Herbal Hair Colors vs. Hair Dye: Cost Analysis

One of the things I hear often is “I’d love to try henna, but it’s so expensive!” In this article I break down a cost analysis of herbal hair colors vs conventional hair dye, both over-the-counter boxed and done professional at a salon. There are a lot of things in this comparison that simply are not equal: you can’t make your black hair blonde with herbal dyes, and henna, in particular, shifts in color depending on the light.

For the purposes of this experiment, though, we’ll say that we have medium brunette hair and are trying to dye it ginger, which is something I happen to know a thing or fifty about.


For all estimations I used my own hair and Fire Genasi (as that is what I color my hair with). I’m familiar with both chemical dyes, they are, after all, how I destroyed my own hair and what started me on the path to herbal hair colors. All costs and estimations for salon colors are an average range given by multiple hair stylists and professional colorists in a variety of places in the USA. I’ve eliminated shipping costs form the equation because they are so variable, and also left out other incidentals like the cost of gas and a tip at a salon visit.


Fire Genasi vs. Boxed Dyes

A quick survey of the hair dyes at Target gave me options ranging between $2.69 and $17.99 a box. The kind I used to use was $7.99 and my hair is so long that it required two boxes to do it all.

Full Length Treatment

  • Cost of 2 boxes of dye: $15.98
  • Cost of 200g of Fire Genasi: $31.50

The initial outlay here is higher for Fire Genasi by about $15.52

Root Touch Ups

  • Cost of 1 box of dye: $7.99
  • Cost of 33g of Fire Genasi: $5.25

One of the fantastic things about herbal colors is that, unlike chemical reds, they don’t fade (or at least fade far less). The directions on chemical dyes said to pull the color through my length for the last 15 minutes, which was impossible with the length of my hair and only one bottle of dye. That meant that every other time, I’d dye the full length of it. The reality, then, is that every other root touch up was two bottles of dye.


Root Touch Up and Length Refresh for Chemical Dyes

  • Cost of 2 boxes of dye: $15.98
  • Cost of 33g of Fire Genasi: $5.25

Another thing to consider is waste. Once I mixed up the dye and the chemical processing time was over, it had to be thrown out. There was no way to mix up only as much as I needed and then conserve the rest (in theory this is possible if you purchase all your own supplies from a place like Sally’s, but that is beyond the skill threshold of your average person coloring their hair). Each time I colored my hair, there would be the garbage: two boxes, two sets of instructions, two sets of gloves, four plastic bottles, and two tubes of silicone, er, conditioner.

By contrast, with Genasi, I only mix up exactly how much I need, and if there are still leftovers, I can freeze those for next time. Total waste is the baggie the powder comes in and one pair of gloves.


Fire Genasi vs. Professional Salon Colorist

Full disclaimer, I have never once had my hair done by a professional colorist. I thought about it once, when my hair was starting to suffer from repeated applications of box dye (broken length, patchy color), but I was quoted at $325 because of the length. That was more than my rent at the time,  more than my car payment, more than my grocery budget for the month. I gave a polite thank-you, left, and have never returned for a salon for color since.

The second thing to consider with this comparison is the insane range of salons and individual colorists. The lowest quote I got, for my length, was a single process color at $150. On the high end, with a Master Colorist at a high-end salon can easily clear $500 depending on your location.

I am, in no way, disparaging the value of a good colorist or the prices they charge. A skilled colorist is charging for their education, experience, skills, materials, and (depending on the salon) to rent their space/chair. You are getting personalized service and someone to fuss over the details while you relax. Also, you’re likely going to feel a lot more pampered at a salon than at home with a muddy head wrapped in plastic wrap. The reality, however, is that the total cost of a skilled professional can be well over budget for many people.

Full Length Treatment

  • Cost of a mid-range professional Colorist: $250
  • Cost of 200g of Fire Genasi: $31.50

There are two things you are paying for with the salon that you do not get with boxed chemical dyes: someone who knows what they’re doing and has thousands of hours of experience from with to draw, and a tailored solution for your hair. Boxed dyes are a one-sizes-fits-all solution, and so lift as much of your natural color as possible and then deposit the color on the outside of the box. A Colorist will be able to tailor the amount of lift and custom-mix a color for you. This will (likely) result in a nicer color  with less damage.

Root Touch Ups at a Salon

  • Cost of root touchups / color refresh at a salon: $125
  • Cost of 33g of Fire Genasi: $5.25

The trade-offs with herbal hair coloring is that there’s little-to-no damage and the color doesn’t fade (I haven’t colored my length in over 10 years, and it’s unheard of for chemical reds to go that long without fading). The down side is that you have to do it yourself, the herbal mud is also heavier, harder to apply (even with a helper), and has to be left on for hours.


Costs / Benefits Beyond Money

The typical woman client will spend between $800 and $900 a year on cuts, styles and the occasional dye job (source). No matter what the monetary breakdown above, there are a few other things to consider when evaluating the total cost of herbal hair colors compared to either box dye or a trip to the salon:

  • Pampering / The Experience: When I surveyed people for this article, one thing that surfaced was that a trip to the salon is a pampering experience. For a select window of time, it’s just about you and making you look and feel beautiful.  It is also possible to have your own spa day at home with herbal hair colors. Many of my customers say how much they love blending up their herbal mud—that it’s like a magical and arcane ritual. Some soak in the bath and read a book while the mud sits, or use the fact that they can’t go anywhere as a perfect excuse to binge on their favorite series. How much value gets assigned to this, and what you prefer, is going to vary wildly between individuals.
  • Damage: You had to know this one was coming. Even with the best colorist, with the most diligent before and after care, chemical colors are damaging. Lifting the cuticle, lightening away the base color, inserting a new color, and (trying to) make the cuticle close flat again causes damage. The more times you do it, the more it compounds. The more lift you need, the greater the damage incurred with each treatment. Herbal colors are more limited in what they can do, but gentle on hair, often imparting benefits instead of damage.
  • Allergies: Sensitivities and allergic reactions are common with chemical colors. When I would use boxed dyes I not only had horrible hair, I had an itchy, red, peeling scalp. Over time, and with repeated exposure, I was developing a sensitivity to the chemicals. This, just as much as the damage, was what sent me searching for another way to get the red hair I loved. That said, people can be allergic to henna, though it is extremely rare.
  • Your Health: A surprising amount of my first-time customers are actually pregnant women. Although all chemical hair dyes are tested and approved for safe use on people, there’s an extra layer of precaution that many women tend to take when pregnant. Concerns about health are not limited to pregnant women, however, and eliminating the chemicals for plant-based coloring is becoming more common as people learn about this healthier, safer, option.


The typical woman client will spend between $800 and $900 a year on cuts, styles and the occasional color job. Here’s how our cost analysis breaks down:

One full-length treatment and a root-touch up every 3 months for one year:

Boxed Dye*: $47.88

Salon Visits: $625.00

Fire Genasi: $94.50

* Includes one refresh of the faded length in between two roots touch-ups.

For many, herbal hair colors, like henna, not only save money, they’re a safer, healthier option.

If you’re new to coloring your hair with herbs, you may want to check out my book Coloring your Hair Naturally with Henna & Other Herbs. If you found your way here because your hair, like mine once was, is falling apart after years of chemical abuse, you might also want to read Rehabilitating Damaged Hair Naturally.

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