Henna How To: A Guide to Truly Natural Hair Color

mommy greenest gets natural hair color hennaIn the past, I experimented with less-toxic natural hair color for fun but now that I’m seeing more gray strands I wanted to find something that I could do on a regular basis without feeling like I was poisoning myself. In college, I used to use henna as natural hair color—we would buy it at the health food store and mix it up in the sink. Then, I was looking to go red. Now, I wanted to stay brunette—without gray. Could a truly natural hair color deliver?

Unlike so-called natural hair color dyes—all of which contain potentially toxic chemicals—henna is 100% chemical-free. But can it actually cover gray?

Even those “natural hair color” dyes contain some level of potentially toxic chemicals. They also can strip your hair: When the dye fades, the hair is a lighter color. I like my natural brunette color–I’m just not a fan of the grays!

Luckily, henna is really, truly 100% chemical-free and will not change the color of your hair at all. Henna itself is actually a plant; the henna natural hair color is made by powdering and drying its leaves and stems—there are no chemicals, metals or salts added. You can use henna–or a mixture of henna and indigo, which is also plant-derived–to achieve a blonde, brown or red color.

Here are the benefits that I found when using henna:

1. My hair is super shiny.
2. It feels thicker and deep conditioned.
3. The henna colors my grays so that they look like tiny, very fine highlights.
4. The color lasts for two months and fades out gradually, without changing the base color of my hair.
5. I’m not putting any toxic chemicals onto my body and down the drain.

Unlike chemical dyes, henna doesn’t strip the hair, it simply coats it—the resulting color is a mix between the henna and the base color of your hair. You can get pretty much any color you want with henna—except your shade cannot go lighter. The dye lasts about six weeks, and when the henna stain washes out, your natural hair color remains the same.

My college days applying henna at the sink were seriously messy, and I didn’t want to deal with henna stains in my house. So I called up my friend and hairdresser, Viviane Sellam at Marina Beach Hair in Venice, CA, and asked if henna was in her repertoire. Viviane is Parisian by way of Algeria, and I remembered her telling me stories of her mother applying henna. Turns out, for several of her clients—especially those who are cancer survivors—Viv uses natural hair color henna to dye their hair.

We decided to first test how my hair would react to neutral—i.e. no color—henna, which proponents claim makes the hair thicker and shinier, regardless of color. After researching different brands, we went with Morrocco Method Neutral colorless henna. Day of, Viviane mixed up the henna with water and applied it to my head in sections, like she would with any other hair dye.

mommy greenest natural hair color henna dye mixture

Then I sat under the dryer. One great thing about henna is the way it smells—like freshly cut alfalfa. There is no stinging to your eyes and it actually feels like a conditioning treatment as it’s applied, which takes about 30 minutes. After another 30 minutes under the dryer, Viviane washed the henna out. My hair was super shiny and felt thicker, but there was as slight red tint to my natural color. Newsflash: Neutral henna is not totally color-free.

Six weeks later, I was ready to try again. I wanted to cover my scattering of grays with a dark brown color with subtle red tones–matching my natural hue. We went with a medium brown like this henna from Light Mountain and to reduce the red, we added indigo powder.

Viviane applied the henna as before. (We didn’t follow the directions not to shampoo for 72 hours. I just couldn’t smell like a hay barn for three days!) The results were mixed: The henna covered my gray hairs, for sure.

mommy-greenest-henna-natural-hair-color-before-after-photo-600

But my hair was distinctly…red!

mommy-greenest-henna-natural-hair-color-red-600

Luckily, you can reapply henna as much as you want to get the color you’re going for–it won’t damage your hair. Next, we tried mixing equal parts henna and indigo, and kept it on my hair for an hour, but didn’t sit under the dryer. My grays were a slightly brighter color so they looked a little like highlights. I like this effect, but you might need to adjust the color to get more coverage.Mommy Greenest natural hair color henna

Finally, I went with pure black indigo, which delivers brunette color with less red tones. This is my favorite result! Two to try are Hannah Natural 100% Pure Indigo Powder and Henna Maiden Pure Indigo Powder.

Moral of the story? STRAND TEST! I think using henna is probably what hair coloring used to be like, before there were thousands of shades of toxic chemicals calibrated to deliver a very specific hue. With natural hair color henna, you’re avoiding the toxic chemicals but you have to work a little to find the perfect blend for your ideal henna natural hair color.

The difference between hair dye and henna is like the difference between painting and staining wood. A light colored wood will look the same as a dark colored wood when painted; but a light colored wood will take stain completely differently than dark. It’s the same with henna. It’s not like a box of hair dye when you can just paint on a color and expect your hair to come out exactly that shade. With henna, you have to experiment with the way the stain works with the existing color of you hair.

Here are the steps I recommend:

  1. Work with your hairstylist or a henna manufacturer to determine what ratios you’ll need to get the color you’re looking for.
  2. Some hennas need to be mixed as much as 24 hours in advance, but you can mix a big batch and freeze the remainder to use a second time.
  3. Use the hairs from your brush to do a strand test and make sure you’re getting the color you’re going for.
  4. Apply the henna like any other dye—covering your hairline and ears with a non-petroleum jelly to minimize skin staining.
  5. Let the henna sit on your head for at least 30 minutes. (Use cotton at your hairline covered with a shower cap to catch drips.)
  6. Remember: The length of time will vary depending on your hair and what color you’re going for: The longer you leave it on, the darker the shade will be. Which is why the strand test is paramount.
  7. Rinse out the henna. If you’re a wuss like me, shampoo and condition. If you’re hard-core, you can use conditioner but don’t shampoo for 24 hours. (This is said to make the color stronger.)
  8. The full color will appear after 72 hours.

Have you tried henna or indigo? How was it? What’s your natural hair color of choice? Let me know in comments below. Thanks!

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Comments

  1. Heather trappler says:

    Hi, I love how your hair turned out. Would you consider your hair naturally to be medium brown? And did you just have a little grey.. temples ..
    I never would have thought to use the indigo it looks sort of scary but your result is fantastic!

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      Oh thank you so much Heather! Yes my hair is naturally a warm medium brown with scattered gray. The gray actually turns this cool copper highlight color 🙂 Both indigo and henna look TOTALLY scary–i.e. green–but I’ve been super happy with the results. Let me know if you try it!!

  2. I has been using henna for a year now and I love it! I didn’t want to damage my hair with chemicals anymore, so researched and stumbled on henna. used brown and later mahogany colors from the light mountains brand. My question in how to go from dark color, like the mahogany to auburn, got little tired of dark color and wanted to change smth before spring. Do you have any advise? My natural color brawn is with 30% gray

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      Hi Inna so glad you like it as much as I do! I no longer henna my ends, only the roots. Maybe that would be a way to take it lighter? Let me know how it goes!

    • Hi Inna! Although I’m not experience in henna myself, I’ve just been researching it recently, however I did stumble upon the moroccan method website which is a brand which also sells henna powder and has a lot of instruction videos. They also mention that if you want to try and speed up the process of getting henna out of your hair you should wash it with oil, as it is the only thing that can speed up the process of it washing out. It won;t, however reverse henna to your natural color and still take time. Hope this helps!

  3. “From past 2 year I am using henna which I got directly from plant and
    mixed it with some kitchen ingredient like egg white and hibiscus leaves
    dried up in shadow which works like conditioner works very good with
    my hair.”

  4. Emma Verbeeck says:

    Hello there!

    Yesterday i dyed my hair natural brown hair with henna with indigo but the ends of my locks have a greenish undertone now. (think this happened because i had some natural highlights from the sun). Would you have any natural solutions to make the greenish colour go away?
    Hope to hear from you!

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      Oh no! I have not had that happen. Yikes! I would contact the manufacturer and ask them what they recommend. I like http://hennacolorlab.com/ they have great customer service (no they are not a sponsor). The great thing about henna is you can do it over and over without damaging your hair, unlike dye, so hopefully you can get the solution quick. Let me know how it goes, Emma!

      • Emma Verbeeck says:

        Hm yes, i’ll try that! I can’t dye my hair with anything chemical since i’m allergic to a lot of what they put in these products. Meanwhile, do you think going over it with henna to resold brown hair would be any use? I got a little scared of the indigo (blueish) effect.. Also read somewhere that ketchup would work?
        Thank you for your quick answer!

        • Rachel Sarnoff says:

          I think you should get an expert opinion from the company, because henna uses colors that balance each other out, it sounds like what you had wasn’t the right balance for your hair. Have not heard about ketchup 🙂

    • Angie Lloyd says:

      You’ve probably already learned this, but for anyone else reading….. When you apply a mix of henna/indigo to your hair, it may take up to 72 hours for the colors to set completely. In the meantime, you may have some blue/green/red undertones.

    • Probably too much Indigo ‘grabbed’ onto your porous ends.

  5. I have a question about permed hair. Does it affect permanently straightened hair after applying the henna? By the way your hair looks lovely

  6. I find it curious that true, pure henna would fade out. I’m familiar with the Morocco Method products but I’ve never used their henna. I use 100% pure henna on my hair from the website hennaforhair.com/Mehandi.com and my color stays vibrant literally forever! I’ve been using henna from their website for about 6 years and I only touch up my roots as needed. They also sell indigo, cassia, and amla to achieve different colors, and they provide suggestions for mixing colors, depending on your natural or starting color. I don’t work for them or anything, but I stumbled upon their website when researching henna hair color and my results have been so great I’ve never had any reason to try another henna brand. My natural color is an ash blonde, and with pure henna I get a beautiful deep red that is both mistaken for natural and also garners lots of compliments! I do my own color, but every time I go to my hairdresser everyone else at the salon asks who did my color because they can’t believe how pretty the red is.

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      That’s a great resource! Thanks for sharing Sara 🙂 I’m so glad to hear your success story! Cassia, what color does that give? I’ll have to look into that!

      • Hi Rachel!
        Yes, the henna for hair website is a great resource, they have a forum page that I used all the time for my questions when I first started using henna. I haven’t personally tried the cassia but I believe it’s meant to use as a clear gloss/conditioner/thickener, and might brighten light blond hair. I hope you find your perfect blend to achieve the color you’re looking for!

        • Rachel Sarnoff says:

          Thanks Sara! I like that clear gloss idea. Will look further into it!

          • A. Clark says:

            “Neutral Henna” isn’t henna, it’s cassia obvota. The same way indigo is sometimes called black henna, cassia is sometimes called neutral henna.

            • Rachel Sarnoff says:

              Good to know! It all is a bit confusing. I like the newer companies that are preblending–I’m getting results like commercial dye, but I don’t have to worry about measuring and adding different components.

            • Actually, cassia does not turn hair red, so…

          • A. Clark says:

            “Neutral Henna” isn’t actually henna, it’s cassia obvota. The same way indigo is sometimes called “black henna” cassia is sometimes called “neutral henna” henna itself only does red tones, but a mix of henna, cassia, and indigo can make any shade.

      • Allaysia Wilson says:

        I wanted to try henna but I wanted to keep my natural hair color which is black. Which henna do you suggest I get? Like the color and brand.

        • Rachel Sarnoff says:

          OH I think black is actually quite easy to achieve with henna! I just tried some from http://www.hennacolorlab.com and LOVED it. Not only did it deliver the perfect color, it comes in a great kit with gloves and cap just like regular dye, and the henna/amla/indigo is all pre-mixed, so you don’t have to deal with it. Let me know if you try!

    • I also do straight red henna (Red Raj) on my 100% white/gray hair and it literally never fades or gets lighter,k so I have no idea what’s going on with this henna that it only last 6 weeks? If it’s going to fade at all, it would definitely fade on white hair, I would think. ?

  7. Rachel Sarnoff says:

    You guys! So I got more information from Morroccan Method, which can help if you’re looking for a specific ratio of indigo to henna, as I am. She said:

    “All of the browns and black henna hair dye have both indigo and henna in them.

    Light Brown = 1/3 indigo, 2/3 henna.
    Medium Brown = 1/2 indigo, 1/2 henna.
    Dark Brown = 2/3 indigo, 1/3 henna.
    Black = I full package indigo, 1 full package henna.

    So for that measurement you could just use Light Brown Henna Hair Dye.”

    That’s helpful, right? So essentially this time I was trying Medium Brown, but next time I am going to try Dark Brown and go more indigo than henna. Whee!

  8. great info, thank you! I don’t see the link for indigo powder and didn’t find it on Morroccan Method site, unless you mean the Amla Powder?

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      Hm, you are right. But they did send it to me. I’ll send them an email now and see how people can order that. If you want, you can email them too it’s support@mmhair.com. Stay tuned…! 🙂

    • A. Clark says:

      Amla is used to decrease redness and preserve curl, not add color.

      Sharon- my mother is in the same boat, she’s got almost entirely grey or white roots, and she recently started using henna/indigo/cassia (we both like Light Mountain because it’s preblended for different colors and doesn’t have to sit for 12 hours) the first time it didn’t cover gray quite as well as she wanted, and she had to color again in a week, but after that it worked perfectly, and she was trying to blend into years of many different colors of boxed hair dye. It definitely is more true to the name/picture than boxed hair dye is (where medium brown is black not brown ) she’s been very happy using henna on grey roots, it is very doable.

  9. So, I’m guessing this would not work for someone who has been coloring their hair for years and is probably about 90% gray now. It seems that the almost white (gray) hair that my roots grow in as and the red that I’ve been dying it (to match what my hair use to look like), would not work with henna?
    Thanks.

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      So that’s the challenge. I think you should talk to your hairdresser, but my gut tells me that since the white reads color differently than the hair that you’ve colored with dye, you might end up with two-tone. Maybe there’s a way to ease in with highlights and henna? You can also contact Morroccan Method, they have a great help department and they’re super knowledgeable. Let me know if you decide to try!!

  10. This is great! I have used “natural” hair dyes in the past and have found that they don’t last as long and still smell “chemically.” I will definitely try this the next time I want to dye my hair.

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      Awesome! Okay definitely follow those steps and let me know how it goes! You can click the link to check out their colors. Thanks for reading Tanya!!

  11. cindy chan says:

    Love it
    My mum uses henna. but when she switches back to normal hair dye i can smell the stench of ammonia and it really dries out her hair.

    your hair looks lovely, shiny and lustrous. Just love the colour!

  12. I am excited to try this out! I need something natural that covers my grays and I have dark brown/black hair. Where did you get the indigo powder from? Thanks!

    • Rachel Sarnoff says:

      You can click the links in this post to buy the powder, and definitely follow the steps and strand test to get the color you’re looking for. The grays do appear lighter to the rest of the hair–hence the stain, rather than paint, analogy–but I really like the effect. Let me know how it works for you!!

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