Dying Hair with Henna - How to, Tips, Tricks and FACTS

Henna. It's that scary thing your hairdresser warns you away from, that thing that gives people horrific skin reactions, that thing that damages your hair beyond repair - at least, that's what the folk who understand nothing about it would have you believe! I started to write up a tutorial on how I dye my hair with henna, then, realising the 'henna is a monster' misunderstanding going on, wrote up some facts on henna and its uses. Click 'Read More' at the bottom to check them out!

How to Dye your Hair with Henna

 I picked up my henna at Morrisons of all places! Bolton has a large Asian community and I think (seeing as henna has been used across Asia for thousands of years) Morrions are getting a bit specific in catering for their customers - nice one! At £1.50 for 100g, it was super cheap, so I did a little research before using it and found Ayuuri to be a reputable brand. Excellent!

I emptied my henna powder into a plastic tub, squeezed in half a lemon and mixed it around 300ml of super dark, black coffee. DO NOT USE BOILING HOT COFFEE - it may cook the henna, rendering it useless. Coffee will also darken the henna slightly and add make it a more golden brown colour.

Acidic liquids like lemon and coffee help the henna to release its dye. You can use neutral liquids such as chamomile tea, which help release dye quicker, but generally neutral mixes don't last as long in the hair.

Aim for a consistency something like mayonnaise - spreadable, but not too thin. There may be some lumps, which is perfectly normal. Cover the top of your henna mix in a plastic bag or clingfilm and leave in a warm place to release dye for around 24 hours. Do not try to speed up this process by microwaving or cooking the henna - it will simply destroy your mix. Be patient!

Pure henna looks bright yellow-green in powder form and gross swamp green when mixed up - don't worry, it wont leave your hair this colour.

After 24 hours check to see your henna mix has released the dye. Often you'll see little bubbles of dark liquid on the surface of your mix or a film of dark liquid over the clingfilm. The top layer usually darkens up a bit, scooping a bit off to see underneath will tell you if it's ready. If it looks good to go, mix it up some more and get ready to start your application!

Don your scruffs, old towel, plastic gloves and vaseline your ears, neck and neckline. Now you're ready to henna your hair! I brush through mine and work my way from around the edges, towards the crown area, going from tip to root (tips of my hair are lighter). I work in this way as I usually wear my hair in a bun, so it the dye at the crown of my head is a but sparse you wont be able to tell anyway!
Leave the henna to take to your hair for at least two hours. For maximum colour and longevity aim for 12. Some people even sleep in their henna to make sure they've had the most from it! Keep in mind that the more porous or damaged your hair, the more henna will take to it.

You can cover your hair with a plastic bag. shower cap/ clingfilm to stop it spattering everywhere if your mix is too thin.

Spare henna mix can be stored in the freezer to use another day and should keep for a few months. I'm going to use my spare stuff to do a glossing treatment with in a few weeks - but that's a post for another day...

Finally, wash out the henna (I'm not gonna lie, this can take a while). I follow with a hair treatment mask, though it's not necessary. Style your hair as usual. Note that henna will darken slightly for a couple of days once it's been washed out.

Henna FAQ

What is henna?
Henna is harvested from the lawsonia family of plants, which grow in hot, rich climates far from the grey skies of England! Once processed, henna is a dry, fine powder which can be mixed up for use as hair dye or for temporary tattoos. Henna has been used in body art for thousands of years.

Is henna dangerous?
Pure henna is not dangerous, though of course some people may have reactions to it (as with all things!) Always perform a skin test before applying henna.

Why do some products say 'Not for use on hair dyed with henna?'
Most likely because these products contain ammonia, which reacts badly with metal compounds found in cheap, nasty, impure henna mixes. Ammonia can leave hair dyed with metal compound laden henna strange colours, brittle and damaged or even melt the hair straight off your head! Always buy pure henna from reputable places to avoid these kinds of disasters!

Is dying hair with henna pricier than with box dyes?
Just like box dyes - henna varies in price. The cheapest will set you back about £1.50 per 100g, which is enough for 1 application on shoulder length, thick hair. A cheap (but good quality) box dye is about £3, twice the price. However rarer hennas can set you back around £9 per 100g, the same amount as a slightly more premium box dye. All is all it totally depends on which henna works for you!

Is henna better or worse for your hair than box dyes?
Henna you mix up yourself using pure henna powder is always going to be a healthier option than box dyes. Why? No harsh chemicals, no chemical build up, plus you get to choose exactly what you're putting on your hair - there are no mysterious ingredients.

Can I use a box dye over henna'd hair once I'm tired of it?
If you've used pure henna and mixed it up yourself - yes. I'd always choose an ammonia free box dye to keep on the side of caution, though!

Can I use vegetable dyes over henna'd hair?
Dyes such as Manic Panic, Special Effects, Directions, Stargazer etc can be used over henna'd hair.

Can I bleach henna'd hair?
Believe it or not - yes. ONLY IF YOU'VE USED PURE HENNA AND MIXED IT YOURSELF. Have I stressed my point about pure henna enough yet?! However, henna is very tricky to remove, so don't expect the colour you want straight away. Also, make sure it's henna, not indigo you've used as bleach can not lift indigo. Bleaching indigo'ed hair will remove any natural hair colour but leave the indigo behind, resulting in a blue-green colour...nice!

So what's black henna? Brown henna? Auburn? Blonde?
The only colour henna naturally produces is a red-orange - nothing else! If you see henna advertised as coloured, steer clear of it, it's more than likely to be a mostly chemical dye with minimal (if any) henna at all. Otherwise, it could be a henna mixed with metallic salts or chemical ingredients which can cause lasting damage to the hair. However, should you see a henna from a reputable site promising specific colours they have probably been safely mixed with natural dyes, powders and oils to alter the colour (email to ask!)

Can I layer henna?
Yes! You can build up the depth of colour by repeating henna applications.

What do you think to Lush's henna blocks?
Personally, I found them to be fairly ineffective on my hair, though I know many absolutely love them. You can tell the henna hasn't been sifted before making the blocks, which makes washing it out an ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE. The colour change in my hair was barely noticeable, application was messy, it set solid as cement and the little colour it did deposit seemed to vanish within a week.

How long will henna last in my hair?
There are so many factors - freshness and quality of the henna, the condition of your hair, what mix you used, how long you let it develop etc that I can't give a straight answer. 3 weeks seems to be around average for the colour to last noticeably, however henna is permanently 'embedded' in your hair once used.

Will henna cover grey hair?
Yes, it usually gives quite bold colour results!

Is henna suitable for afro hair?
Henna is suited to all hair types, though it has been known to loosen curls slightly.

Can I heat style henna'd hair?
You can, though heat will darken the colour results slightly, so be careful!

If you have any more questions - please let me know in the comments, or tweet me :)

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  1. Brilliant article! As an experienced henna user, I agree with everything you've written, except that henna is PERMANENT on fairer hair. I use the Ayuuri brand, mixed with lemon and chamomile tea, and I have to henna every 4-6 week to cover regrowth on my medium brown hair.

    Love your blog


  2. @ Ruth, thank you! And thanks for pointing out about permanency, I'd actually forgotten to finish that section so I've just changed it :)

  3. Great post, so informative and your hair looks so gorgeous!! :D


  4. Great post!

    I used to dye my hair alot with henna when I was in uni. Good times.

    PrettyGloss - makeup, beauty & a lil gibberish

  5. I used to dye my hair with henna when I was younger. Me, my mum and sisters would have a night of pampering and slap on the henna. Ahh, good times.

    I still do use henna, the ones you get from asian shops but buy a colourless one, love the shine it gives to my hair!



  6. Also, it's said that the henna pigment (super permanent on many myself included) actually helps build up the hair and make it stronger. I'm fairly sure that's the case for me, having bleached my hair a bajillion times before dyeing with henna och then going to the hairdresser after two years - and for the first time in my life the hairdresser said that she was impressed by the quality of my hair after all those treatments! Hah!

  7. Oh wow, I have always been scared to use henna because of that very warning you mentioned on box dyes. I shop at an Indian Bazaar a lot for stuff to cook with & they always have a section of hennas I was intrigued by but scared to work with. I may just have to give it a shot. Thank you for this post, it was very informative.

  8. @ Jess, thank you!

    @ Sarah, thanks, have you ever tried adding indigo?

    @ Halima, aaaw, that sounds like it was fun! Henna seems colourless on my hair besides the bleached bits anyway - great for adding shine, though :)

    @ Ellet, never heard that before but it sounds promising! A lot of people say it's really moisturising but I've yet to experience that - I think the lemon juice levels it out.

    @ sparklingpawprint, ask for a pure henna and have a read of the boxes before purchasing. Otherwise, try hennacat.com - I've bought from there before and they're ace :)

  9. I've try dying my hair with henna before, but i didn't like it very much... but now my hair is really stressed, and reading your post make me want to try using henna again with your advises!

  10. I thought my friend was only kidding when she told me that she uses coffee to mix with her henna. :D

    Great post!

    please visit and follow my blog

  11. Hello everyone :)

    I`m so happy to found this blog! I`m tired of damaging my hair so started to think a few days ago about henna.

    I have a stupid question... I thought henna powder should have a reddish color mixed with water for example and if you mix it with black coffee it darkens the dye so basically I thought the color result is all about the liquid you mix the powder with... Is henna a one-color thing? A darkish color?

    Because you wrote: `If you see henna advertised as coloured, steer clear of it, it's more than likely to be a mostly chemical dye with minimal (if any) henna at all.` I don`t really want a red colored but not natural henna because for me the most important would be to finally do something healthier.

    So sorry about my english, and thanks :)


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