How do you dye your hair with henna? What is the process like? Is henna safe to use? What do you need to know? We’ve covered all of the information that you need in a very detailed DIY complete with photos. As an alternative and all-natural hair dying method, you will definitely want to read this before embarking on your first henna hair dying adventure.
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I’ve been using henna to dye my hair for well over a decade. I love that it’s permanent – no amount of washing, drying, or product use will cause the color to fade. The only thing you really have to worry about is coloring your roots as they grow out (personally I wait until my roots have grown around 2 to 3 inches and then I just re-henna my whole head). I’m lucky enough to not know from personal experience, but I’ve heard that it covers up gray hair really well. You can also use regular hair dye over henna.
The color you get with henna can sometimes be a little hard to predict as well. If you have light-colored hair, expect a brighter shade of orange, and if your hair is dark, you may not even notice a difference at all. There are all sorts of additions you can make to henna in order to get closer to a specific color, however, it may take some trial and error to get the specific results you’re looking for.
It’s also important to keep in mind that dying your hair with henna is a process – it requires planning ahead of time! When you initially mix your henna, it will take around 10 to 12 hours for the dye to release. I typically mix it up before bed and then dye my hair the next day. Also, once you’ve coated your hair with the henna mix, you will need to leave it on your head between 3 and 6 hours! Make sure you plan accordingly.
Is Henna Safe?
If you’re definitely ready to give henna a try, the first step is to purchase body art quality henna from a reputable retailer. I use Ancient Sunrise henna and have always gotten great results, but feel free to do your own research on products so that you’re confident you’re getting the best available henna.
Look for henna hair dyes to be 100% pure henna and plant-based, made with ONLY dried, powdered lawsonia inermis, and without contaminants, chemical dyes, or metallic salts.
What You Will Need
Items you may need include:
- Henna hair dye kit
- Glass or stainless steel bowl
- Latex gloves
- Plastic wrap
- Carrot bag (though using this can sometimes be more annoying than helpful)
- Lots of old towels
- Lemon juice.
It’s also helpful to have a friend with you, either to help in applying the henna or to point out spots you may have missed.
How Much Henna Do I Need?
The amount of henna you’ll need will depend on the length of your hair! Typically henna comes in 100g packages. I have shorter-than-shoulder length hair and I generally use about 2/3 to 3/4 of a package to dye my hair. I recommend buying extra just in case you’re not sure!
Once you have your henna and other supplies, it’s time to get started!
Mixing Your Henna
Since the henna you use to dye your hair comes in a powder, it is necessary to add an acidic liquid in order to allow the dye to release. I’ve tried numerous acidic liquids (coffee, tea, juices, etc) but the one tried and true liquid that always works for me is lemon juice.
The mixture is pretty simple – first, place the desired amount of henna into a glass or stainless steel bowl. Next, pour in some lemon juice and mix well with a spoon or a fork. The amount of lemon juice will vary depending on the type of henna you purchased and the amount of henna in the bowl. Start small and continue to add lemon juice until your mixture resembles the consistency of mashed potatoes and no longer has any big clumps of dry henna. If you find that it becomes too thin, simply add a little more henna and stir again.
Mixing the Henna
Once your mixture has the correct consistency, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in a warm place for 10 to 12 hours. (I typically put it on top of the refrigerator.)
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Dying Your Hair
Once the dye has released, it’s time to dye your hair! You can tell that the dye has released if the top of your henna mixture has darkened – see the photo below. If it’s not yet ready to go, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place for an hour or two.
If the dye has released, put gloves on and give it a quick mix with your finger. The consistency will have changed to that of smooth, creamy peanut butter. Now’s the time to separate your hair into sections – this step helps make the henna application process a bit easier.
Once you’ve sectioned your hair, start applying henna at the base of your neck. You’ll want to apply it very thick, sort of like frosting a cake, releasing and adding sections of hair as you go.
When all of your hair is covered with henna, wrap it in plastic wrap or cover with a plastic bag. This helps to keep the heat in, and the heat helps the dyeing process.
Once your head is covered with plastic wrap, you’ll want to remove any extra henna that may have come into contact with your skin. Wet down a towel with warm water and use a mirror (or a friend!) to find all of these areas. Henna will stain your skin and you want to remove it as quickly as possible to minimize this. Definitely plan to check behind your ears, the tops of your ears, the back of your neck, and around your hairline. Also check your shoulders, chest, back, and the walls and floor around you – sometimes henna likes to fly off into crazy places!
When you’re done touching up your skin, cover your head with a towel and go about your day. Plan to leave the henna on your hair for at least 3 hours, and up to 6 hours if you have resistant gray. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can speed up the process by applying heat with a salon dryer or a heated blanket, but make sure you leave the plastic wrap on your head. Henna can dry out and it becomes very difficult to remove once that happens!
When your allotted time is up, simply rinse the henna out of your hair in the tub or sink. I also like to shampoo afterwards, just to make sure I got everything out. You can use conditioner as well, if you like.
Dry and style your hair like normal.
A Couple of Notes
Natural henna has a very distinct smell, kind of like grass or hay. This smell can stay in your hair for about a week after dyeing, so if you can’t tolerate it, there are some additions you can make to your mix that will help. Try ginger powder or cardamom powder (one heaping teaspoon per 100g henna).
Henna will darken over the next week or so. As you’ll notice, my roots were bright orange once I was done blow drying! After a week and a half, it had darkened to a nicer auburn. (I also had some lowlights put in afterwards, proving again that you can use regular dye over henna!) If you have an event and you’d like to henna your hair for it, make sure you do so about two weeks in advance.
While the process of dying your hair with henna is a lengthy one, it’s well worth it. Not only does henna make your hair look and feel healthy, but the color you get is so gorgeous! If you’re interested in learning more about dyeing your hair with henna, I recommend you read the free ebook by Catherine Cartwright-Jones, Ph.D. on Henna for Hair. It’s chock full of really great information that can help you get exactly what you want out of this amazing natural dye!
Other great resources:
Madison Reed Hair Dye (free of ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, PPD, phthalates, and gluten. And Leaping Bunny certified)
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