Ask Jean: Non-Toxic Hair Color?

Written by: Jean Godfrey-June


Updated on: April 23, 2020

 Ask Jean: Non-Toxic Hair Color?

Dear Jean, I have dark brown hair that’s partly grey already. I color it—but I’m terrified about the toxins in hair color. Are there any clean options—anything at all? —Elaina D.

Dear Elaina, There wasn’t an option that I knew of when I wrote a goop piece on hair color. I knew hair color was full of toxins, especially the brown and black shades, and I also knew there was no way I was giving it up; if growing old gracefully involves a hard-and-fast rule about accepting your grey, then graceful I am not. But, good news! Amazing news, in fact.

A Silicon Valley company purporting to have solved the toxicity problem sent me a cool, brown-cardboard kit: Hair Print True Color Restorer. And every time I noticed roots, I sincerely thought about trying it. But then—would it work? Would it dye my hair an ungodly color? Taking risks with my hair, sad but true, was scarier than taking risks with my health.

I’d had the kit for almost a year when the company offered to have a famous colorist, Zac Jenkinson, do my hair with the kit. I was still terrified, but less terrified, so I made the appointment.

I met Zac at the warm, chic Whittemore House Salon in the West Village, where he works when he’s in NYC (he owns Sit Still Salon in Venice, CA); he and an assistant painted on the alarmingly black, thick hair color just the way you’d paint on normal hair color, except a little more heavily. I envisioned a full-on Elvira moment. I envisioned trips to different colorists, each of them shaking a head sadly: “Yeah, I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to wait for that to grow out.” I envisioned dark glossy black, flat dead-black, crazy orange.

While we waited (about the amount of time normal color takes) Zac swiped a finger into the pot of hair color and—not kidding—ate the stuff as if it were chocolate pudding. “It isn’t…delicious, but it’s not bad,” he laughed, taking another scoop. That it’s non-toxic enough to stave off lunch for a few hours was amazing—and got me worrying in the other direction: I’ll have sat here for an hour for no reason. What if I can’t do regular hair color over it?

Then the first pass of color was washed out; He applied a second layer of the same stuff, and we waited 15 or so more minutes and washed the second pass out. I hate to get a blow dry, but the entire salon insisted because they were all dying to see what the results were going to look like…

All of us were blown away. It looks precisely like hair that’s been skillfully colored looks: Like hair. Shiny, full of depth, no grey, beautiful. A month and many shampoos later, it looks precisely the same. Zac only did my roots, and the color blended perfectly.

We all had 1,000 questions, the answers to which I’ll condense for you here:

  • Yes, you can get all the highlights you want—it doesn’t interfere.

  • It’s permanent.

  • It’s only for brown or black hair so far, and it only restores the natural color you’d normally have before you went grey.

  • The kit is $39 at Hairprint.

  • The salons that do it are: Sit Still Salon, in Venice, CA; Experience Salon, in San Francisco; Whittemore House Salon, in New York City.

  • Some people get rid of all grey (I did), others only get rid of some.

  • A famous chemist, Dr. John Warner, invented the process, and it’s based on his work with certain insects that change color rapidly using proteins; it supplies the same protein your body uses to make hair, eye, and skin color. So it’s not a dye—it’s essentially a protein treatment that gets rid of grey and restores your former color. In other words, a f*%king miracle.