How to Henna Your Hair

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You guys knew I was a bit of a granola girl, right?  Except that now I’m a bit of a grain-soaking-granola girl.  Because regular granola is pretty hard for our bodies to digest.  But that’s a different post.

Anyway, as a bit of a granola girl, I like to keep things as natural as possible.  But I am only a bit of a granola girl.  If I was a full blown granola girl, I would have smiled sweetly at my first grey hairs and embraced the next stage of woman hood.  Instead, I panicked and ran to the nearest drug store for a bottle of hair dye.

That was nearly 20 years ago (I know, I know.)  At first, my desperate runs to the drugstore seemed like a good solution.  But my hair grows incredibly fast, so that means I have to color often.  All those chemicals were destroying my hair.  The more I colored, the dryer and duller my hair became.
Then I heard about henna.  Not the weird stuff in a box that has other things mixed in.  That can really mess with your hair.  I’m talking about pure, body-art quality henna with nothing added.  If the henna you are using gives you different shades of color, honey, it’s mixed.  Pure henna only comes in one shade and that’s RED.
If you are blonde, henna will turn you into a carrot-top.  I’m a brunette, so henna just gives me great red highlights and an overall healthy glow.  If you’re nervous, I recommend doing a strand test.  You can “harvest” hair from your hairbrush, do your coloring process, allow to dry and then check the color results.
Why Use Henna?
*Henna is very mild and gentle.  Almost no one is allergic, so it is often a great alternative if you have trouble with chemical dye.
* You can safely use it when you’re pregnant or nursing.  In fact, some practitioners even recommend it as a safer alternative to chemical dyes.
*You aren’t soaking your brain in chemicals.  If you don’t think chemicals are absorbed through your skin, just ask yourself why nitroglycerin, nicotine and birth control hormones are all delivered using skin patches.
*Henna acts as a hair treatment.  That means that the more you use it, the stronger your hair will become.
*Henna doesn’t change the color of your hair, it works with it, so the color is very natural looking and will have beautiful, natural highlights.
*Smearing mud on your head helps you get in touch with your inner child.  Okay, I’m stretching a little bit here…
How to Use Henna to Dye Your Hair:
There are a lot of ways to apply henna.  This is the method I use:

 

First, you’ll need to get your henna.  I use about 200-300 grams for my very long hair.  One cool thing about pure henna is that you can freeze it after you mix it.  I scrape my leftovers into a freezer container each time I color.  Eventually I have enough in there to do my whole head.  Then I just thaw, stir and apply.  It’s like getting a free hair color session.
I get my henna from Mehandi.com.  They have wonderful henna for a good price.  You can also get lots more information about henna on their Henna For Hair page, including how to use real indigo with your henna to get colors like shades of brown and even jet black.  There is even information for blonds who don’t necessarily want to become carrot-tops.
The henna varies a bit based on where it was grown and what the temperature and rainfall was like that year.  Mehandi.com does a good job describing what you will be getting.  I have a lot of grey, so I need something with a strong dye content.  This is what I am using this time:
When you are ready to color, you’ll need to put some gloves on.  This is the same stuff they use for henna tattoos.  It WILL stain your skin.  And you’d look really funny with orange hands.

 

Dump your henna powder into a non-reactive bowl.  I use glass and I stir with a stainless steel spoon.

 

You need something acidic to release the dye content in the henna.  Most people use some lemon juice, but that is too harsh for me.  It makes my scalp itch — and constantly scratching your head makes you look like a monkey.  I use not-from-concentrate orange juice, instead.  It is more gentle, but still has enough acidity to do the job.  For 200 grams of henna, I use about 1/2 – 1 cup orange juice.

You definitely want to strain your orange juice before use.  Don’t skip this step.  Trust me on this one.  One time I decided it would simplify things if I didn’t bother to strain.  After all, I was going to cover my head with mud.  What would a little bit of pulp hurt?  I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed.  Then I rinsed some more.  Those little pulp thingies grabbed my hair like glue and would not let go.  Yuck.  It was days before I could get it all out.  Strain.Your.Orange Juice.

Add some filtered water to your orange juice (I don’t like the idea of chlorine in my henna mix… it might do strange things.  Smearing mud on my head is strange enough.  I don’t need any help.) — I start with about 2 cups total liquid and go from there.  Pour it in.

 

Start mixing.  It will be all clumpy and weird at first.

Keep mixing.  The henna will start sucking up the liquid.  You may need to add more water, just don’t add too much.  You want it to be about the consistency of mashed potatoes.  If you add too much, it won’t be the end of the world.  It will still work fine, it will just be a lot messier.

 

If there are still a few small lumps, don’t worry about it.  They will smooth out as it sits.  It will look kind of like green pond scum at this point.  Why we ladies think this kind of stuff is pampering, I don’t know…

Cover your pond scum…er…I mean henna…with plastic wrap and go do something else for about 6-8 hours.  It needs that time to fully release the dye.  If you aren’t going to use it for awhile, you can refrigerate it after 8 hours.  If you aren’t going to get to it by the next day, you should probably freeze it until you’re ready for it.

Just to warn you, it kind of stinks.  Not in a rotting food sort of way.  More like a rained-soaked hay sort of way, which I guess is kind of what it is.  If it bothers you, you can hop over to my cleaning recipes and get some ideas to make your house smell good.

 

After 6 hours or so, it will have turned to a lovely shade of brown.  If you squint your eyes, cock your head to one side and stand on one foot, it kinda looks like chocolate.  Otherwise it just looks like mud.

 

Now you’re ready for the fun part.  First, make everyone leave the house.  This is private.  I affectionately call this my “Day of Ugly.”  No one should ever see us looking this ugly.  Shiny, auburn red hair — nice.  Hair covered in pond scum — not so nice…
Next, spread some old sheets on the floor, or go outside with a mirror.  This is going to get messy.  Put on some old clothes and your gloves.  (You’ll need another pair before this is done.)  Take your hair in small sections and start smearing that mud into your hair from roots to ends.  I use a hair clip to keep the dry hair out of the way of the part I’m working on.  Smear, glop and slime your way all over your head, doing your best to keep it on the hair, and not on the skin.  Pay particular attention to your roots if you are going grey or if you have done this before and have growth to cover.
Once you have slimed up you whole head, pile your hair on top of your hair and cover with a shower cap (a plastic bag would also work).  Change your gloves and clean up any drips with a little soap and warm water.  Henna that gets on you ears, face or neck will only turn you orange for maybe a day, if at all.  Henna that gets on your hands and arms, etc will last longer.  The quicker you get it off, the faster it will fade.

Once you have removed any drips, wrap your shower capped head in an old towel to keep the warmth in.  I got one of those microfiber head towels because they are lighter weight.  You’re going to be wearing this for a long time, so you don’t want something too heavy.
Now go hide and wait.  And pray no one comes to the door.  For the best results (especially if you’re covering grey), this needs to sit on your head for at least 4-6 hours.  I usually try to do this when Mr. Hubster isn’t around — because I want him to think I’m attractive, not scary.  Sometimes I wait until everyone is asleep, apply the henna, cover my pillow with a couple old towels and sleep on it.  It’s not terribly comfortable, but I’m not running around with a mud head, either.  Besides, it’s easier to hide in the dark.
When the time is up, it’s time to rinse.  I just lean over the tub and rinse under the faucet until it runs clear.  Then I grab the shampoo and wash my hair.  That will usually get a little more.  The I put conditioner on my hair and rinse.  Ta Da.  Style as usual.  Then go outside in the sun with a mirror and admire yourself.  Freshly henna-ed hair just glows in the sunshine.  If it seems too red, don’t panic. Over the next few days, the color will oxidize and deepen.

Enjoy your all-natural hair color.  And try not to flip your hair too much.  People might think you’re vain or something.

 

Update:  If you have a lot of gray hair, check out this post:  Henna for Gray Hair

Have a great day!

Angela

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39 Comments

  1. Wait…so you're telling me that you sprouted gray hairs when you were only 5? 😉 Your hair is beautiful – I may have to give it a try sometime on the pile of hair that's in my brush. Lol. I'm curious to see what color it would change my light brown locks.

  2. Thank you so much! Yup. I was 5… +15 or 20. Hmmm…Your hair would probably just be a lighter auburn than mine. The link to the Henna for Hair page will take you to a page that has lots of information. There is a free E-book on that page that really helped me when I first started. The e-book gives all kinds of information and also shows results for people with all kinds of different hair colors and types. Between that book and the hair test, I was ready to jump in. If you don't like your hair test result, you have made zero commitment. If it's too red for you, you can always follow the guidelines for adding a bit of indigo for a rich red-brown. By the way, Mehandi.com used to sell samples — I imagine they still do. Let me know if you decide to try it!

  3. Awesome – I browsed through the e-book and it definitely looks like something i want to try. I mean, hey, it's GOOD for your hair! And since my hair is naturally curly, maybe it will relax it somewhat. 🙂 They do still sell samples, so I went ahead and ordered one, and I'll be testing a hairball soon! Lol.

  4. I know im years late but if your still doing this .. ive read that its easier to start at the top and pile it up as you work down to the rest of the hair 🙂 hope it helps

  5. Thank you for your tip. I'm sure that would probably work better for a lot of people. I used to do it that way when I first started using henna (many moons ago). I don't know if it was because my hair is so long or if I'm just backward, but I had a lot of trouble when I started at the top with the henna. The henna glopped down into the hair that was dry and it all ended up in a tangled mess. I had trouble getting to the roots of the lower hair because of the mess. Then one day I decided to rebel and break with tradition. I decided to start at the bottom. I personally found it much easier for me. But then, my hair is past my waist, so it can tangle easily, especially with gloopy mud all over it. If your hair is shorter (or if you are more normal than me), working from the top down is probably much easier. Thank you for the tip!

  6. Hi, I really love your hair. I use henna, but I use the red henna first then I follow with a mix of henna and indigo on the roots to cover the gray. It started getting really dark after many applications. I want to have the same color as yours. I can't believe you have gray! my hair color is dark brown but now i have 50% gray.

  7. Hello Anonymous! Thank you so much!! Believe me, I am definitely going gray. 🙁 I have used a half henna/ half indigo mix on my hair from time to time (when I suddenly decide my hair looks too red). I have noticed the indigo gets increasingly darker each time I use it. Usually by my third application, I start thinking it's too dark. When I use henna alone, my gray turns out really red, but my dark brown hair goes auburn. So my gray ends up looking like red highlights. (The grayer I get, the redder I get.) The henna I use has a high lawsone content (over 2%). A higher lawsone content will cover grey better than a lower one. Mehendi.com will usually tell you the lawsone content and how well it will cover the gray. If they don't mention it, it probably doesn't have a high content. It is a little more expensive, but it does a better job. Also, I leave the henna on at least 4 hours. Sometimes I will leave it on for 6 hours or overnight. That gives the henna plenty of time to soak into the gray hair shaft, which helps me get better coverage. The henna can be really bright after an application like this, but after 2-3 days, it oxidizes and deepens to a nice, rich shade. I hope that helps. Have a great day!

  8. Dear Angela, Thank you for your quick reply. By the way, my name is Rula 🙂 I live in Amman, Jordan. I use the same henna you use. I followed your tips. I put red henna this time alone on Thursday for 6 hours. Our weekend is Friday and Saturday, so I thought I'll wait and see without following immedietly with indigo. As you said the color did change although still too red for what I'm used to. Especially that my hair has become very dark. I think I will follow your method. I looooove your hair. Mine was completely damaged from hair color and was breaking off. Now it is growing very healthy. I want to grow it the same as your length 🙂 Lovely Chatting to you.

  9. It is so good to meet you, Rula! Mehendi.com's Henna for Hair page has a free ebook. In the book they tell all kinds of ways to get different colors. They say that henna first, then indigo will give you black hair (I haven't tried it, though), and mixing henna and indigo will give you brown. There is a specific method for mixing the henna and indigo together, so I encourage you to read what they have to say. They are very knowledgeable. When I first started using henna (by itself), the red got richer and deeper each time. After about the 5th or 6th application, it seemed to reach a full saturation point. Now that I am more gray, I am experimenting a bit. I think I am going to try one or two henna/indigo applications and then straight henna for a time or two. My hope is that alternating methods will keep it from going too red or too dark. I would love to hear how things go for you, and if you are able to get the color you are looking for. Have a great day!

  10. Dear Angela,
    Well let me tell you, When I was researching about henna what made me decide to go ahead was actually your post. I used to use henna when I started going gray in my early 20s. Most of my hair was dark so the gray didn't bother me and as you said after many applications you could hardly notice it because it became really saturated. When I reached forty my was getting grayer by the minute. and I switched to hair dyes. I cannot tell you how much it destroyed my hair. my hair is thick but very fine and straight. At the salon they would convince me to go a bit lighter and add highlights so the growth would not show quickly. However, my hair was completely ruined and I became very desperate so I started researching and saw your post. from your post I (you put the henna you used) I downloaded the book and looked at the mixes. I experimented a lot. Still, It kept getting really dark. What I did this time was I put the henna for 6 hours and washed it. That was 2 days ago. I kept about 3 tbs of the mix. Today I mixed 50 gr. of the indigo then added the 3tbs of mixed henna to it and applied to my roots. I left it for 20 min only and washed my hair. It did not become dark. lovely auburn, What I used to do before was I used to put hibiscus tea in my henna mix. It made it go dark and more purplish which I did not like. This time I did not. I found it much better. I never tried mixing both in one application. It is a hassle I'm sure you know, but henna is very good. This kind is by far the best I have ever tried. Sorry for the looong message, but it is so nice chatting to you about henna because no one I know uses it. Actually they criticize me saying it so old fashioned! I will say again you have the most beautiful hair.

  11. Dear Rula,
    Thank you so much for the compliment to my hair. I am thrilled that you found my henna post helpful. No one I know uses henna, either. I find that a little sad, because it has been so much better for my hair than the chemical dyes I used to use. I really like the method you used this time. I am planning to henna again this week, so I think I may try what you did. Now that I have so much gray, the roots are a bit of an issue. It takes a couple applications to get them as saturated as the rest of my hair. What you did sounds like a really good plan. I am so happy to talk with you. We henna girls have to stick together! Have a great day!

  12. Dear Angela,
    We sure do 🙂 Yes, I found it much better this time. Hope it works for you as well. Good Luck and tell me how it goes. I'll keep checking your post. Have a great day too.

  13. I am planning to henna on either Monday or Tuesday, if I can manage to keep my schedule free enough. I will pop back on here and let you know how it goes. Your method sounds perfect.

  14. Rula, if you are still out there, I wanted to tell you that I tried your method and it worked perfectly. I didn't get to henna until this weekend due to a crazy busy schedule. I liked your method so well that I am working on a post about it. I don't think there is much out there on the web about how to henna when you have a lot of gray, and your method is great. I will try to provide a link from this post to the henna for gray hair post when I finish it. Thank you for experimenting until you found something that would work for us!

  15. Dear Angela,
    Sorry I have not checked your site for quite a while, but I'm soooooo happy it worked for you! I know there aren't a lot of information about dying gray hair without it becoming either too dark or bright orange. I am very grateful for people like you who take the time to publish their experiences. I actually used henna because of your blog.

  16. Hello again Rula! I'm glad to hear from you. I am so glad you commented and let me know what you were doing with your hair. It really helped me and made so much sense. In fact, I just finished a post about it (in which you are a big feature!) You can access it through the Update link at the bottom of this henna post. Again, thank you so much for commenting about your experience. I think you have helped a lot of people dealing with the same thing.

  17. Hi, I know that henna can be used over chemically dyed hair but can you chemically dye your hair dark brown over henna?

  18. Hmmm…I'm not sure. Once I started using henna, I never turned back, so I haven't researched it. I will look around a little bit and see if I can find any information for you. If I find anything, I will post it here. In the meantime, you can check and see if Mehandi.com has any information. If you want brown hair with natural products, there is a way to mix henna and indigo to achieve brown. I tell a little bit about it on my Henna for Gray Hair post, and the Henna for Hair ebook tells how to do it. Sorry I can't be more help.

  19. Dear Alaa and Angela,
    Sorry for the late reply. I order both henna and indigo online. I have a shop and ship account from Aramex. I like two kinds. From the states from Henna for hair or Renaissance henna from UK. This you can order from Amazon UK. The henna in Amman is not good. Very gritty.

  20. Anonymous,
    Yes, I tried that before. As long as you do not go lighter especially if you used indigo. So if you dye your hair dark brown, you cannot have highlights. However, as Angela said, you can achieve this color with henna and indigo. Your hair will thank you.

  21. Rula, Thank you for your input on other places to buy henna and indigo. And thank you, Anonymous for letting us know about chemical color over henna. One more thought on that, your results may have something to do with what kind of chemicals are in the hair dye, too. I don't know what chemicals react with henna, but I have heard enough horror stories for me to advise you to do your research first. 🙂

  22. Hahahahahaha yes, it was me. I just want to add that chemical hair dye is so bad for both the hair and body. In our polluted world, we do not want to subject ourselves to more chemicals. I would not advise anyone to use it wether it works with henna or not.

  23. I wholeheartedly agree. That was the major reason why I switched to henna in the first place. The fact that henna actually acts as a hair treatment was just icing on the cake.

  24. Anonymous, Henna is fabulous for dry hair. It acts as a hair treatment, and makes your hair healthier the more you use it. I would caution you, though, to make sure you get pure body art quality henna. Don't get something that has other things mixed in. The additives that are sometimes mixed with henna will dry your hair. Also, instead of using lemon juice when you are prepping your henna, use orange juice. It will provide the necessary acidity to release the dye without being as drying as lemon juice. My hair was very dry before I switched to henna, but now it is shiny and healthy.

  25. Hello Ellainspired. Henna is permanent, and it doesn't fade like chemical red dyes do. So how often you need to re-dye will depend on your hair growth rate. You will want to take care of those roots and the henna is a nice hair treatment for the rest of your hair. My hair grows very fast (about an inch a month) so I dye every four weeks. I should dye my roots more often, but I'm lazy about it. For most people, I would say they should use henna every 4-6 weeks.

  26. This is Heather from Africa. Thanks for your awesome post! The market here sells barrels of henna, but I'm not sure what the quality is like. My "aunty" applied henna for me last night, and WOW I'm so sold on this henna thing. I spent so much money and boxes of chemical dyes to have red hair in the states, but the color just didn't last. I'm kind of a free spirit and red always suited me so much better, so I felt disappointed to dye my head back to brown after the red always washing out and making me a blondie. Question, can I use indigo to turn my hair brown again? And do you apply henna to your eyebrows? Also, have you noticed your hair is stronger/grows faster with henna? Mine is really damaged from the past chemical dyes!

  27. Hello Heather. I'm so glad you are enjoying henna. My hair continued to get stronger each time I used it and now it's very healthy. (I henna about once a month because my hair grows very fast, so I deal with roots.) Of course, you should cut off any spit ends. Henna won't repair them, but it will help prevent new spit ends from happening again.

    I tell a lot more about henna and indigo in my Henna for Gray Hair post (it should be located in the side bar because it is always a reader favorite). Also, the free ebook I talk about in both posts (Henna for Hair) talks about using indigo. Indigo seems to build up, so when I want to go darker, I will mix henna and indigo about half and half (there is a trick in how to do that — see the Henna for Gray Hair post) and dye my hair with a mixture a time or two, until I like the depth of color. Then I only do the roots in the way I talk about in the Henna for Gray Hair post. The "gray hair" method should work well for blond hair because you are dealing with a much lighter color in the same way. It would certainly be worth a shot.

    I have never used henna on my eyebrows. It would probably dye the skin around (and under) your eyebrows orange for several days. If you don't have to go anywhere, that wouldn't be a problem, but I would be VERY careful to apply the henna like it was eyebrow liner, so you didn't look strange while you waited for it to wear off the skin. Also, be careful not to get it in your eyes. I wouldn't think it would be as toxic as chemical dyes (which I wouldn't recommend using around the eyes) but the lemon or orange juice wouldn't be fun, and I don't know how the henna would react in the eyes. If you decide to try it, be careful and please, please let us know how it goes. We are a curious bunch of people. 😉

  28. My name is Joann, I love your page. I am 41 and have naturally strawberry blond hair, but with age dying has become necessary, and I have yet to find a box or hair salon that can give me the color of red I am looking for. When I do get my hair dyed or do it myself it fades really quickly and gets very dry. I am hoping I have found my solution with Henna. I am a little afraid because my hair is already a very light red, but I am hoping to achieve a rich but not too bright red. Any suggestions you have would be very appreciated.

  29. Hello Joann. I'm so glad you're here. Let's see… If your hair is light, you may not want to use straight henna or the henna/indigo technique I explain on the Henna for Gray Hair post. Instead, I would try a Cassia/Henna mix. Cassia doesn't actually color your hair, but conditions it. It is very good for toning down henna into a lighter strawberry blond (rather than an "I Love Lucy" Red.) Depending on how you prepare cassia, it can also be used alone to bring out golden highlights in blond hair. The Henna for Hair book that I linked to in this post has more information on how to prepare cassia and how to mix it with henna so that the henna is lighter. It also shows pictures of the different colors with different henna/cassia ratios. I would definitely take a look at it (it's free). Also, a warning on cassia. If you have hard water (we do), then cassia can turn your hair green (which might be fun, but probably NOT the look you were going for.) Mehandi (where I get my henna and where I linked in this post) sells a product that removes the mineral buildup on your hair that hard water causes. This will prevent the green hair issue. I think the product is called "Rainwater". When you scroll down to the cassia page, there is more information about it. My hair is too dark to be a tester for a henna/cassia mix, so if you try it, I would be thrilled if you would let me know.

  30. Excuse the bad spelling! Forgot to edit. My hair was a med brown, with grey roots, so I applied henna first then indigo henna 2nd applicatin to upper half of hair. I went darker with indigo the next 2 times to try and get roots darker. Didnt really work that well. Roots stayed red, rest hair very dark except for ends. I dont mind that, I just want to cover grey roots without having a gradually spreading orange hair!

  31. Managing the Gray hair naturally is a little different. Check out my post on Henna for Gray Hair. I have lots of information there and answer lots of questions in the comments. In fact, I think I just answered a question from you over there, too.

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