How to Remove Henna from Hair…(or at least lighten it a little)

(Brace yourself for an onslaught of selfies – ugg.)
When I decided to Rock the Gray, I knew I was in for a skunk stripe as the henna in my hair grew out.  I wanted to minimize that agony as much as possible.  If I could completely remove the henna from my hair, there would be no grow out phase.  I began to day dream.  Maybe this could be a lot less painful than I originally thought.  Maybe I could get the henna out.  However, I’ve heard that you don’t dye your hair with henna, you marry henna.  I decided henna and I were going to get a divorce.
Here I am before.  At this point, I have no chemical processing on my hair and I had already grown out the indigo/henna blend that I used for awhile.  This is 100% henna with a very high lawsone content:


I’ve known for awhile that my hair was getting too red as I became more gray under that henna.  I used to put henna on my entire head and leave it on for 6 hours or overnight.  The last 4 months or so, in an attempt to lighten the results, I have been putting henna on the new root growth only, and lately I have only been leaving in on for about 45 minutes.  That little tidbit of information will prove to be important.


I have done a bit of research on henna removal with my favorite research scientist, Mr. Google.  There was a lot of information about using oils or honey to lift the henna from the hair, but further digging revealed that those methods really didn’t do much, especially if you use henna with a high lawsone content.
I decided it was time to call in the big guns.  It was time for chemicals.
I read several ladies who said they were able to completely remove henna with Color Oops.  Color Oops does not contain bleach or peroxide so it cannot lighten your hair.  It works by actually shrinking the dye molecule, then you rinse the dye away.  Weird science, but it’s apparently really effective for conventional hair dyes.  Would it work with henna?  Henna, it is said, is even harder to remove than chemical hair dye.  It was time to dabble in a little weird science.
You are supposed to leave Color Oops on your hair for no more than 20 minutes, then you rinse, shampoo, rinse, for at least 35 minutes.  That rinsing is important.  Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the rinsing.  I read all kinds of stories of people who cut the rinsing short only to have their hair “re-dye” itself over the next day or two.  Definitely follow the directions on the rinsing.
After a strand test, I opted to leave the Color Oops in for 3 hours, then rinse as directed for 35 minutes.  I won’t lie.  It was boring.  I mean, you can only shave your legs for so long.
Then I did a deep condition treatment and rushed to the nearest blow-dryer to see what I had.  Would there be gray streaks?  Would it be the same color I started with?


It was actually a good bit lighter, but still pretty red.  The temples (where I am the grayest) had lightened to an orange-y red.  The ends of my hair were practically unchanged.


My theory is that the henna at the roots is newer and hadn’t been left on as long, so it lifted more than the old henna that had more time to saturate the hair shaft.  If you are thinking about trying this, that info will help you determine your results a little more accurately.  Old henna is probably going to be much harder to remove than new henna.  And high lawsone henna will be harder to remove than low lawsone henna.
My hair was still in good condition – only very slightly drier than before the Color Oops.  I decided to try again.  I did the same thing:  Color Oops for 3 hours, rinse according to directions for a total of 35 minutes of mind-numbing rinsing.  I followed with a deep conditioning treatment.


The second treatment lifted even more henna, but sadly, it is still red.  The gray at my temples is positively yellow and fades to pumpkin orange, then to red at the ends.  It’s the sort of ombre that would be perfect for a halloween party.  Or a scarecrow.  I know it scared me.


But at least it’s lighter, right?
henna removal Collage
To tone down the brassiness, I picked up some Clairol Shimmer Lights — you know, the purple stuff.  I left it on for at least 5 minutes before rinsing.  That helped tone things down a bit. (Sorry, I don’t have a picture of that.)
Now I am planning a new hat collection while I wait for the henna to grow out.
If anyone knows a way to truly remove ALL the henna without bleaching or damaging my hair, I am all ears.  For now, I’m just glad it’s lighter.  Maybe it will blend in better with the roots.
The moral of the story:  Is it possible to remove all the henna?  It depends.  I wasn’t able to, but if you had low lawsone henna that was fresh and had only been used a time or two, your results would undoubtedly be better than mine.  Is it possible to lighten henna? Yes.  My hair is noticeably lighter than before — even the old henna.  Can you divorce henna?  Yes, but it may involve a pair of scissors.
Have a great day!
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  1. I like the lighter color! Have you thought of putting blond or white highlights in to help in the growing transition? My old hair dye, which was 'semi-permanent' drug store stuff lightened to blonde, so the transition hasn't been too bad for me. I know someone who used highlights and it looked great on her.

  2. Ally, I have thought about highlights. My hair is dark where it isn't gray, so it would require some serious bleaching to get there. The hair that frames my face is pretty white, so the henna just grabbed on and won't let go. At this point, I'm not sure what it would need. I figured I'd let it grow out a bit so that I could get a better idea of what I will have, then make some decisions. While it grows a bit, I fully intend to where lots of hats. 😉

  3. I too am from Arkansas (Monticello) I'm researching henna and indigo because I'm done with the pitch black dark hair and orange roots. I either have to go all gray or use chemicals, no more hendigo!!! Lol I am currently experimenting with the citric acid. If a change occurs, I will come back and report it in hopes to help someone else with the same or similar problem. Have a good day!

  4. I would totally love to hear your results! And if your decide to go with the gray, I am chronicling my gray hair grow out in "Choosing to Rock the Gray". Hope to see you there.

  5. Hi, in Russia henna and indigo are very popular. On Russian websites I saw many people making their hair lighter after indigo by using kefir and lemon juice if the stain is new, and oil masks if the indigo has accumulated in the hair. eg: this girl used indigo (a two step process to get black-black hair) for two years, then decided to go to brown. The difference between the photos is 3 months, she used oil masks for the hair.

  6. oh, sorry, I'm not sure how I ended up commenting on this post, I was trying to comment on the one about getting indigo out of your hair.

  7. That's awesome! She has beautiful hair and the difference is wonderful. Thank you so much for the tip. And no worries. I'll just copy and paste your comment over onto the comment section for the How to Remove Indigo from Hair post. 🙂

  8. Jane Kon-ngoen on

    Thanks for sharing your hair experiences. You look fab and should not lose confidence. It is great to see that I’m not alone in deciding to give up the henndigo and grow grey at 42. The henndigo is a great option, but it just gets SO red! I also have started up a collection of hats because I’d rather shave it all off than walk around with a massive skunk stripe while it grows out very slowly. LOL, it seems like it grows super quick when you’re fighting the white roots every 2 weeks, but SO slow when you want them to come through quicker! I’ve decided to try the oil lightening option and hopefully condition the hair at the same time. I figured if I use oil overnight at least once a week for 12 hours, it should lighten somewhat and not be so two-tone.

    • I hear you. I am just over a year into a gray hair grow out. That skunk stripe is no fun, but hang in there. It gets better. I hope to post an update on what I did to transition from henna head to gray hair soon, so maybe that will help you.

  9. Angela- I have been using henna and indigo for 2 yrs. At first I mistakenly used henna the wrong way, creating the “skunk” stripe. The key is this: To cover gray with henna you must first put plain red henna on for an hour. Second put the color you want it to look like on for 3-4 hrs. Henna only covers gray when it bonds to henna. Henna and indigo wont bond to virgin gray hair! You would be amazed at how lovely the color turns out when you do it this way. I finally got a chocolaty brown with some auburn highlights, no skunky stripe. My hair is so much healthier with henna than the toxic blonde commercial hair dye I used. It gave me migraines and it is reported to be found in breast cancer tumors (though they are trying to censor this info now).

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