My Henna experience

Foreword: Tis a loooong post so take a deep breath….

I love colouring my hair, I think a colored fro looks gooorgeous!! Colour adds character and some pop for short fros given that styling options are very few. So ever since I went natural Ive been dying it relentlessy like a loon. My colour of choice is plum red/maroon. I used Dark and Lovely dyes (that have hydrogen peroxide and ammonia) and these dyes although effective are known to damage hair (esp if you over use them) which for me is a possibility given that I dye every 6 months.

Now that I’m trying to be serious about taking care of my hair and retaining length I decided to try henna to dye my hair. It’s a natural dye, good for hair and doesn’t damage hair with constant use. Many of you will be familiar with its use for temporary tattoos in the Indian community…

Brief Background

According to wikipedia: “Henna is a flowering plant used since antiquity to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather and wool. The name is also used for dye preparations derived from the plant, and for the art of temporary tattooing based on those dyes. Additionally, the name is misused for other skin and hair dyes, such as black henna or neutral henna, which do not derive from the plant.”

When I initially went henna hunting I bought what is known as a compound henna dye which is basically any dye that claims henna as an ingredient but includes other potentially hair damaging chemicals such as Para-phenylenediamine a.k.a PPD.

Compound henna dyes also offers a range of colours however natural henna can only dye your hair red, any henna products offering colors other than red and that have PPD listed in the ingredients are not actually pure natural henna.

Now whether you care or not about compound henna vs natural henna is really up to you. I have friends who have used compound henna dyes and lived to tell the tale as the case is with peroxide dyes. I chose to stick with natural henna after reading some information about the damaging effects of PPD at this Henna website page: Henna for hair

One of the side effects that caught my attention was the possibility of your hair turning green (or some other weird color) from the chemicals in the compound dye reacting with the ammonia from peroxide dyes (which I had used many times before). On various forums I learnt that the reaction is less likely to happen if you used a peroxide dye more than 6 months previous to the compound henna but I wasn’t willing to take any chances, so I settled on natural henna as my dye of choice.

Pros of using henna (taken from

1.  It is plant based, relatively easy to process and obtain.

2. It is known to build up on hair and some women note that it gives hair additional thickness

3. It is permanent and with regular application, easy to intensify the colour especially on grey hair.

4. It can be mixed with other natural dyes such as indigo to give a non-red result.

Cons of using henna (taken from

1.  The weight of henna build up can cause curls to loosen which is a benefit to some but for ladies with loose curls to begin with, henna  may cause loss of these curls.

2. It is permanent and difficult to cover over. It is generally difficult to use permanent hair colour which is lighter than henna (i.e dark brown/black/dark red are generally fine) with good results on hair that has been previously treated with henna.

3. Some people do report dry hair after henna use but many often remedy this using a conditioner afterwards.

4. The dye responsible for henna’s colour is called lawsone and it is a known mutagen (i.e it can cause changes to DNA in cells)*

*Changes to DNA in cells are in part responsible for cancer – Please note that henna is not directly implicated in causing cancer, but in the EU there is no safe level for it due to its ability to mutate cells.  The long and safe history of henna use especially in India is possibly the reason why its mutagenic properties are not usually seen as a cause for concern and despite there being no safe level for henna, it is still widely available.

None of the disadvantages were enough to sway me. 🙂

The Henna process

I bought a 100g box of Henera Henna from a local Indian store and it cost me about 10 Pula/1.40 US Dollars/ 0.85 Pounds.

I mixed it with some water and lemon juice to the consistency of thick yogurt and let it stand overnight. Most recipes online have thousands of additions such as honey, green tea leaves, various oils, conditioners etc but its not really necessary, plain water would also be just fine. I opted to add the lemon juice as I read somewhere that it helps release the dye from the powder and I wanted as much dying strength as possible.

The next day I got my little kit together: gloves for preventing my hands from staining, a comb to part sections in my hair, a towel to protect my clothing, a roll of cling film/plastic wrap for wrapping my hair, a shower cap to cover my head and my usual Organics conditioner  for deep conditioning, then headed to the bathroom.

Most recommend that your hair is recently washed before you apply henna and I had washed my hair the previous day. Application on wet or dry hair also makes no difference, I left my hair dry. Below is my previous hair color:

I applied the brown henna goo in sections making sure to work it through the hair from the root to the tip. The henna gets everywhere so you have to be really careful to not cover the bathroom walls, floor and sink or tub with the henna goo which resembles bird poop.

After applying it thoroughly I wrapped my hair with cling film/plastic wrap…to be honest I’m not sure whether the results would be less effective if the hair wasn’t wrapped and only covered with a shower cap but since ALL the instructional videos on youtube suggested it I decided to follow suit.

After wrapping it I put on a shower cap and went about my bidness for the next 5 hours. With the current 40 degree Celsius weather we are currently experiencing, the application of heat was unnecessary and sure enough eventually my head tuned into a mini oven 🙂 I then rinsed my hair thoroughly with water so that when I rubbed my hair with a towel there was no residue. Using shampoo is optional and since I had shampooed my hair just a day before I opted not to. My hair went from a copper brown to a deep red which I am happy about! Since my previous hair color was a light color the red shows up well however the black roots that have grown out didn’t change much, they probably just got darker.

And below is the before and after:

And in conclusion…

1. Henna works best for hair that has been previously dyed with a lighter color, on black hair you probably won’t notice much of a change. However I read somewhere that with constant applications the color is likely to intensify.

2. It is a tedious process so psyche yourself up before you do it. When I got to the conditioning stage I was ready to go take a nap,lol. It is probably best to mix some conditioner with the henna goo to speed things up a little.

3. If red is not your color of choice, you can add safe natural dye chemicals that mixed with henna can turn your hair black, auburn or strawberry blonde. (click here for recipes or try Google)

4. My hair felt slightly straw-like after rinsing the henna out but nothing some conditioning can’t fix.

Would I recommend it? Yes but only for those who don’t mind putting in a little work, if you’re lazy just stick to peroxide dyes (which take 30mins)-and make sure to condition regularly if you do. Will I do it again? Yes, in about two weeks because I want as intense a red as I can get. I’m also hoping to gain thickness through using henna and to increase my hairs health, will see if those goals shall be realized in the future.

Thankyou for reading! 🙂


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