How to: make and use Henna hair dye

Henna is one of our many family secrets! Growing up our grandma used to always henna dye her hair rather than opting for chemical dyes, and this left her with fiery red-orange hair! Today, we still carry on her tradition, because natural is the way to go. Why add unnecessary chemicals when you don’t have to? If you’ve never died your hair using Henna, give it a shot just this once and perhaps you’ll change your mind!

Henna is typically used for dying hair, skin and nails in various parts of the world, including North African, South Asia and the Middle East. Henna (Lawsonia inermis plant) leaves are ground into a green powder and mixed with an acid in order to release dye molecules within the plant cells (called lawsone). This dye is responsible for the vibrant red-orange stain that all of us are surely familiar with! The Lawsonia inermis plant and this red-orange color are the only naturally occurring henna plant and color available, other varieties are derived from different plants and with the use of various chemical and/or natural based dyes. Henna dye works when the lawsone molecules migrate from the henna cells into the hair shaft and bind with the keratin leaving your hair stained a translucent red-orange that combines with your natural color. The general rule of thumb is the lighter your hair, the more henna will stain!

So why does such a large part of the world use henna dye you ask? Well there are several reasons.

  • It is natural, no chemicals involved!
  • Henna dyes gray hairs very well
  • On dark hair henna gives a beautiful deep red tint
  • It is the best conditioner- leaves hair heavy, thick and silky
  • It will reduce dandruff
  • Can eliminate ringworm and lice
  • Helps loosen tight curls

We hope this quick easy how-to post helps get you well on your way to becoming an ultimate henna-hair-dying fan!

1. Buy good Henna. Remember, there are several types and several brands. The henna with the highest dye content is body art quality (BAQ) henna. This henna is usually more expensive but we recommend it because it is more finely powdered for easier rinsing and will give you a much better result. The only real natural henna is the red henna, so visit a few South Asian stores, get it from overseas if you have connections or buy it online via Amazon: Pride Of India – Organic Henna Hair Color Powder – Natural Color (affiliate link).

  • Tip: Always do a test on your hair and skin before applying anything on your body.

2. Add henna to bowl. Add as much Henna as you want judging by the length of your hair and how many will be using the dye. You will need about 100 g for short shoulder length hair

  • Tip: Left over henna can be frozen for later use.

3. Add Lemon juice. To release the dye, using a mild acidic liquid such a lemon juice will do the trick (real or synthetic). If lemon juice is too harsh, using half lemon half water or orange juice will also work. Keep adding until the henna reaches a thick consistency (as seen in the picture). Some acidic teas may also release the dyes but remember.

  • Tip: If using tea do not use anything with a high caffeine content as it will give you a headache! Trust me, I learnt the hard way!
  • Tip: Refrain from using hot water if mixing in with lemon juice because it will dull your stain color

4. Add clove powder. A small amount of clove powder can be added to intensify color but it may irritate your skin so do a patch skin test before putting it all over your hair!

5. Allow to sit. Cover henna and allow it to sit over night at room temperature. If needed sooner keep it somewhere warm to help the dye release faster. You will know the dye has begun to release when the color on the top of the Henna bowl becomes a darker shade than the underlying layers as seen below.

6. Prep Area. Henna is messy and can stain much more than just hair and skin! Make sure to wear an old shirt that you don’t care about damaging and cover the area where you will be applying the henna if necessary. Also, have handy a plastic shower cap and an old scarf to wrap your head with after applying the henna to your hair. Also have a pair of disposable gloves to avoid staining your hands!

7. Apply the henna! If you dye your hair at home, then you probably have the technique down. If not keep reading! Split hair into sections as you normally would when straightening or styling your hair. Starting from the back, apply henna generously to one strand of hair at a time. Once the back is complete split hair in front and complete one side at a time until entire head is covered- be ready, henna will feel COLD and head will feel 10 pounds heavier (sometimes it feels like maybe even 20 extra pounds, but that depends on just how much hair and henna you have on your head!) We find that it is much easier to get someone to apply it for you, make sure they also wear gloves if you!

  • Tip: Be generous with your henna and you will get better results. Here is a video we recommend to help with the technique
  • Tip: Keep a cloth on hand and wipe any henna that drips on your face, neck, ears etc as you go. Don’t forget, henna stains skin too!

8. Wrap and Wait. Once all your hair is covered, your head will look like a muddy mess, but don’t panic! It will work wonders. The henna will do a pretty good job of holding your hair together, so put on the plastic shower cap/plastic bag /plastic wrap to help hold the moisture and heat in. In order to prevent blobs of henna from dripping all over the place (most notably, your face..), wrap a scarf or piece of fabric/cloth firmly on top- turban style! Keep henna on for 3-4 hours, the longer the better the results. For stubborn to dye hair or grays try to leave it in overnight.

  • Tip: wrapping head well will keep the henna moist allowing for easier rinsing.
  • Tip: You may not want to be seen with a muddy head wrapped in plastic and topped with a turban (pictures of you would make for perfect blackmail material), so maybe save a few episodes of your favorite TV show to watch while waiting, or…watch a few movies on netflix..

9. Wipe. Again, make sure to wipe off any henna that has dripped on your face, ears, neck once done! You most definitely don’t want to be going in to work the next day with random orange blotches on your face.

  • Tip: If possible, keep wiping as you go along rather than waiting until the end and keep a cloth handy even after you’ve wrapped your head because sometimes henna will drip (depending on how well you’ve wrapped your hair)
  • Tip: Don’t fret if you find your neck or ears stained. Henna on these areas won’’t stain well and will fade fairly quickly

10. Wash out. Take an extra long shower, washing out henna can take a while and be laborious, just make sure to be gentle and take your time. You could also fill a bucket with warm water and let your hair soak in it to remove most of the henna before showering. You want to make sure to wash off as much as possible so you don’t stain your towel…or pillows!

  • Tip: use a dark towel to avoid stains
  • Tip: hate the smell of henna? Mixing a tablespoonful of powdered ginger or cinnamon into your henna will help eliminate the smell.

11. Be patient. Your hair color will take up to three days to reach its full potential. This is a result of oxidation, which causes your hair to darken into a deep rich color.

12. Voila! Like the results? First time may be a hassle, don’t let it discourage you from trying it again. Practice makes perfect and natural beats chemical any day!

Not into red-orange hair, but still want to take the natural dye route? Mixing indigo (a natural blue-black dye) into your henna can take it from red to brown to black. The more indigo you add to your henna the darker it will get.

How to mix Indigo into henna:

  1. prepare henna as stated above
  2. When henna is ready for application mix indigo with water to make into paste and add to henna mix.
  3. Follow the rest of the steps as above
  4. To get a medium brown color mix equal amounts of henna and indigo.

4 thoughts on “How to: make and use Henna hair dye

    1. Nice article on hair coloring with henna. Personally, I don’t use lemon as it bleaches the hair. I mix with hibiscus tea and let it cool from boiling just a little before adding. I use the kind of plastic gloves that look like plastic wrap and I let the henna bloom a little after miixing to get that slippery mud consistency. I paper tape near ears and forehead so it doesn’t stain the skin. It helps to use a plastic wrap throwaway raincoat to cover clothing and body. Wrap the head in plastic wrap and then wrap in towel to keep in heat.

      Benefit of henna beyond everything else is it strengthens the hair shaft so it is worth using even if you use the neutral (clear) variety.

  1. Nice to find your blog. I got dark brown colour hair, but with lots of grey from the root. If I want to dye it into dark brown and cover my grey. I need to buy the natural henna and mix with indigo as well. Is that right? This is what I need to make sure in case I get the orange all over my head!

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