5 Things You Don't Know About Dyeing Your Hair With Henna

December marked two full years of colouring my hair with henna.  Henna, if you aren't already familiar with it, is a flowering plant that's been used for millenia and is basically the only completely chemical-free way to dye your hair.  Henna, by itself, generally yields an orangey-red colour, but there are different plant additives that can be mixed in to achieve different hair colours on the warm/red/auburn spectrum.

Before using henna, I'd never dyed my own hair, so it's been a wild ride: different brands, varied successes, and lots of lessons learned along the way.  Today, I want to focus on five specific things that you may not know about using henna.  I haven't seen these talked about much, but I believe they're very relevant to anyone considering using henna in their hair.

If you're interested in more practical, hands-on tips, I do have an older blog post from four months into my henna journey, or if you have specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or catch me on Instagram!

1. Final Colour Varies Depending on the Colour You Start With
Unlike conventional hair dyes, henna does not penetrate the hair cuticle or react with melanin to change the actual colour of the hair.  Instead, it creates a coating around each hair strand.  The final colour we perceive is a person's original hair colour, reflected through the henna coating.  This is why you can't go lighter with henna, and it's also why someone with grey hairs can often see two distinct tones in their hair.

2. Henna Won't Turn Your Hair Green
There's a lot of chatter about henna interacting with conventional hair dyes and turning your hair green, and while that's a risk with poor quality henna mixes, it's never the henna itself doing it.  Some hennas are contaminated or combined with metallic salts, heavy metals, PPD, and/or other synthetic dyes, and it's those added ingredients that can negatively interact with components in chemical hair dye.  I recommend buying henna from a company that only adds natural ingredients like clays, plants, and herbs.  Reputable companies will usually discuss the issue of metallic salt contamination, but if you aren't sure of the caliber of henna you're using, definitely proceed with caution when it comes to switching between chemical dye and henna.

3. But It Can Make Your Hair More Brittle
The conditioning benefits of henna are well known, but what's often overlooked is that, with frequent use, henna has the potential to make your hair more brittle and prone to breaking.  I didn't know about this one when I first started using henna, so I'm grateful to Beatriz from New York for Beginners for bringing it to my attention early into this journey!  I've since done my own research and, essentially, the concern comes back to the way henna coats the hair.  Since each time you colour with henna, you're adding a coating onto the hair, depending how long you've waited between applications, the coating can get thicker.  If you keep building it up on itself, that thickening, which in turn makes each hair strand thicker, can make the hair more prone to snapping.

My favourite henna is from Rainbow Research (I use the Burgundy colour) because the colour lasts a very long time.  Because it fades so slowly, I can touch up my roots as needed (usually every 6-8 weeks), but only need to recolour my entire head every three or four months.  This means the henna coating isn't building up since most of the time I only colour the new hair growth.  But, I've also used henna from other brands where this just wasn't an option.  Henna itself will usually bind to the hair for several months, but other colour additives can wear off much more quickly, leaving you with a completely different colour after just a few weeks and forcing you to recolour the length of the hair each time you dye any new growth.  You can tell pretty easily how much the henna has worn off just by looking at the colour of the hair.

4. Colour Takes (Up To) 48 Hours to Develop
Although you only need to leave the actual henna paste on your hair for a couple hours, the final colour can take up to 48 hours to fully develop.  My hair usually looks brighter and more orange when I first wash the henna out, and then within 24-48 hours, it will deepen and have less noticeable orange tones.

So, if you don't immediately get the colour you thought you would, don't panic! (Or, at least wait 48 hours to see if you need to😛)  Also keep this in mind if you're colouring your hair before a special event or having photos taken.

5. No Conditioner Before, No Shampoo After
Because it sits on the hair strand, what you put on your hair -- both before and immediately after the henna -- will impact how successful your colouring is.  Oil or conditioner sitting on the hair strand can prevent the coating from adhering as effectively, meaning your colour may not last as long, or it might not even stick in the first place.  I also recommend not shampooing for 48 hours after your application, since that will allow a little more of the henna to adhere while the colour develops.  I wash out my henna with conditioner only, which gets about 95% of it out, and any remainder will wash out with the first shampoo a couple days later.

Ultimately, henna can have a steep learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty great.  I've definitely been happy with the results these last 2+ years!  Have you tried henna before?

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1 comment

  1. I didn't know about the breakage aspect of using henna! Having not yet tried it, I've been wanting to for years. Thanks for sharing this.