Photo: Getty Images

Did you know the smell associated with hair dye is actually sulfur being released into the air from the damaged hair? You don't have to be a tree hugger to want to avoid the potentially damaging effects of harsh irritants and carcinogens in many at-home and salon dyes.

With an estimated 75 percent of women over the age of 40 coloring their hair according to, that's a lot of exposure to harmful chemicals like ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and coal tar–derived p-Phenylenediamine. Because permanently changing our hair color requires opening the cuticle -- or outer layer -- of the hair and then stripping the current color to let the new shade adhere, the "muscle" of chemicals is often needed. But, in a world where eco-friendly cosmetics and skincare products are widespread, you would think more natural hair dyes would be be available.

According to some stylists, they are.

Sam Brocato, stylist and owner of Sam Brocato Salon in New York City, says hair color has come a long way in the last decade and has never been safer. "While there is not a natural dye that lightens hair permanently, there are wonderful plant-based demi-permanent hair colors which last up to four months and condition the hair at the same time," he says.

"Going darker using all sorts of garden goodies is a better bet than trying to go lighter," Brocato says. "But because demi-permanent color is so gentle, it cannot lighten hair, so it is not a good option for blondes."

Lemon's can lighten hair, but may also damage it. Photo: Corbis

Brocato also says that the old-standby of using lemon will indeed lighten the hair, but the user doesn't have control over the exact shade or how light the hair will get. He also explains that the acid in lemon juice is extremely damaging and drying to the hair, so it's probably not your best bet.

Those of us wanting more red hues can try henna, but Brocato advises us to be careful here too. "Henna will darken and give nice warm red tones, but without the same control of lab developed products offering the same or more choices," Brocato says. "Hair that has been colored with henna can be very difficult (or impossible) to fix or change."

Instead, try another natural hue-changing option. "I love cherry juice on dark hair for clear semi tones," says Brocato. "Also, black tea steeped over night rinsed through brown hair gives a beautiful shine and a glass like dark finish. Chamomile on blonde does the same."

For women with gray hair, switching to a demi-permanent hair color presents several advantages according to Brocato. "For some women, their gray will cover 100%; for others, the gray will be translucently covered, creating a soft highlighted look."

One last tip for all women: Consider highlights instead of all-over color. They require significantly fewer chemicals and less dye comes in contact with your scalp.

Want other natural ways to look your best? Try these eco-friendly hair treatments!

And click here to learn how to make your own shampoo!