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Dye Your Hair Naturally Using Henna

This is the first post in a three-post mini series on natural hair dyes. Next post will be on the 2. October.

henna natural hair dye If it isn’t red, it isn’t henna

We all know that dying our hair chemically is really bad. Right? Your hair will just get thinner and more brittle for each dye. And let’s not even get started on all those chemicals. Really, let’s not.

Let’s instead get started on what you actually can do to dye your hair without the suffocating in your bathroom . The most common way to naturally dye your hair permanently is to use henna (lawsonia inermis). Unfortunately (whatever your beliefs were before) henna will only dye your hair one color, and that’s red. More on that soon.

There are also these things called neutral henna and black henna. While these products are all natural and nice, they are not henna. The so-called “neutral henna” will probably be Cassia obovata, that will have all the other benefits of henna except for the color. Black henna in turn is the indigo plant.

Anyway, let’s talk a bit about henna and how to use it.

Why use henna?

There are lots of advantages to using henna as opposed to other traditional hair dyes.

  • Price. Henna is a lot cheaper than other hair dyes. A lot.
  • Good for your hair. Unlike chemical dyes, henna is nothing that you should be cautious of using too often. In fact, it is only good for your hair! Apart from the color, henna will also strengthen and add texture and shine to your hair, and help remove dandruff.
  • Permanent. Henna color is permanent, and is not as affected by shampooing, blow-drying etc. as chemical permanent dyes are. Also the color will intensify when redying.
  • DIY-friendly. I have found that getting an even color on my hair is a lot easier with henna than with chemical dyes.  So no need to go to the hairdresser. Sure, it’s a bit messy and time-consuming but the results are always great.

Red and red only

You have probably seen the boxes of hair dye in organic shops with “henna hair color” in all shades imaginable. Also when googling for ”henna hair dye” or ”henna hair color”, most image results that show up are color charts with tens of shades to choose from, everything from black to bright purple. This is not henna. Henna will only dye your hair in one hair color, and that is red. These henna hair dyes will probably contain a small amount of henna, and then the rest is chemicals or, if you’re lucky, natural plants (although if the dye will give you a color like these, rest assured it is not thanks to chamomile).

By the way, if you ever heard the rumor that henna causes cancer, there is no real evidence for this. This statement is based on a poorly made study from the 1920′s. What you should be afraid of, however, are henna mixtures that don’t have ingredient lists on them. Some might contain PPD (p-phenylenediamine) which is extremely allergenic. Do a patch test on your wrist to make sure your powder doesn’t cause you any reactions!

So are you curious to trying out henna your hair then? First of all, make sure you really want to. As I said, this is a permanent hair dye, and is really hard to get out of your hair (there are apparently ways, contact me in case of emergency!).

How to use henna

Henna powder. Henna powder.

  • Henna can be bought from Indian shops or, ten times pricier, organic shops or beauty shops. The henna powder should be a light algae-y green.
  • Mix about 3 tbs henna with a bit of very hot water in a bowl that you’re not too fond of (it will be stained by the henna). The consistency should be a quite thick paste, not too runny.
    Then you will need to let the mixture stand for at least 12 hours. If you want to, you can do a test to make sure it’s done, by adding a teaspoon of the mixture to your wrist. Rinse off after a minute – if you have a yellow spot on your hand, the mixture is done.
  • Then apply to your hair, wrap some plastic foil around it and let stand for at least an hour. The longer you have the mixture on, the more color you will get.
  • To get the mixture out of your hair, I found the best way is to apply heaps of some cheap conditioner to the hair, massage for a good while and then rinse out.
  • If you make too much, just freeze the rest of the mixture and use in the next time. I always make at least a double batch so I won’t have to make the mixture too often.
  • If your hair is a weird color the first time you do it, wait a couple of days before panicking. When the henna gets in to the strand, an oxidation process takes place which means it might be a bit strange at first. My hair was a bright blond-orange for a couple of days before it became the red it is now. Luckily I was at my summer cottage that weekend :)
  • www.hennaforhair.com has heaps of information on how to use henna.

Also, there are lots of ways that you can alter your henna mixture to get a shade that you prefer. But that another story. (i.e. check back in two weeks time for Part 2 of the hair dying series)

Sources: own experience, shenet.se and hennaforhair.com

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40 Comments

  1. mikeb2mr

    Very Interesting and informative article but Henna can have it’s down side
    an din some cases can cause real issues.
    Henna Compound Dyes

    The henna compound dyes are mixtures of metallic salts with organic intermediates such as pyrogallol. The colors achieved with these com­pounds are more natural looking than those obtained with the metal salts alone, but no lightening of the hair is possible and they fade easily. They are discolored by cold wave permanents, and hair treated with these compounds cannot be bleached or dyed until the metallic salts have been removed. [removing metallic salts] good luck with that!

    Natural pure Red Henna comes from the Dried leaves of the Privet [lawsonia alba] grown in Asia and northern Africa.

    Natural henna comes from the crushed root.

    Natural henna is sometimes mixed with compounds of Metallic salts to produce a range of different colours. Hair coloured with Metallic salt henna cannot and should not be coloured with any other products including Hydrogen Peroxide.

    Warning :

    If unsure do a strand test,[ Strong discoloration,an unpleasant smell. no colour change, uneven results down hair shaft, in some case applying permanent colour over the top of Metallic salts can cause a high heat reaction!]

    Henna can make appear shinny with more body and natural red hues depending on natural base level!

    Henna Can over time build up on hair make it brittle it is not possible to chemically remove henna.

    {Again before attempting any new colour strand testis essential!}
    Mike B2MR

    1. hilda

      Thank you for your comment, Mike! I absolutely agree with you that compound dye hennas can be dangerous, which I also pointed out in my post.
      If I’ve understood correctly, mostly the leaves (and partly the stem) are used when dying hair, not so much the root, even though the root also has red color in it (the root is more used in traditional textile coloring).

      As when it comes to henna making the hair brittle and building up. Henna does contain something called resin, which will coat your hair and might, in the long run, cause a build-up if hennaing too often and make your hair feel dry. This is only if you henna _really_ often though, like every week. Resin will wash out of your hair quickly so as long as one doesn’t henna with every hair wash everything should be fine.
      The problem that might show up is that, since henna color doesn’t fade as easily as other hair dyes, you might have a “build-up” in the sense of your hair color getting more and more intense (darker or more red) for each dye.

      In any case, henna is way better for your hair than other hair dying products (like those including hydrogen peroxide). Do you agree?

  2. Erica P

    I’m really happy you brought up henna! If you like the colour, it’s really a blessing for the hair, and cassia does almost the same (but the effect fades faster).

    I want to comment on what you wrote about cassia. I’ve never heard the term “natural henna” used for cassia, on the other hand I’ve heard “neutral henna”, as in henna that doesn’t give colour. Maybe you’ve mixed up the terms? I think natural sounds a bit funny, taking into consideration that all henna should be natural (in my opinion the box-stuff in different colours and 73 different additives shouldn’t even be allowed to be called henna).

    A last comment about henna build-up causing darker hair, we do roots only with box colours, why not with henna? Yes it is a bit messy and needs some extra work (for example a loose ponytail on the top of you head to keep the mud from spreading into the rest of your hair) but if you’re happy with the colour you have, you don’t want to go darker but want to continue to use henna it’s a good option. For some extra conditioning for the rest of your hair you can always use cassia or a henna gloss.

    I’m looking forward to your next posts about henna! And maybe we should meet for a cup of coffee some day?

    1. hilda

      Yes, of course I meant “neutral henna”. Silly me! I will change it before anyone else notices :)

      Yeah, doing only the roots is of course a good option. Since my hair is so short, I don’t feel there’s much point though. But when I did do only my roots, I was surprised to see that there was no clear difference between the dyed roots and the lengths. In fact my whole hair often looked newly-dyed! Maybe, since the color enters the shaft it somehow spreads a bit or something.

      Coffee sounds great btw! Long time no see :)

  3. Leslie @ crunchybetty

    SO timely! I’ve been thinking for a couple of weeks about doing henna, but Fiance is really turned off at the idea that I might go red. I, on the other hand, think red is pretty snazzy.

    I hadn’t really done a lot of research into henna, so it’s VERY interesting to see that black henna isn’t really henna (I ran across a black henna at MRH the other day and thought it was the answer to my dilemma).

    Can’t wait to read the other parts to this, so I can learn more before venturing out on my own. Thanks!

    1. hilda

      I’ve never used indigo (black henna), though as I said, it’s also a natural way of dying your hair and you can use it the same way as you use henna, and I think it will have mostly the same benefits as well. You can read more about it on hennaforhair: http://www.hennaforhair.com/indigo/index.html
      I think I forgot to mention in the post, that henna doesn’t lighten hair. From the pictures I’ve seen of you it seems you have rather dark hair, am I right? You will probably mostly get some red tones in your hair but not red like mine (my hair is dark blonde naturally). This PDF color chart will give you a hint about which color you will get if hennaing your hair, or mixing indigo into it: http://www.mehandi.com/shop/hairinstructions2.pdf Though of course, the only proper way to know is to try!

  4. Victoria Lewy

    Henna is awesome! I started to dye my hair with henna after i had a really bad experience with conventional hair dyes.

    As i didn’t want to be red i mixed my henna with basma, cinnamon and coffee . Basma is also natural hair color, it is produced from dried leaves of indigo plants (Indigofera). When it’s mixed with henna in ratio 50/50, some of cinnamon and coffee you receive dark chocolate color. You can see it on my photos :).

    What i love about henna and basma, is that you can use them as often as you prefer, hair becomes even stronger if you repeat this procedure frequently.

    1. hilda

      I’m glad to hear that other people have found the glory of henna :) I’ve never heard the term Basma before. Do you think it’s the same thing as the “black henna” that I refer to, or is it something else? I also sometimes mix my henna with coffee and/or nettles to get a more chestnut color. I will write more about that next post :)

      1. Victoria Lewy

        Yes, Basms is the same as black henna. Basma is Iranian term :). I also want to caution you. Buy black henna only from reputable sources, as poor quality black henna can color your hair rich green.

        Looking forward to your next post, I’m very interested in how you use nettles with henna.

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    1. hilda

      At the bottom of this page there are a lot of different tips on how to remove henna: http://forums.longhaircommunity.com/vbjournal.php?do=article&articleid=7 The same can be applied to indigo, but luckily indigo is a little bit easier to get rid of. You can try to henna over the indigo but the results will vary – most only get some red tones in their hair while others get bright orange. It also depends on your original hair color. You will never be able to henna your hair if you have black hair, for instance. Hope this helps and please let me know what worked for you!

  8. Perishan

    You can intensify the color by making a very strong tea and then steeping the henna with the tea. I like to get the henna ready like 2 days in advance.

    1st I make a very strong tea by steeping tea for 8 hrs.
    2nd you steep the henna with the tea and the juice of 1 lemon for 8 hrs
    3rd apply to your hair and leave on for 8 hrs.

    the tea makes the red a little bit darker and the lemon ( I don’t know why) intensifies the red and the longer you leave it in your hair the more color you get. I also use it to dye my nails but I don’t leave it on my nails for 8 hrs though lol.

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  13. Shauna

    I took the plunge and henna’d my blonde hair. It is rather orange right now but I’m not panicking. I’ll leave it for a few days and I’m sure the color will settle/fade. I would recommend that anyone wanting to henna their hair start the project on the first day of a long weekend. I didn’t give myself enough time to finish and had to take a vacation day from work ;) Also, I didn’t think to lighten my naturally darker roots before the henna and now they are quite dark. The henna hasn’t covered them at all. I was thinking of applying lemon juice to the roots in a few days. Any other suggestions?

  14. Eos

    Hi can you tell me about how much water to add to the 3 tbs of henna. My hair is about 6 inches past my shoulders in length. I am not sure if 3 tbs will be enough to die my hair. How much finished paste should i have with the 3 tbs of henna. Thank you for posting about this! :)

    Eos

    1. hilda

      Hi! It depends a little bit on the powder you use. I just start by adding a bit and then gradually adding more water until I have a thick paste kind of like thick greek yogurt. A wild guess is maybe half a cup to one cup of water, but I never actually measure it, I just add water until I get a consistency I like. Adding too much water is not going to ruin the mix or make it less effective, it’ll just be more difficult to apply and might start running down your neck. If you’ve added too much water, just add a bit more henna powder (you can always put leftovers in the freeer and take out for your next application).

  15. Elen

    Hey there Helda! I’m a new reader of your blog, and I have to say, I’m really impressed. Great job!
    I have a question for you. I recently went out and bought “brown henna” and “red henna”. I thought that was fine until I read many articles on henna and now I am completely terrified cause I don’t know whether what I got is natural or not.
    I mean, “brown henna” obviously isn’t natural. But how can I be sure if the “red henna” is the all natural one?
    Thank you in advance.

    1. hilda

      Hi Elen! Well, there’s really no way of knowing unless you have the INCI/ingredient list. Does it say somewhere on the packet what it includes? Some henna brands are still totally fine, they just add some chamomile for “blonde henna”, nettles or something else for “brown henna”. If you know the brand name you can google a bit and see if you find any info. Good luck! And let me know if you need more information.

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  17. Christina

    Hi I was wondering about henna on naturally curly hair. I have heard that it can cause you to lose your curls that it only happens in some people. Do you know of this happening? I would love to try henna but I don’t want to lose my curls!

    1. hilda

      Hi Christina! It’s true, some people have reported loss in curls, but this is not true for everybody. I have rather straight hair so I can’t really say. Some people have found that braiding their hair while doing the henna has helped. Sorry that’s all I know!

  18. jordan smith

    My hair was previously chemical dyed a reddish brown almost a month ago. I have been reading that pure henna can dye your hair a red color. I want my hair a certain red. I have a pic of a girl who uses henna but can’t post it on here. please email so i can send you the pic.

    1. hilda

      Hey, it’s really difficult to say what color your hair will be when you use henna, it all depends on the color you have from before, the quality of the henna, even the water you use. Also the color will most likely intensify with each dye. You can experiment with using some herbs or other things in you mixture, to make it darker or lighter. Read more here: Henna recipes. Also hennaforhair.com has some color charts and stuff that you can look at. Let me know if you have any questions :)

  19. Bonnie

    Would using a black or brown “henna” be as permenant as real henna? I’ve been wanting to go a darker brown but I’m not sure I want a totally permanent color, and I read on another blog that it fades after 4 months but I wanted a second opinion/source

    1. hilda

      I agree that indigo is not as permanent as actual henna. BUT the variations can be bigger from person to person with indigo than with henna. Some people report that the dye fades just after a few weeks, while for some it is more or less permanent. I guess the 4 months is quite accurate for me too. So I would say that is probably some kind of norm…

  20. jen edwards

    I have purchased “copper” henna and don’t know if it’s natural from “just for redheads”. the only ingredient listed is: “100% dried pulverized leaves from pure Lawsonia plants” but now I’m not sure if that’s pure because I don’t see much variation in red in photos and this one is “copper”. I’m scared as I have natural red hair, now going grey, and would like some increased tint and luster, without becoming Bozo the clown orange.
    What do you think?
    thank you.

    1. hilda

      Hmm.. Tricky. What’s the brand called, and did they have different colors that all stated 100% pure henna? If so they’re clearly not stating all the ingredients, and I wouldn’t recommend it. You can always do a strand test by gathering a few hairs from your brush and then dying that using the normal henna dying mehtod. Remember that it takes a little while for the color to settle, it might look a lot brighter in the beginning than it does after a few days. The color also darkens after several applications so if you’re not happy with the first result, you can always do it again. Hope this helps somewhat :)

  21. Melanie

    Any tips for how to not stain your bathroom? I rent and my bathroom is all white. Should I just cover everything in garbage bags? Also, I have dark brown hair with a little bit of white hair (which I want to cover up), I bought auburn henna. Think I should be ok? I don’t want orange hair, a darker red is fine though.

    1. hilda

      Hey Melanie, It’s kinda tricky… Personally, I just try to be careful when applying, and wash away eveything straight away.. I haven’t had much trouble with stains but I guess it depends on the material too.. I guess I would put a garbage bag on the floor / in the tub and lean over it while applying. I think that’s the best way not to spread the mess around too much. And I’m sure the auburn henna will be fine, just remember it does take a couple days before you get your actual hair color so it might be orange for a few days (especially white/gray hairs) but just wait and it will settle down! If you still think the hair color is too bright, just do another application. It will darken as you apply more. Good luck!

  22. Dominique

    Hi! I am doing a henna treatment for scalp benefits only. I have dark brown hair, if it dyes fine, if not, even better. But I am wondering, since I am not going for a dyeing effect, do I need to let the mixture sit? I have read that this releases the color, but again, I am only going for all of the benefits that come from henna, and am hoping it will help with my dry scalp.

    1. hilda

      Hi! I’m glad you like the post :) I usually don’t have any trouble with henna staining my scalp too badly, if there is a bit of red it usually fades after another wash or so. You can apply some conditioner on your forehead and palms to avoid the henna leaving stains there, it might even work with the scalp itself but I haven’t tried that. Hope this helps :)

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