my hair once and I received them in a salon.

Any tips?


I used to dye my hair often, even a blondish color like the girl above. However, since then, I have developed a dye allergy (thank you, PPD, thank you stupid snail henna tattoo from Senior Week of High School). I use henna to achieve a darker black (my hair is naturally a black-brown, I would prefer a brown or black), and I have recently been considering bleaching my hair, to then dye it red with henna… but that would require bleach, and I don’t wanna put my hair through that debacle again!

Sapphic Seduction

I dye my hair jet black (dark n lovely) about twice a year a few days after doing an aphogee protein treatmetreatment. I’d love to bleach it white but I’ve done that before. It looked great but my hair broke off. I get coloured wigs if i fancy a change…

In about a year I had pink, blonde, brown, black AND red hair. I loved it! I’m thinking about mixing my deep conditioner with the last of the pink so I can get a dark pink tint on my hair for summer. Just to shake things up a bit 🙂 If you’ve never used bleach, I would go to a professional or have someone “with experience” do it for you. And remember, if you’re aiming for an unnatural color (pink, blue, purple, etc.) the whiter you go the more vivid the color will be. But getting to that white, especially… Read more »

I’d love to see pictures 😀 I also dyed my hair pink this year!

I’ve bleached my hair as well as use box dyes in my hair before. A year ago I decided I hated the bleached out color similar to Ayan’s and grabbed the nearest box dye (Bigen brand) and dyed my hair jet black, and that was working for me but the crave for a reddish color got the best of me and i’ve been mixing henna to get it but to no avail I walked into Aveda to color my hair and only the roots got colored, my ends are still holding on to the jet black. Sigh! I guess this… Read more »

I dyed my hair a blondish brown color about 9 years ago. Loved the color, but didn’t really have a clue how to take care of my hair back then. So, it obviously broke off — it was a combination of coloring and poor hair techniques.

Although, I have no intention of coloring my hair in the future, I have wondered about indigo and henna.


I too thought about indigo and henna as alternatives, however, from what I understand, indigo will darken the hair and henna turns it shades of red…I want something in the goldish brown family…

Thirties Gal

Thanks for putting this up now, was actually just thinking about colouring. Looking forward to the second part!


Me too!

My BFF is a stylist and she recommends that if I want to get a lasting color, I bleach, but I’m not that into bleaching my hair, for fear of it becoming unhealthy 🙁
I’m thinking I’ll have to do the Semi Permanent, and learn how to reapply it myself.


I really want to get my hair to a whitish or pale blonde, any bleached naturals got any tips?

Tip 1# PATIENCE! Because you don’t want to bleach your hair in 1 time to get to that color or you hair will be damaged, you should dye it to every 3-6months to obtain that color. I greatly recommend a hair-dresser (if you can) but if you do it at home, have someone with you to check how the color is, to put the same amount of hair dye, to make it a quick process so you will have an even color. Also be ready to DEEP CONDITION tip 2#, all the-freaking-time!! Beautiful healthy colored hair must be taken care… Read more »

If you wash/deep condition often, won’t you lose the color intensity?


by often i mean like once a week for DC and for co-wash, it depends on how you feel.




Thank you! This is going to get some getting used to because I only wash my hair once every month and oil it every two weeks! How much will it cost for a good bleaching?


The cost in Europe is 9-15Euros.

Hey guys! My hair is a chestnut brown/red color I absolutely love, so I’ve never dyed it but I did bleach it twice. The first time, I bleached my tips (while I was still getting perms) this caused my hair to become very britle and damaged at the ends. It was extremely dry as well. I ended up gradually cutting it off an it was gone within eight months. The Second time I bleached I experienced similar results. I bleached one strip of hair in the front of my head (imagine Wiz Khalifa but long :D) and I am still… Read more »
Hey, i’ve dyed my hair countless times and in february I bleached it for the first time. Dying my hair was never a problem before, i never need to pay extra care to besides for the two first weeks but then I would get lazy but my curls would always stay the same and wouldn’t be any dried. I don’t recommend bleach tough, it depends how your hair will react but mine didn’t quite well react. I had to cut quite a lot of ends and pay very extra-care to it for the last 4 months. Bleaching is great to… Read more »

How much length did you retain if you had to trim every month? Or did you just trim for esthetics?


I trimmed quarter an inch.