Chemical Free Hair Color: Steps for Using Henna to Dye Your Hair

Updated on March 9, 2016
Henna on dark brown hair gives a dark auburn color.
Henna on dark brown hair gives a dark auburn color.

What is Henna?

Henna is often used for tattooing, but you may not know that it has also been traditionally used for dying hair. Henna, or Lawsonia inermis, is a plant that releases a red-orange dye in response to acids. When used to dye hair, it combines with your natural hair color, converting dark brown hair into dark auburn, and blonde hair into a true redhead color. It is not harsh and does not fade, and it leaves your hair stronger, thicker, and shinier. An added bonus particularly for those with naturally curly hair, henna will leave your hair silky and frizz-free!

What’s Wrong with Commercial Hair Dyes?

Many chemical store-bought hair dyes with their harsh ingredients such as ammonia can wreak havoc on your hair. In order to dye the strands of hair, they destroy the hair shaft so the color can enter. Although the hair may initially look better afterward since dyes often contain conditioners, chemical hair dyes can be very hard on your tresses. Over time, this can make hair weaker and more brittle, and most hair dyes tend to fade from that luscious color to a dull color that makes your hair and skin look older and lifeless.

A Warning

Many forms of henna that you find in stores contain little to no henna. These products will claim to dye your hair red, black, or brown, but may contain harsh ingredients and other forms of dye. True henna will only dye your hair red. You will probably have the best luck finding body art quality henna online from a trusted site.

Henna tested on a section of hair
Henna tested on a section of hair
I used 300 grams of Punjabi Prime henna from mehandi.com.
I used 300 grams of Punjabi Prime henna from mehandi.com.
Adding lemon juice to the henna
Adding lemon juice to the henna

Steps for Dying Your Hair with Henna

Using henna to dye your hair can be a long and sometimes confusing process, but the color and hair benefits are well worth the mess! If you are unsure of the permanent color that henna will give you, you can do a strand test on a small section of your hair – or even test on hair collected from your hairbrush. The first step toward using henna to dye your hair is finding good quality henna. It is very doubtful that you will find high quality henna at a store, so it is best to find a website that specializes in pure body art quality henna.

Here is a complete list of everything you will need for dying your hair with henna:

  • Pure body art quality henna
  • Lemon juice
  • Latex or nitrile gloves
  • A mixing bowl and spoon
  • Plastic wrap
  • Old clothes
  • Water
  • Shampoo and lots of conditioner

Step 1: Find body art quality henna. I recommend ordering online from a trusted website, as store-bought henna can contain fillers and ingredients that will damage your hair. I used 300 grams of henna for my below shoulder length hair. 100 grams will dye short hair, and long hair will need 500 grams.

Step 2: Mix in enough lemon juice to make the mixture a mashed potato consistency. Be sure to mix thoroughly so that all the henna comes in contact with the lemon juice. The acidity of lemons will cause the henna powder to start releasing the red-orange dye.

Cover the henna mixture with plastic wrap to let it sit for 12 hours
Cover the henna mixture with plastic wrap to let it sit for 12 hours
Add water until the mixture is a yogurt consistency.
Add water until the mixture is a yogurt consistency.
Wear gloves since henna will stain your skin!
Wear gloves since henna will stain your skin!

Step 3: Cover the mixture and leave it overnight for about 12 hours. The henna will be releasing the most dye after this time period.

Step 4: Add water until the consistency is like yogurt. This will make the mixture spreadable enough to cover all of your hair.

Step 5: Using gloves, spread the mixture into your hair layer by layer. Cover all your hair generously. This is where it is very important to wear gloves, because the henna will stain your hands orange! You should also wear old clothes that you do not mind getting stained. Try to avoid skin around your scalp as much as possible. Any stains that you may get on your skin will fade within a couple days.

Step 6: Cover your hair with plastic wrap after twisting it all on top of your head. You can also wrap a towel or T-shirt over the plastic to hold in more heat and release more dye. You will need to leave your hair wrapped up with the henna for 3-4 hours to give the dye molecules time to enter the hair shaft and combine with your natural hair color.

Step 7: Thoroughly rinse your hair. This step can take a while. Try using a cheap lighter conditioner to help wash the henna out of your hair, as using too much shampoo can dry your hair out.

Step 8: Style your hair as usual. Your red color will leave your hair shinier, stronger, and thicker. The red color will darken over the next few days. Henna can also be used to touch up you roots. Enjoy your new gorgeous color!

Henna combines with your natural hair color. When used on dark brown hair, it forms a dark auburn color.
Henna combines with your natural hair color. When used on dark brown hair, it forms a dark auburn color.

Other Natural Dyes

Other dye-releasing plants can be combined with henna to form colors besides red. Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) is often used along with henna to dye hair jet black. Amla (Emblica officinalis) can be used with henna and indigo to dye hair different shades of brunette. Cassia (Cassia obovata) releases a golden yellow dye that is used to brighten up dark hair or make blonde hair more golden. No matter what color combination you choose, you can rest assured that these natural dyes will be gentle and very beneficial for your delicate hair.

Have you ever dyed your hair?

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Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Taty 

        21 months ago

        From my experience, the best quality henna can be bought at an Indian grocery store and to get darker colors (up to a black color) you have to add indigo powder (also from Indian store) in different proportions. Although - never use indigo powder by itself - your hair WILL turn blue or green!

      • profile image

        Rosalind 

        3 years ago

        Thank for you sharing, last week, I buy hair weft from www.lokshair.com, I want to dye it like that.

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