Whether you’re new to vegan hair color products or already have tried your fair share, this post is for you if you’re looking for lasting results!
Note: I talk a bit about hair bleaching later in this post, but hair bleaching is a risky diy proposition. If you have no experience bleaching your own hair, please consult a hair professional before doing anything!
Why I’m Confident About Telling You What Works
I got my New York State Cosmetology License in 2000. Trained in some high-brow Madison Avenue salons for three years before serving my own clientele in a downtown salon, then via freelancing, for two years.
But my professional focus was on cutting, not coloring. So after I stopped doing hair professionally, I ended up being my own hair color guinea pig. I like changing my hair color pretty regularly, so I’ve tried a lot of different products on myself over the past 15 years.
Becoming vegan seven years ago drew my attention to the fact that some of the products I was using weren’t vegan, so I had a whole new area of hair color to explore! It’s important to me to incorporate cruelty-free and avoid animal-derived products in my lifestyle, so I had some digging to do when it came to hair color. Luckily, I didn’t have to dig far.
For the Love of DIY Home Hair Color
I have naturally dark brown/black hair that, many years ago, I lightened for natural-looking highlights. That process eventually turned into creating super blonde sections that peeked out from under my dark hair. Finally, I’ve progressed to using exclusively non-natural colors in my hair for the past four years. I was loyal to the blue-green family for most of those years. Just recently, I’ve discovered the joy of hot pink and sherbet orange hues.
Oh, and I’ve also been successfully covering grays for several years, so I’ll show you the best vegan hair color for doing that too!
My hair is about three inches past my shoulders, so I bleach designated sections in the back and use the pink and orange on those pieces only. I like to keep the roots at my front hairline natural, and that’s where I cover the grays. When I put my hair up in a ponytail or makeshift bun (which is 95% of the time), I have splashes of vivid color in the back of my head.
The Frustration of Color That Fades Quickly
After countless hours in the bathroom doing my own diy hair color, I understand the agony and defeat of seeing your hard work streaming off of your hair when you wash it! It’s not fun watching rivers of colored water go down the drain. Tired of feeling that defeat, I finally figured out how to minimize that disappointment.
It takes a pretty good amount of time and effort just to set up for your home diy coloring session.
It can be a lot! There’s covering the floor, covering yourself, sectioning your hair. Towels, gloves, clips, bowl, brush, and plenty of paper towels are involved. By the time your set-up is complete, your real work begins. So it would be great if all of your efforts supported results that didn’t require you to go through all of this just three weeks later.
How do you keep your diy color jobs as far apart as possible? Develop a solid process and use the right products.
Let’s first understand what it is to lighten/bleach your hair:
- The purpose of lightening your hair —> So that the desired color will take to your hair.
- Determining whether that’s necessary —> For example, if I want hot pink ends on my black hair, bleach is necessary.
- The effects that lightening can have on your hair —> Can make it feel rougher.
- How to minimize any unwanted effects —> Conditioning and not over-processing will help you avoid pitfalls!
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About Lightening Your Hair
Check out the International Color Chart for Hairdressing. I got this one from Hair and Makeup Artist Handbook.
This is the hair color level system that every licensed cosmetologist learns. The numbers next to the colors listed on top of the swatches in the chart above are called ‘levels’. Black is level 1 and Lightest Blonde is level 10. I’ll be using the level system to describe the natural hair colors I talk about in this post.
If you want vibrant results for your pink/blue/random neon hue and your hair is not at least a medium-light blonde (between level 7 and 8 in the chart above), you’ll have to bleach your hair. If you’ve never done this before, don’t panic!
Bleaching does not have to be the damage-fest that it’s made out to be if you keep in mind the following:
- Heat from your scalp makes bleach work faster. The further away from the scalp that you apply bleach, the more control you have over how fast it lightens.
- For first-time bleachers with virgin hair, I highly suggest starting by bleaching your ends/tips. If you apply color to this part of your hair, you have the option of cutting it off at some point without much impact to the rest of your style (depending on how long your hair is, of course).
- People with hair color level 1 through 4 may have to bleach the same portion twice for results that allow your desired final hair color to show up well.
That being said, I strongly recommend consulting a hair professional, particularly if you have no prior experience with bleaching your hair, or if it’s been a while and you still have multiple colors or henna in your hair.
How Bleach Works
The way bleach works is it opens the hair shaft (aka cuticle).
Why Hair Texture Changes When Bleached
Think of a single strand of your hair as fir tree branch in which all of the needles are laying toward the same direction. When you run your hand down the branch in the direction of the needles, the branch is happy. All of the needles are in the direction they’re supposed to go so they lay flat easily and create a bit of a shine when they’re pressed down in the same direction together. This is your hair in a healthy state – the hair shaft lays flat, the cuticle is closed and undisturbed.
Bleach disturbs the hair by lifting the hair shaft to remove melanin in the hair. To imagine this process, you’d take your fir tree branch and run your hand in the opposite direction from how the needles naturally lay. Doing this will help show you that opening your hair cuticle is the reason why bleached hair can feel a little rough.
Luckily, the vegan hair colors I talk about in this post have built-in conditioners that can help ease bleached hair into a healthier state. This opening of the hair cuticle is also why it’s important to keep your processed hair color in good shape by using a good conditioner regularly.
This next section is for you if you have experience bleaching your hair. These are just some tips that have worked for me.
If you are brand new to bleaching, consult a hair professional for your first bleach experience!
Tips for Making Your Hair the Perfect Canvas for Your Desired Color
Once the bleach has lightened your hair to its target level, wash with a clarifying (not moisturizing) shampoo and rinse thoroughly. Then blot well with a towel, comb through using a detangling paddle brush, and blow dry.
My processed hair gets terribly tangled with no conditioner. All I have to do is start brushing at the ends, work my way up toward the roots, and the Aveda brush glides through with relative ease.
Do not use conditioner in this stage after the shampoo, because you need your hair cuticle open and receptive to the color you put on it. Conditioning after you shampoo the bleach out will smooth the cuticle back down to the hair shaft and make it difficult for color to deposit effectively.
Blow drying is very important – do not skip this step!
Make sure your hair is completely dry by blow drying it. Damp hair means that water left in the hair cuticle will not allow some of your color to take. You may have diluted results because of this. Also, the heat from a blow dryer further opens up the hair cuticle, making it a receptive canvas for your hair color.
Here They Are – Vibrant Vegan Hair Color Products That Deliver!
I have tried a bunch of vegan hair color throughout the years, and these three brands have been my mainstays.
Keep in mind that no matter what brand you choose, colors tend to behave differently. For example, reds tend to wash out and fade quicker than blues. Pastels have a lower level of pigment so your hair has to be a light blonde (level 9 – 10) for it to show up. Silver has been very difficult for me to maintain. It always washed out pretty quickly, leaving me with a platinum blonde in its place.
- Rich pigment. This color has the best staying power out of all that I’ve every tried.
- Smells nice. Not perfumey and loaded with fragrance. If anything, it has a faint fingerpaint scent.
- Thick and creamy consistency offers great manageability. With Arctic Fox I don’t worry about color flying all over the bathroom. It’s thick enough so that it stays on the brush until you paint it on your hair. Does not drip unless you’ve applied too much product to your brush.
- AF offers colors that show up on darker, unbleached hair. See them here!
- Conditions as it colors. Hair feels smooth after washing out color then drying.
What could be better:
- The range of color offerings could be broader.
Reasons why I love Manic Panic:
- The selection of color is huge! Every color I could ever want is within the Manic Panic line.
- Neutral scent.
- Good product consistency. Not runny.
- Manic Panic offers two different levels of semi-permanent color intensity. Classic High Voltage – the original, and Amplified – for vibrant and longer lasting color. Right now I have Amplified Hot Hot Pink in my hair and I can say firsthand that it lives up to its name!
- Offers temporary colors in the form of styling gels and sprays that wash out with a single shampoo.
- Conditions as it colors.
- Legendary cult status.
What could be better:
- The pastel line (Creamtones Collection) is a nice addition but does not seem to offer enough pigment. Color payoff is low.
- Consistency is on the thicker side and better than other brands I’ve tried. It’s not as thick as Arctic Fox, so applying Manic Panic is a little more nerve-wracking since it’s a little runnier and more prone to dripping.
- Sell in a squeeze bottle instead of the pots in which Classic High Voltage colors are sold. To me, the pots are not as convenient of a dispenser.
Reasons why I love Naturtint:
- Natural hair color that reliably covers grey in my dark brown hair, every time.
- Does not wash out. My greys stay covered.
- Easy 1:1 mixing ratio.
- Conditioning formula. Hair feels “lively” after processing.
What could be better:
- There should be a convenient mixing option for root touch-ups only. The way the kit is set up, it’s intended to be a one-shot whole-head hair color. You’re advised to pour the entire bottle of color into the bottle of developer. But this uses all of the color at once. To avoid this, I mix 1:1 using the cap of the color bottle to measure out what I need for my roots, then save the rest and put it back in the box for later use.
- The fragrance is a little strong for me, but definitely not overwhelming.
Post-coloring pro-tip: Rinse your color out with cool to cold water. Not warm and definitely not hot water, as this will leave the hair cuticle open and encourage color to leak out of the hair shaft. Cool to cold water closes the hair cuticle and locks color in.
Also note: Some people swear by a 50/50 white vinegar and cool water rinse to finish the entire process. I’ve tried this once and yes, it gave me a bit more shine. The vinegar is said to seal the hair cuticle even further. But my hair smelled like vinegar until my next wash so I don’t make this a habit.
Color Maintenance Essentials
To make the best use of your time and effort, and ensure that none of your work prematurely slips through your fingers and down the drain, let’s discuss shampoo.
A good dry shampoo is a color-preserver, a time-saver, and style booster!
Discovering the magic of a good dry shampoo will literally put extra time into your week. Dry shampoo will save you from agitating your hair with soap and water more than you have to. Not putting it through the rigors of regular washing helps you maintain the vibrancy in your hair color.
Since the purpose of dry shampoo is to refresh the hair by absorbing oil in the roots, it has to be applied at the roots. You’ll do this by parting your hair with a comb and applying the dry shampoo as close to your roots as possible. For best results, you’ll target the roots where you feel the most oil build-up. Then you’ll massage the dry shampoo into your roots to ensure that it’s absorbing oils in the roots. This automatically lifts your roots and gives your hair more body.
Your color is preserved a little longer, style is refreshed, time is saved. You can dry shampoo as many days as you need to until your next full-out shampoo.
Dry shampoo is a win, especially for busy, style-conscious people who want their hair color to stick around as long as possible!
Here are two fantastic vegan dry shampoos that I think you’d enjoy:
Note that both are powder-based formulas with no aerosol. So to minimize mess, apply by shaking the dispenser close to your roots.
All natural, non-aerosol. This one comes in two formulas – one for lighter hair and one for darker hair. Be sure to order accordingly!
Natural and organic ingredients. All natural, non-aerosol. Suitable for blondes and brunettes! Lavender oil scent.
Color Depositing Shampoo
What about those days when a true shampoo is necessary? Wouldn’t it be amazing to come out of the shower with even stronger color after shampooing?
On days when this is what you need, Punky Colour 3-In-1 Color Depositing Shampoo + Conditioner is exactly what you’re looking for.
Punky Colour Shampoo is available in nine delicious, lively colors – from coral to teal to mocha.
Please note – the pigment is strong so it will stain your hands and probably bathtub too. So wear gloves to wash and make sure you have an appropriate tub cleaner to get any stains out when you’re done. (I use a bleach spray – Tilex mold and mildew remover – to successfully get hair color stains out of my tub.)
Here’s how you use Punky Colour Shampoo:
Happy Vegan Hair Coloring!
If you’re new to vegan hair color products, you’ll be amazed at the fantastic results you’ll get from using the products I’ve discussed here and have also used myself.
It’s possible to look amazing and have beautiful, plant-based hair!
Any other Arctic Fox, Manic Panic, Punky Colour, and dry shampoo fans out there?
I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve used these colors/products before!