I realize many people have never even paused to consider the possibility that God might care about any aspect of our outward appearance. Others understand that God does mandate a specific criteria of external holiness disciplines. Most sincere Christians have some awareness that God requires us to be modest, maintain gender distinctions, and avoid vanity in our attire. Among apostolics, there are certainly some disagreements regarding how those standards should be applied orthopraxically, but they are generally acknowledged as orthodoxically sound beliefs.
Many generations ago, hair dying was frowned upon and often outright forbidden across denominational lines. There was an almost ecumenical Christian stance against the practice of changing hair color. As with many other standards, over time, most denominations and religious affiliations softened or outright reversed their stance on the issue of hair dye.
I grew up in a holiness setting that strictly opposed the use of hair dye. I never had the slightest interest in dying my hair and didn’t think much about the issue at all (even though I grew up in the nineties when guys were obsessed with bleaching their hair). I vaguely remember being mildly surprised as a teenager when I realized no Bible verse says, “Thou shalt not dye thy hair.” But even with my limited teenage intellect, I knew I didn’t need a “Thou-shalt-not” verse for everything. More often than not, Scripture gives us a principle or a fundamental truth that should be practically applied to every area of our lives. Biblical principles should shape a Christian’s worldview and lifestyle.
Historically, apostolics have contended that our doctrine (orthodoxy) comes before and informs our behavior (orthopraxy). There’s an old saying, “You get what you preach.” Oddly, my denomination has stood against hair dye for many years, yet I can’t remember ever hearing a single sermon about it. I can’t even remember a passing reference to it in a sermon. So, it’s no wonder that hair dying is becoming more common and more controversial in holiness circles. In fact, this subject has become one of the most common questions I receive as a pastor and a blogger.
Regardless of your spiritual background or current view, please read with a prayerful and open mind to the Scriptures and principles presented below.
Scriptures Favorable View of Age and Gray Hair
“Thou shalt rise up before the hoary (gray) head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:32).”
The entire book of Leviticus is a call for God’s people to be a holy (separated) people because we serve a holy God (Leviticus 19:2). The word “holy” is used 152 times in Leviticus. While some of Leviticus is strictly ceremonial, much of it is just as relevant to daily Christian life as the Ten Commandments. Many of the instructions found in Leviticus give practical guidance for properly obeying the Ten Commandments. For example, Leviticus 19:32 incapsulates a pragmatic way to obey commands number five and ten; “Honor thy father and thy mother… that thy days may be prolonged… (Deuteronomy 5:16)” and “Thou shalt not covet… (Exodus 20:17)”. By respecting elders, we automatically honor our aged parents. Interestingly, the fifth commandment is the only commandment with a blessing immediately attached. By respecting our parents (and elders), we access the blessing of prolonged life. If we honor age, we will not be tempted to covet our neighbor’s youthfulness.
Leviticus 19:32 connects the fear (reverence) of the Lord with respect for elders. To despise eldership is to disrespect the “Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9)”. The mandate to stand when elders approach as a gesture of respect is still acknowledged in some modern cultures. Tragically, we primarily see this level of intentional outward respect being abandoned in American culture. Why? Because, like the ancient Greeks, American culture practically worships youth and beauty. Remember, the ancient Greeks popularized the mythical “Fountain of Youth.” Alexander the Great searched in vain for that mysterious wellspring of eternal youthfulness. Most people spend an astronomical amount of time and money trying to conceal any outward indications of aging: Hair dye, make-up, Botox, liposuction, topical serums, and on and on. All promise to conceal a person’s physical “flaws” and convolute their age. The billions of dollars happily paid for those products testify to the extreme vanity of our society. When a person intentionally conceals their age, they practice deception, reveal inward vanity, disrespect elders, and deprive younger generations of the ability to give that person the honor they deserve.
In one of Aesop’s fables, a man with black hair mixed with gray had two lovers, one old and one young. The old one wanted him to look old, so she pulled out his black hair, while the young one wanted him to look youthful and pull out his gray hair. As a result, he was left entirely bald. Many humorous observations and morals have been attributed to this fable, but it certainly illustrates the societal pressure to resist aging. But age is relentless, and it just can’t be denied in the end.
Biblically speaking, gray hair is an honored outward symbol of wisdom and maturity. Certain realms of wisdom can only be acquired by experience and by enduring trials that strip away youth’s immaturity and naivety. Artificially changing that gray hair (the sign of old age and experience) is a denial of the primary process by which wisdom is obtained.
Furthermore, masking God-given gray hair includes a rejection of the responsibility that is required by age and wisdom. Some people never grow in wisdom; therefore, they want their appearance to match their maturity level. Since they refuse to stop acting young, they want their appearance to match how they behave. This is dishonesty to self. When they look in the mirror at their dyed hair, it makes them feel better. Why? Because they hide the truth from themselves. However, it has the reverse effect. Dyed hair typically makes its wearer look synthetic and even older than the age they are trying to deny.
“The hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31).”
Gray hair, in the eyes of God, is a crown of glory. To be righteous and silver-haired is a God-given privilege. Just living long enough to acquire a single strand of gray hair is a blessing that should never be taken for granted. The person who dyes their hair has chosen to please the eyes of men rather than the eyes of God. They disrespected their own dignity and tossed aside God’s blessing. Again, this reveals a heart of vanity and pride that has spurned honor and humility. Why are these scriptures even in the Bible? If nothing else, it teaches us that God likes righteous people with gray hair. Of course, it means more than just that; however, even if that was all it revealed, that should be enough to give us pause before changing our natural hair color. Even more simplistically, changing hair color is like telling God he didn’t do a good job.
What else is a crown of glory in Scripture?
That’s an important question considering we know that gray hair is a crown of glory. Jesus Christ himself is a crown of glory for His people (Isaiah 28:5). Jesus Christ is a crown of glory to God (Isaiah 62:3). Remember, there was nothing about Jesus that was beautiful in the eyes of men (Isaiah 53:2). Yet, what was ugly in the eyes of men was beautiful to God. It’s critically important to remember that God’s definition and standards of beauty are often counterintuitive to us because we live in a corrupted carnal world. God-fearing people must always be wary of allowing the culture to dictate and define beauty for them. Here’s another verse that gives us insight into what God considers beautiful:
“The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head (Proverbs 20:29).”
Once again, Scripture emphasizes God’s standard of beauty: Age and wisdom are desirable things that should clothe us with dignity. To reject that symbol is to reject God’s design for our lives.
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Peter 5:4).”
We receive a natural crown of glory (gray hair) through the process of old age and righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). We will receive a spiritual crown of glory when Jesus comes for His people. Righteous people with gray hair are a prophetic symbol of righteous people with their eternal crown. People who dye their hair break this spiritual and prophetic symbolism in their attempt to deny reality.
Modern Promotion of Hair Dye
The New Yorker has a fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell entitled, True Colors: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America. It’s a lengthy read but worth your time if you care to understand the original psychological mindset behind hair dye. It’s no secret that the now multi-billion-dollar hair dye industry first blossomed by promoting the reimagining (or reinventing) of self. The psychology of hair dye for women emerged like a rebellious monster from postwar feminism. Hair dye has become synonymous with vanity, sinful lifestyle changes, sensuality, sexuality, and dissatisfaction with God’s original artistry.
Statistics indicate that a whopping 75% of American women dye their hair, while only about 11% of American men use hair dye. Those remarkable statistics give deep insights into the hyper-sexualized and fantasy induced psyche of the average American woman. On average, women feel intensely dissatisfied with their natural appearance. That’s a genuine tragedy with dangerous implications. The unstoppable rise of social media has only added to this ongoing problem. It would be tough to deny that the drastic increase of female depression and suicide is directly linked to the unrealistic expectations of so-called beauty our culture places on women (and young girls too).
Hair dye is just one aspect of the overall pressure that women feel to cover their “flaws” or “enhance” their beauty. Of course, this is mostly because men and the media have objectified women ad nauseam. Also, many women place these unreal expectations on other women as well. Society puts overwhelming pressure on women to synthesize their appearance in the name of fashion and beauty. These standards of beauty are incompatible with God’s standards of holiness.
The Beauty of Holiness
“O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness… (Psalm 96:9)”.
Holiness is beautiful! God created every individual with unique beauty. To reject holiness and God’s artistry is an insult to God. Furthermore, men who do not view godly women as beautiful are carnal and corrupted by the world’s cheap enticements. Women who despise holiness are held captive by crushing societal peer pressure or their inward vanity. It’s essential to understand the duality of motives for synthesizing appearance; some women synthesize to fit in (peer pressure), while some synthesize to stand out (vanity). Both explanations are highly problematic for differing reasons.
To be sure, men struggle in these areas as well. However, in the context of hair dye (and other body modifications), men feel less pressure and don’t battle these temptations nearly as often as women do. God desires men and women to be free from the shackles of envy, pride, vanity, objectification, insecurity, shame, and worldly expectations.
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… (Psalm 139:14)”.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV)”.
Practical Objections to Hair Dye
Hair dying is a chemical process. Almost all hair dye requires bleaching before color is added. Typically, ammonia is used, which causes terrible (sometimes irreparable) damage to hair follicles. Ironically, many people who avoid chemicals in every other area of life infuse their hair with harsh chemicals regularly. Now, because of vanity or peer pressure, many people have violated another area of holiness, the significance of hair as a spiritual covering (1 Corinthians 11:3-16). Damaging the hair, which is tremendously spiritually crucial to God, demonstrates a callousness towards God’s natural order. We would never risk damaging something so spiritually precious unless: One, we don’t have a real revelation of the spiritual significance of hair. Two, we are blinded by vanity (or worldly pressure) and don’t care about things that matter to God.
Furthermore, studies indicate that hair dye is directly linked to cancer, especially among women, which makes sense because women use hair dye far more exclusively than men. Most effective hair dyes contain carcinogens, which are known to be cancer-causing. Increasingly, health experts are trying to steer women clear of hair dye. Notably, many doctors encourage pregnant women to discontinue the use of hair dye during pregnancy. The dangers of long-term hair dye use are known but mostly ignored by a culture obsessed with outward vanity.
The Biblical View of Vanity
The word vanity pops up a lot when talking about any form of outward holiness. Vanity is one of those catch-all words that people throw around without fully understanding what it means. Biblically, it has a spectrum of meanings that can be used differently in a variety of situations. In essence, the Bible gives lots of instructions on how to think about ourselves inwardly. That inward transformation will always be outwardly visible (clothing, body language, conversation, actions, ethics, morals, integrity, social interaction).
“Favor [is] deceitful, and beauty [is] vain: [but] a woman [that] feareth the LORD, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:30)”.
Proverbs 31 gives the biblical template of a godly virtuous woman. In this God-ordained description of ideal femininity, the focus is not on outward vanities. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the condition of her heart and her relationship with God.
Here vanity means empty pleasure; vain pursuit; idle show; unsubstantial activity. Vanity is ostentatious, arrogant, and relishes outward showiness. Vanity is the inflation of the mind; empty pride, inspired by conceit and manifested by the flaunting of personal decorations. Vanity is haughty, gaudy, and relishes in drawing attention to self.
“For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error (2 Peter 2:18).”
In the middle of Peter’s lengthy rebuke and description of false prophets, he mentions their “great swelling words of vanity.” False prophets use vain words to appeal to people’s baser instincts of carnal vanity. Vain words appeal to our lustful and vain sinful nature. This kind of preaching and thinking leads people back into the captivity of sin.
“And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them (2 Kings 17:15).”
The Bible chronicles the frequent backsliding and restoration of the Israelites. The Israelites followed empty, vain things, and they became empty and vain. Empty vanity lays the groundwork for deeper and deeper sins. As they imitated the heathens around them, they became more and more debauched in their thinking and actions. All of this started because they ignored the warnings of their elders and ancestors. Vain thought always leads to sin and sorrow.
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory… (Philippians 2:3)”.
That word “vainglory” would probably be best translated in a modern context as “empty (or vain) conceit.” Hair dye falls into the category of empty conceit.
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:24-26).”
Galatians chapter five lists the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which includes meekness, another important word for inward and outward holiness. Spirit-filled believers are mandated to crucify the affections and lusts of the flesh. We are to walk in the Spirit rather than the desires of the flesh. Spirit-led Christians do not desire “vainglory.” Meaning they aren’t conceited, and because they aren’t conceited, they aren’t envious of one another. By avoiding vanity, Christians keep themselves from envy, and they don’t provoke others to envy them either.
Biblical Instruction Concerning Outward Adornment
“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves modestly and appropriately and discreetly in proper clothing, not with [elaborately] braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but instead adorned by good deeds [helping others], as is proper for women who profess to worship God (1 Timothy 2:9-10, Amplified),”
Here, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he gives instructions for a godly woman’s outward appearance. There’s a lot to unpack in just those two verses, but for this study, there are two relevant focuses: Discreet adornment and the forbidding of hair decorations (a woman’s glory). These principles should be considered when determining whether hair dye is an appropriate option in God’s eyes.
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV).”
Peter’s first epistle echoes Paul’s apostolic commands regarding a godly woman’s adorning. If nothing else, these passages remind us that apostolic women of faith should allow their beauty to radiate from within. Synthetic, vain, ostentatious outward attempts to change God-given beauty originates from a godless dissatisfaction with the original Creator’s design. True beauty comes from a godly spirit. Every effort to cover the master strokes of our great Creator results in a shallowness that ultimately creates an inward emptiness.
In a nutshell, Christians should refrain from dying their hair because it violates several Scriptural principles. Hair dye rejects God’s chosen symbol of righteousness, wisdom, dignity, and honor. Hair dye is an insult to God’s artistry and a rejection of His design. Hair dye endangers the health of a woman’s spiritual covering. Hair dye may very well jeopardize an individual’s physical health. Hair dye is rooted in a history of rebellion and carnality. Hair dye is intrinsically vain. And, hair dye is not consistent with the godly outward adornment mandated in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4
“Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black (Matthew 5:36).”
Obviously, this verse is not dealing with the issue of dyeing the hair. However, it is a startling revelation of the absence of hair dye in Jewish culture. I find it unlikely that Jesus would ever have said this if it was common practice to dye the hair black. It seems consistent with Scripture that the apostles and prophets of old would firmly oppose the ostentatious use of hair dye. As modern apostolics, I believe we should lovingly oppose it as well.
Huge thanks to my dear friend, Pastor Joe Campetella, for contributing to this article. His research and spiritual insight was crucial during the process of writing and reflection.
TRUE COLORS: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
Are Hair Dyes Safe? by Ronnie Cohen, The Washington Post
Study links hair dye and hair straighteners to higher breast cancer risk, especially among black women by Scottie Andrew, CNN
Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in large percentages of U.S. population of black and white women by Carolyn E. Eberle, Dale P. Sandler, Kyla W. Taylor, Alexandra J. White, International Journal of Cancer
Hair Dye: A History by Rebecca Guenard, The Atlantic
Concerns About Hair Dye, National Capital Poison Center
Do or Dye: Why women daren’t go grey (unless they’re very brave or very young) by Karen Kay, The Guardian