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After the last post showing an infographic on henna hair dyeing, I probably got you all fired up! Now the next step is, how do I actually get to it? Well, as you probably know by now, dyeing your hair with henna is different from dyeing your hair with a chemical dye. Henna does not damage your hair and has a conditioning effect on it. So how do you do it? Well that’s where this post is for! After this, you too will know how to dye your hair with henna!

First things first

Because henna actually doesn’t dye your hair but stains it by binding with the keratin in your hair, it is a safe alternative to other forms of dyeing. This binding results in a transparant color, not changing the color of your hair, but just coating it with an extra layer of color. It is for this reason that black hair cannot color lighter. It can have a reddish shine, because of the coating, which comes truly forward in sunlight. A lovely effect! Blond or gray hair will become brilliantly orange while brown hair will more go to the auburn side. You can find your color and figure out to how it will look with different kind of organic dyes by taking a look at our color chart!

There are several methods to dye your hair with henna, and it even kind of depends on the color your hair has. You need to find your own personal method that works best for you (and then share it here, so other people with your color and hair can benefit from it!). But don’t worry, there are quite a few guidelines that can ensure you end up with not only the result you want, but also the method that works best for you.

First of all a few rules of thumb:

  • Use gloves when working with henna
  • Cover surfaces that can’t stain
  • Use towels that can get dirty
  • Pluck hair out your hairbrush to have some strands to test on before applying it to your hair! Mix a small amount of the product and apply it to a strand of hair. Wait for the appropriate transition period (like indicated on the package) to see the best results.
  • If you’re unsure about the quality of the henna, do a skin test first. Use a ‘safe’ spot on your skin, like your forearm, and apply some of the mixed paste to the skin. If, after about ten minutes, any form of skin irritation occurs, do not continue with the dye and look for other higher quality, or better branded, henna.

Too little or too much?

Some people have long hair, others have short hair. Some have thin hair, others have thick hair. So how do you know what amount of henna you should use to achieve the color as it is advertised? Honestly, you should just try it to see what works best for you. You can however use this as a guideline:

  • Above ear length: 50-75 grams + 50 grams*
  • Shoulder length: 100-125 grams + 100 grams*
  • Mid-back length: 150-175 grams + 125 grams*
  • Lower back (above hips): 200 to 225 grams +150 grams*
  • Hip/Waist length: 250 to 300 grams +175 grams*

*If you have very curly thick hair, it’s best to through something extra in there (hence the cursive numbers)

Making a dye 101

The method for making the henna dye depends on the brand you’ve chosen. Some brands supply ‘blocks’ that you need to melt, others simply require adding hot water while still others use lemon juice, or tea or coffee. Getting confused already? Understandable. Don’t worry, as good as every package comes with a list of steps you need to do in order to successfully dye your hair with henna. But why are there such different processes, you ask? Well, actually all of them work… Much more depends on the color of your original hair, since the henna dye is a transparant stain.

There are however a few similarities among those methods. To explain this, we require a bit more background information! As you remember from our infographic, henna contains lawsone, which is a molecule that can bind with the proteins in your skin or hair. Because henna is a plant this lawsone is contained within cellulose walls, which is a pretty tough structure. If those walls stay intact, no lawsone, and thus no dye will be released. So all of these techniques have a certain way of breaking down those cellulose walls, releasing the lawsone:

  • Mashing in some water: by mashing you actually break down some cellulose! This however is often not effective enough to get the result you want…
  • Mixing henna with hot water: this breaks down the cellulose walls, but you have to be careful! By boiling the henna, the lawsone will lose its ability to bind to the keratin in your hair. My advice: use warm/hot water but not boiling hot!
  • Mixing henna with a sour substance: this is another very popular method. Any sour substance will break down cellulose as well. Anything that is slightly sour to very sour (pH below 5.5), will break down cellulose. That means that lemon juice, coffee, vinegar or even Coca Cola would be able to release the dye (although I don’t recommend coffee, cola, or vinegar because of the smell of all of them). You can also use acidic juices other than lemon juice!

Most, if not all, combine a mix of these methods to achieve the most optimal results. You can however try out whatever method works best on you (on strands of your hair of course!). When do you know that it’s ready to be applied? That of course depends on the method you used. The question you should ask is HOW do you know that it’s ready? Well, when the mixture achieves a yoghurt-like consistency (cellulose breakdown), you’re good to go! The following graph gives you an estimate of what time this could take when using lemon juice and heating!

Dye release

Dye release at different temperatures when using lemon juice.

Get clean

Now that your henna dye is getting ready, it’s time to get clean ourselves! Get into the shower, and start using your favorite shampoo. In order for the dye to stain your hair nicely you need to get rid of any excess dirt and grease so wash thoroughly and this time, do not use conditioner! After your hair is all washed up, towel-dry it and get excited! Now you’re ready to learn how to dye with henna!

Get messy: how to dye your hair with henna

Now that you’re completely clean, it’s time to get dirty again (figuratively of course). Divide your hair into a front, left, right and back section and put on your plastic gloves. Scoop up some yoghurt-like paste and start applying it to the back section first. Start at the base of the hair, and work your way up to the hair tip. Take your time for this and make sure you get a complete and even coverage as is possible, this will result in a much nicer color! Massage everything well into your hair. Most beginners make the mistake of being too hasty, so don’t be one of them!

When finished with the back section slowly work your way up to the front section. When you’re sure you’ve covered every strand of hair, put on a plastic cap for about an hour to 2. If you wish, you can leave it on for up to five hours to achieve a deeper color (remember what I said about doing a strand test first).

Get clean… again

Yep, get back in that shower and rinse everything out with water. Just water, no shampooing here! Don’t worry about all of the stuff coming off of it, remember that henna only binds to proteins (like in the skin or in the hair). When you’re satisfied, you can still use a conditioner to get clean and fresh or to get rid of some parts that might dried together. I know henna has a particular earthy scent. You might like it, you might not. Either way, it won’t last for longer than a few days. In case it really bothers you, it might be best to use some scented tea next time you’re using henna, to reduce the smell! To accelerate the coloring process a bit, you could use the blow-dryer for 10-15 minutes.

A few final words

Don’t shampoo for at least 24 hours and don’t use a leave-in conditioner for at least a week. It will take about 48 hours to achieve your final color, so don’t panic if it not right away looks like you expected it to be. The color could even look a bit too reddish, or even blueish or greenish, but don’t worry! This is perfectly normal and will disappear within a few hours. If you’re really not pleased with the final color, you can still reapply it as many times as you want.

CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve just finished dyeing your hair with henna! Go ahead, pat yourself on the back, and share the result here! Now you too know how to dye your hair with henna! Wanna see it live? Check out the following video which shows the entire process!


How to dye your hair with henna.

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