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Dye Your Hair Naturally Using Henna

September 18, 2010

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

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

To apply it on the hair; Henna powder is mixed...

Henna powder. Image via Wikipedia

  • 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 the about 3 tbs henna with a bit of boiling 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 🙂
  • 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, and

15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2010 12:59

    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

    • September 20, 2010 23:31

      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 permalink
    September 21, 2010 12:35

    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?

    • September 21, 2010 19:16

      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. September 21, 2010 23:47

    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!

    • September 27, 2010 21:01

      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:
      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: Though of course, the only proper way to know is to try!

  4. September 28, 2010 12:58

    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.

    • September 28, 2010 19:41

      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 🙂

      • September 28, 2010 19:54

        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.

  5. Miz permalink
    March 8, 2012 00:10

    Hello, i need to know how do i remove black henna off of my hair? or, can i actually henna my hair with different shade of henna, over the black henna? Will it work?

    • March 9, 2012 18:01

      At the bottom of this page there are a lot of different tips on how to remove henna: 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!

  6. November 20, 2012 21:27

    Hi Hilda –

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I recently stepped up to the henna plate and had a very successful first experience (my story is here:

    A few days after using henna, I went for a trim. My stylist told me what others in the past said – that henna coats the hair, seals the cuticle, and essentially prevents moisture from getting in (or out). Over time, the hair is coated like old wax on a floor. It can’t breath or get moisture. It looks shiny and feels strong, but the actual hair is brittle and in bad shape.

    I’m really not sure what to make of that. She seemed quite convinced having studied the matter when she worked for a major hair products company.

    The thing is, it’s so hard to find good information. Stylists have an agenda — they want you to come and get your hair done by them every 6 weeks. Henna seller have their own agenda and want you to buy henna from them.

    I am letting my fine hair grow long and I’m working hard to keep it healthy. I LOVE the henna and how empowering it is to do it myself for so little money. But I am concerned that what my stylist said is true.

    Do you have anything to add to that? Are you still using henna on your hair?



  1. Henna Recipes « Hildablue – au naturel
  2. How to Dye Your Hair With Herbs « Hildablue – au naturel
  3. The Fine Art of Dying Your Hair with Henna | Crunchy Betty

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