Dye Your Hair Naturally With Henna

image-henna-hairIf you want naturally beautiful hair, turn to henna.

Anyone living in the Middle East has often seen little old ladies with kerchiefs tied under their chins and long, orange-colored braids falling down their backs. They dye their hair with henna, the dried and powdered leaves of Lawsonia lythraceae.

But modern women know methods of applying henna that yield lovely shades of hair color, from strawberry-blond to mahogany and even raven black. All this without any of the 500 synthetic chemicals in commercial hair dyes. (And for another shocker, find out what’s in your lipstick.)

There are some doubts as to long-term health consequences of conventional hair dyes. While science waits for conclusive evidence of links between cancer and hair dyes, here at Green Prophet we always favor the natural way.  Another advantage of henna is that it’s as good for your hair as our natural moisturizer is for your skin. Any woman used to commercial hair dyes either puts up with dry, itchy, flaky scalp, or treats it with specialized shampoos and hair masks. Henna, on the other hand conditions the hair, leaving it silky-soft and strong.

Some claim henna cures dandruff and even that it gets rid of lice. The last claim may have something to it: the paste may suffocate the insects and their eggs.

There are other herbs that are called henna, also used over centuries to treat hair. So-called “neutral henna” is Cassia obovata, used to strengthen and condition hair without dramatic color change. However, it will stain white or grey hair yellow.  There is also “black henna” which is indigo. It gives a harsh, blue-black color to hair and is best mixed with  henna for a softer, more natural black.

Pure, natural henna grants only one color change: to red. Depending on your hair color before application, the result will be lighter or darker, but some shade of red it will be. It takes combining henna with other herbs, and a little experimentation to obtain the shade you want. (Suggestions for herbal combinations below.)

You will see that most of the work involves protecting the skin from staining. Applying  henna takes just a few minutes, and then you will need at least an hour to sit around while it does its work. Time-intensive and messy? Yes. But think of how less expensive it is than a session at the hairdresser’s. And you won’t need dandruff shampoos and hair masks anymore either.

How to Apply Henna

The smartest way to experiment is to test your herbal combination on hairs taken from your hairbrush, taking notes every step of the way. After applying, rinse the strand with conditioner and then with warm water. If you’re not satisfied, try another herb or re-apply your combination to the same hairs after they dry.

Make sure to buy body art-quality henna powder. It should be a light green and smell like hay. Packaged henna products that include a “developer” contain synthetic ingredients. If you are tempted by a product offering pre-mixed colors, examine the label carefully. If it claims to have 100% henna, it is false. Remember, henna makes hair red, and only red. There are reputable products with mixes of henna and herbs. Their labels list all the ingredients.

Ingredients and equipment:

3 tablespoons body art-quality henna powder

1/2 cup boiling herbal infusion made with distilled water, or plain distilled water

A medium bowl dedicated to this purpose (it will get stained)

An old spoon or a chopstick

A few sheets of newspaper to stand the bowl on

Shower cap, bathing cap, or plastic wrap

Gloves

An old long-sleeved shirt

Conditioner

Method:

12 hours before dying the hair, mix the henna with just enough boiling water (or herbal infusion) to make a thick paste. Stir with a chopstick or another utensil you don’t mind getting stained. Be careful not to splash. Put aside any extra herbal infusion.

Cover the henna paste and let it stand at room temperature 12 hours. Check once or twice to make sure it’s not drying out. If it does, moisten it again, taking care to keep it thick, not runny.

Have a roll of plastic wrap ready, or a rubber cap. Wear an old long-sleeved shirt to protect arms and shoulders from dye stains. Use gloves – this is essential. You do not want to dye your hands orange. Rub non-petroleum jelly or cream around your hairline to protect your face from the dye.

Massage the moist henna paste into your hair. Take your time and be thorough.

Cover your hair with the plastic wrap or cap. You may ask, what did all those grannies do before there was plastic? Well, next time you come across one, look at how uneven her dye job is. Where henna dries out, it stops working.

Keep the henna paste on your hair for an hour at least. It will continue dying the hair as long as you leave it on. 2-3 hours is even better.

To wash the henna out, apply handfuls of conditioner to the hair, still wearing gloves. Massage well and rinse out. Repeat if necessary.

Notes:

  • The initial color may be different than expected for the first day or two, while it undergoes oxidation.  Be patient and wait to judge if you need another application or prefer to try another herbal infusion. If you’ve done your experimenting on hair collected from your hairbrush beforehand, you will have an accurate idea of what to expect when you apply your mix to all your hair.
  • Henna color is permanent. It will change with blow drying or additional treatments, but it will remain until it grows out.
  • Extra henna paste can be frozen for the next time.
  • For much more information on henna, go to www.hennaforhair.com,  a great resource.

Some suggested herbal mixes:

  • Infuse green walnut leaves in boiling water for 1 hour for rich brown shades.
  • Hibiscus tea mixed with henna yields auburn tones.
  • Chamomile tea yields blond highlights.
  • Marigold flowers yield blond-red color.
  • Black coffee mixed with “neutral” henna will darken grey hair.
  • Rosemary darkens hair. So does black tea.
  • Honey, especially mixed with cinnamon, will lighten hair for quite a long time.
  • Lemon peel infused in boiling water also lightens hair.

Cautions:

  • Coffee, black tea and rosemary in henna will keep you awake, just as if you had drunk a strong cup of one. If using one of these, apply your henna mix in the morning or early afternoon.
  • Likewise, herbs that are used as medicine, for example St. John’s Wort, are sometimes recommended to mix with henna. Avoid them.
  • Do not assume that ingredients you’re allergic to won’t affect you. They absolutely will. If in doubt, dab a spot of your mix on your arm or leg and wait 24 hours.
  • Lemon juice damages hair. Infuse lemon peel as suggested above, instead. A reader suggests that some may be sensitive to this, so a spot test is a good idea with it.
  • Use distilled water only. Minerals from tap or well water may give unexpected results (like blue or green shades).

More on natural beauty from Green Prophet:
5 Things to Avoid to Keep Your Complexion Beautiful
Eco-Conscious Cosmetics
5 Natural Ways to Keep Your Skin Beautiful
Soothing Masks and Cleansers for Summer Skin

Photo of woman with red hair from Shutterstock.

9 thoughts on “Dye Your Hair Naturally With Henna

  1. Muffazal Tikiwala

    That’s a wonderful article for creating awareness about henna. Sesame oil for hair can also be used before applying henna as it provides the necessary conditioning and does not let the henna paste stick to the hair.

    Reply
  2. Chrissy

    It’s a nice beginner’s guide :) If you don’t mind, I share a few tricks (I’ve been dying my hair with henna for more than 15 years). It’s all about red though! I prefer a darker red (I buy mahagoni) and this is what I do for a better result:

    - instead of just hot water, use red tea of any kind, red or black

    - heated red wine (grapes, strawberry, elderberry…) is great, too (not too much though, alcohol dries the hair out. Mix it 1:1 with tea)

    - you can add everything in your kitchen that’s red. Sweet red pepper powder, red juices…

    - add a tea spoon of sugar! Really, this is gold: the mixture will have a better, more creamy texture which makes it easier to apply it

    - a generous tea spoon of honey is a treat for your hair

    - dairy products are another treat. They soften the earthen smell a bit. But more important: just henna + water makes the hair a bit dry. With two spoons of joghurt this will not only be prevented, it will improve the texture of the paste and be a wonderful treat for the hair and scalp.

    - hair conditioner improves the texture as well and adds moisture

    - one hour is usually not enough. Many will think that the result is rather weak (depends a lot on the hair). Wait at least 3! hours!

    - wrapping tin or plastic foil keeps the head warm. An extra towel helps, too. Warm is always good.

    This was my mix today:
    Henna (mahagoni), a mix of strong red christmas tea (smells nicely), elderberry juice and mulled wine, a dash of cinnamon, red pepper powder, sugar, honey, joghurt and a generous dash of hair conditioner.

    Body butter applied to the skin prevents unwanted stains (I recommend this especially for eyebrows). Toothpaste is good against fresh stains.

    After waiting three hours (I know of people who wait up to 8!) – rinsing with warm water. Hair shampoo helps removing it faster. A bit conditioner, rinsing again, done (guess a bit of coconut oil after rinsing can replace the conditioner).

    The result (sorry for the still unkempt hair): http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=ehkqe&s=6

    I recommend henna to anyone who has a sensitive scalp. It is a bit of a mess, but it’s really a treat for scalp and hair, and the reflections are wonderful.

    Reply
    • Olivia

      Wow you know a lot about henna! I love the color you achieve, but I have some questions I hope you can answer! 1) what is the natural color of your hair? Mine is a medium-dark brown and I know you cant get a color like this without lightening it in some way. 2) I do not want to bleach it (it defeats the whole no chemical thing) would you know of any way to lighten the naturally enough to get a shade like this? 3) lets say you dont want your hair to be red any more, could you dye it back to a brown with another type of henna mix? Thank you in advance!

      Reply
  3. Jen

    There is no chemical reaction with applying henna over previously chemical colored hair. The problem is when hair that was colored with henna that contains metal salt additives has chemical color applied over it. As long as you use PURE henna there is no chemical reaction at all.

    Reply
  4. DianeA

    The Shielo Color Protect Shampoo was recommended on the Dr. Oz show of all things. I color my hair and now use the SHielo Color Protect to protect my hair between colorings. I color my hair a light golden brown and this shampoo prevents that dull look. It also makes hair nice and soft and shiny. I use it about 3x a week. Be sure to rinse thoroughly – it’s a bit harder to rinse than regular shampoo but is worth the effort.

    Reply
  5. Karla solis

    i was told seriously do not do this if you have dyed your hair previously, the chemical reaction can actually cause your hair to melt/so it would be best to let the store bought dye grow completly out and/or removed by trimming off as it grow’s out

    Reply
  6. Sabi

    Henna is a great treatment for our hair.it cure dandruff nd hairfall.mix some fenugreek powder, egg white,2 spoon of curd, vinegar,olive oil, nd lemon juice wid henna it maintain our hair healthy nd shiny……

    Reply
  7. Miriam Kresh Post author

    Luna, thank you for your corrections. As I’ve never used lemon juice on my hair, I can’t tell you if I agree or disagree – but I collected information from a person who has damaged her hair with it. I like your suggestion to use citric acid, though. This same source suggests boiling water; she has used it that way for years. Thank you – again – for the correction on achieving black shades. I will update that in the post.

    Reply
  8. Luna

    Good article, but you have some misinformation.
    - Lemon juice does not damage hair, though it can be a little drying. However, some folks are sensitive to lemon oil (I’m one of them!), and an infusion from lemon peel, which contains the oil, might make your scalp increasingly sensitive. You can use citric acid, 3g per 100g of henna, for perfect dye release, no sensitivity, and no damage!
    - Mixing your henna with boiling liquid will kill it! Use room temperature, or tepid liquid instead.
    - Applying indigo by itself will turn your hair blue. Mixing indigo with cassia (“neutral henna”) will result in green! Indigo must be mixed with red henna to produce brunette shades. If you apply indigo by itself after henna, it produces a soft, natural black.
    - It’s absolutely fine to mix henna with a metal spoon. If you’re using pure, natural henna, there is nothing in it to react with metal! Henna will not stain a glass or stainless steel bowl, and in a glass bowl, you can really see the dye release!

    Reply

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