Thursday, 21 March 2019

How to Henna your Hair

My name is Natalie and I am a proud henna head. I have been dying my hair with henna for the past 5 years and I actually wrote a short "tutorial" about it in the past. However, the post was definitely due for an update with more information and better photos.

What is Henna
Henna is a natural dye derived from the plant Lawsonia Inermis. The pigment - lawsone - bonds to the keratin and coats the hair follicles resulting in stronger, shinier and healthier hair.
A word of warning - the dying process is long and very messy. Over the years, I have found a method that works best for me as I no longer have the time to dedicate an entire day to dying my hair.


1) Pour your henna powder into a bowl.

2) Mix your henna powder with very strong room-temperature chamomile tea. Add the liquid very slowly - you don't want to add too much liquid! Add enough liquid until the mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese. Don't worry if there are lumps.

3) Now for the waiting game! The henna mixture needs to undergo dye release which takes around 6-8 hours. I cover my bowl and leave it to dye release overnight.

4) After dye release, the top layer will be a brown-ish colour. Scoop the mixture into sandwich bags (1 bag = 1 application) and place them in the freezer.

* You can use the mixture straight away. Freezing henna helps with dye release, but I do it simply for convenience.*

Can I use box dye after using henna / can I henna my hair after using box dye?
Yes! Only if you use PURE henna. Look for BAQ (body art quality) henna as it won't have metallic salts that will interact with the existing chemicals.

I have henna-ed my hair after using box dye and also used box dye on my henna-ed hair. My hair did not turn green or fall out.


If you have frozen henna, move the bag from the freezer to the fridge the day before the application.

1) Cover all surfaces in your hair dying station with newspaper. This is essential as it makes the cleanup process a lot easier.

2) Pour the defrosted henna in your bowl.

3) Add some water - a little bit at a time only. Add enough liquid until it has the consistency of yoghurt (not Greek yoghurt). You don't want the mixture to be too runny as it will drip everywhere.

4) Now time for dying. Remember to use gloves. A MUST. Section a small piece of your hair and then coat both sides with the henna. Make sure you have covered your roots and also twist the strand to try to have an even coating.

5) Twist the strand and attempt to create a small bun at the top of your head. Repeat for all other strands, and twist the subsequent strands around the first bun. The strands should stick together.

6) When you have finished, cover your head with a plastic bag or shower cap. Then time for clean up!

Henna stain

7) The length of time to leave henna in your hair is entirely dependent on what you can tolerate. Some people can even sleep with it in their hair! I would recommend having the henna in your hair for at least 2 hours. You want to give enough time for the henna to bind to the keratin. I usually aim for 2.5-3 hours but it depends on how grumpy I am by the end of the waiting game. Admittedly, it isn't the most comfortable experience -  as the henna dries, it becomes heavier and heavier.

Waiting with my gorgeous visitor.

8) When the time is up (hallelujah!), rinse the henna out of your hair. This is pretty messy. As I have a bathtub, I stick my head under the tap and remove the bulk of the henna before I head into the shower. Wait until the water runs clear. Use shampoo.

9) Enjoy your henna-ed hair!

Why are my subsequent henna applications not as vibrant as the initial applications?
Each application of henna will coat the previous layer, therefore over time, the colour will be a richer and deeper tone. 

Time for some before and after photos!

I have tried to use similar lighting for all photos. The only post-processing done is white balance adjustment. But as you will see, I really struggled to keep all the photos consistent.


I have used box dye and also honey (natural lightener) on my henna-ed hair in the past which is why my ends are lighter than the top of my head. This is two months after my last henna application and it has faded a fair bit. In the previous application, I ran out of henna which meant I couldn't do an even layer.


Would I recommend henna?
Yes. But with a massive caveat. Henna sticks to your hair and is very difficult to remove. For people with light coloured hair, I would advise that you have a serious think if you want that commitment. As I have black hair, the regrowth and patchy application (but this is purely down to user error) isn't too obvious.

I personally love henna and how it has made my hair so much softer. I also love the colour that it gives and, if I am being quite honest, the smell of henna is addictive.

Henna is notoriously difficult to photograph. It looks different depending on the type of light. Below are two additional photos of my hair. The second one is actually pre henna reapplication; it was taken at the same time as my before photos but in a different room and with a different camera. However, you can clearly see my hair is much redder in this photo!
  • Your hair will smell like henna after the first wash. Maybe even the second wash. The smell is not offensive; it has a bit of a grassy smell to it.
  • If your hair is even remotely wet, sleep with a towel on your pillow as there is a chance of staining.
  • Don't worry about henna stain on your clothes or hands. It will wash off after two washes (usually).
  • This is just my method and what works for me. There are so many different recipes or methods available on the internet. Some people add lemon juice, use coffee or coconut milk instead of chamomile tea. Find what works for you and stick with it.
  • Henna will not lighten your hair. Rather, it deposits pigment onto your hair follicles. However even on my virgin black hair, after a few henna applications, my hair changed into a reddish brown.
  • Pure henna will only result in red / orange dye. Black henna, brown henna, etc is not true henna. It might be mixed with another plant (i.e. cassia or indigo) but be wary and read the ingredients carefully. If it has been mixed with something that isn't natural, there is the risk that the "henna" will negatively interact with box dye in the future.
  • Fresher henna results in a redder dye.
  • I have not used henna sold by Lush. They are quite pricey compared to what you can buy in Indian supermarkets or online. $25.95 for 325g (Lush) vs $29 for 500g (organic from Australian online store) vs $7.50 for 500g (Indian supermarket). But to each their own.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.

[[ This post is - embarrassingly - very old. I wrote the content over two years ago, and took the photos just under two years ago. I have since cut off all of the light ends however, if I found the will to attempt to retake photos of my hair in its current state with my camera remote ... this post might be going up in 2021! ]] 

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