Henna Hair Dye

Have you ever wondered what's in your hair dye? One day, after a friend mentioned that boxed hair dye was damaging her hair, I took it upon my self to analyze the ingredients of some commercial dyes (perhaps all that college chemistry wasn't a waste of time). 

I expected to find one bad chemical here and another there, but instead, I found loads of chemicals that do a lot more than ruin your hair. 

Every brand I looked at had ingredients that made me cringe.

The health hazards for these chemicals included:


Disruption of the endocrine system.

 Cellular level changes and damage.

Reproductive toxicity.


Target organ toxicity (typically skin, lungs, membranes and eyes).

I even went to the local health food store and checked the chemicals on the dyes I found there. 

ironically, many of these "natural" dyes had the highest levels of target organ toxicity.

So, the search began for a truly natural and safe alternative to boxed dyes.

Introducing Henna.

Contrary to popular belief henna is a permanent dye that will not fade. In fact, it is effective enough to cover grey hair.

Henna is also good for your hair! The Lawsone that's present in henna binds with the keratin in the hair smoothing the cuticle and making it stronger. Lawsone is also the responsible party for coloring your hair red.

Contrary to popular belief, red is the only color that henna ever is and can be.

"Black" henna is achieved by the addition of chemicals and metallic salts while "natural" henna  is a different plant completely. 

So I Can Only Dye My Hair Red?!

Of course not.  Although henna by itself will always go towards red shades, there are ways to achieve different colors by mixing henna with other natural plants.  The most common plant to mix henna with is indigo.  Indigo (the plant known for dying your blue jeans)  helps to achieve rich brown and black tones. 

Below I've listed some common combinations.

Red, Auburn or Burgundy- Pure henna.

Light Brown With Red Tones- Two parts henna to one part indigo.

Medium Brown With Red Tones- One part henna to one part indigo.

Dark Brown With Red Tones- One part henna to two parts indigo.

Black- This is a two-step process. Henna is first applied and rinsed followed by indigo (see below).

If you are like me and can't quite pull off lots of rich warm tones, the solution is to add amla, another plant.  One part of amla can be added for every three parts of henna for cooler colors.

Note that although you can make various colors with henna, it is not able to lighten hair and the color will get darker with each application.

 How to Henna

 Step 1: Buy Your Henna Powder.

The key to getting the results you want is buying the right quality henna.  Body art quality henna is the only henna that I would recommend as it does not have any metallic salts or chemicals.  Body art quality henna can be used over chemical hair dyes and can also be colored over and lightened.

The only place that I've bought henna has been through a site called Henna For Hair and it has been of great quality.  This is also a great place to buy your indigo. 

Please note: Although indigo can be used over hair dye, and be dyed over (with darker colors) it can not be lightened.  The reason for this, is that henna will lift from the hair, but the indigo won't.  In other words, you'll end up with green and blue tones left in your hair.  Not a pretty sight!

Step 2: Test Your Henna

Since henna works with the hair color  you have, it is important to do a test to make sure it's going to come out the color you want.

The best way to do a test it to mix the henna or hendigo (henna and indigo) that you think will work for your hair and try it on hair from your hair brush. 

Another option, is to do test strips on the underside of your hair. 

Step 3: Mix the Henna

Henna comes as a powder and needs to mixed with a liquid acid to release the dye.  The best liquids to use are cranberry juice or apple cider vinegar.  Mix the powder with the acid to the consistency of Greek yogurt.  Even though there are no metallic salts in the body art quality henna, I like to avoid metal when making my henna.

Next, the mixture will need to sit for 8-10 hours to allow the dye to release.  You can check to see if it's ready by taking a small amount of the mixture and putting it on your hand.  If it leaves an orange spot, it's ready.  Henna needs to be used as soon as it's ready for maximum potency.

If you chose to add amla for cooler tones, mix the amla with warm water to the consistency of mashed potatoes and then add to the ready henna.


Step 4: Mix Indigo (Optional) 

If you're going for brown tones mix the indigo directly before you apply it.  Indigo powder needs to be mixed with one teaspoon of salt per 100 grams of indigo.  Once the salt is added, mix in warm water until you get the consistency of mashed potatoes.  The indigo is now ready to use and the desired proportion (determined by testing!) can be added to the henna.


Step 5: Apply

Since henna and hendigo are the consistency of mud they are challenging to apply.  I would suggest simply using a gloved hand to apply the mixture. Start at the top (especially if you have grey roots) and work your way down.  When I do this, I section the hair into one inch strips and fully cover each strip. I then tightly spiral the strips down onto the head as I work to keep the hair from getting tangled. 

Step 6: Wait

Once you're done cover your head with Saran Wrap and add a beanie to keep it warm.  If you're using pure henna you can leave it on for as long as you want, even over night, but make sure it's on at least four hours. The longer you leave henna the darker, or more red, it will be.  If you're using hendigo five hours is an ideal time to leave it in.

Step 7: Rinse

When you're ready to rinse your hair it might be best to fill a bathtub with water and do a "mermaid" rinse by laying down in the tub.   You can then stand up and wash normally.  Make sure you conditioner well since henna is a protein treatment!

Step 8: Wait Some More!

It will take 3-4 days for the color to darken (oxidize) to the real color, so don't panic right away if your hair isn't the color you want!

What About Black?

Dying your hair black using henna and indigo is a slightly different process.  Like always, make sure you do tests before doing your entire head!

The first step of getting jet black hair, is to mix the henna as explained above.  When the henna is ready, apply it and leave it on for two hours.  Next, you will want to rinse the henna off and towel dry the hair.  Do not be alarmed by your bright orange or red hair!

We're about to fix it!

It is now time to mix up the indigo.  Apply the indigo all over your hair starting at the roots and leave it on for one hour.  Rinse it off and enjoy your black hair!

So What About My Friend?

Before Henna


Directly After Henna

Henna Day One

Four Days After Henna

Henna Hair Dye

So, the next time you start thinking about coloring your hair, why not take some extra time to invest in something good for your hair, and your body?