{Adventures in Dying My Hair} The Dos and Don’ts of Henna

IMG_5048_1 When I was a teenager, I used to henna my hair all the time.

Mostly different hues of red.

In college, I started dying my hair black with conventional dye.

My hair is naturally a dark brown, but I like it best when it’s the darkest of the dark browns.

Almost black.

I dyed my hair with regular ole dye for about 5 years.

Then I stopped…

BUT now that I’m getting older and finding more gray hairs than usual, I find the desire to start coloring my hair again.

So, I decided to revisit the henna of my youth.

Mostly after reading this post by Liz and reading the Skintervention Guide.

For some reason, henna tends to get a bad rap.

Like it will alter your hair forever or dye your skin green…which it actually might.

I don’t know too much about how henna actually works, but I do know a thing or two or three about using it.

So here are my Dos and Don’ts of Henna Use:

Getting ready:

DO put some thought into choosing your shade of henna. I go with black because it’s supposed to turn my hair Dark Ash Brown (Dark A*s Brown?), and I really don’t like red highlights…


DON’T do anything until you read the directions. Seriously. Read them.

DO wear a tank top from middle school with your name sewn in the back from that time you went to Stagedoor Manor summer theater camp. (aka wear old clothes).


DO play around with adding things like an egg for extra conditioning or spices to bring out highlights. I added one egg and a teaspoon of all spice to this batch.


I also use coffee instead of water to tone down the red highlights…really don’t like those red highlights…


Smearing it on:

DON’T be afraid of making a giant mess. It’s inevitable.


DO start at the roots of the hair on the crown of your head and work outward. I do all of my roots, smoothing the covered hair toward the top of my head. Then, once all the roots are covered, I coat the ends of my hair with henna, creating a henna turban, if you will.

DO wipe down everything that the henna touches immediately. Clumps WILL fall off your head and onto your shoulders, chest, sink, floor. It will dye your skin if you leave it on too long… I have the black stains on my feet to prove it.

DON’T allow your boyfriend/husband/partner to see you once you’ve globbed all the henna on. He’ll think you’re nuts.

Waiting for it to set:

DON’T schedule a group conference call for right after you apply henna for the first time in 10 years. I did this. Henna literally running down my face (I used old lotion instead of  Vaseline to protect my hairline) for the entire hour of the call. It’s hard to coach people when you’re worried about dying your entire face green.


DO wrap an old towel around your neck just in case there are some drips.

DO have your foam roller handy. You’re going to want it once you rinse: I always end up sitting straight as a rod for the entire hour that the henna’s setting. It’s impossible to slouch with henna head. Do not forget to brush your hair, good hair brushes make this process easy and comfortable.

DO remind yourself that you’re doing a pretty cool thing for your body by avoiding conventional hair dye.

DON’T worry: it gets easier the second time around.

Do you use henna? Feel free to share your tips and tricks in the comments below.

16 Responses to {Adventures in Dying My Hair} The Dos and Don’ts of Henna

  1. Connie J. Singleton June 7, 2013 at 4:34 PM #

    I LOVE henna so much–it makes my hair so much thicker (my hair had thinned from years of relaxing and wrapping and ponytails…oh my!) and it makes my hair grow really fast.

  2. Erica Lynn @ Optimal Health Consultant June 10, 2013 at 8:31 AM #

    I’ve been wanting to try Henna. I was hoping there was maybe a henna based shampoo I could use to make it simple.

  3. elaine June 10, 2013 at 1:48 PM #

    I use henna and love it. I add egg, and some organic oil to nourish my hair more as it sits. I’ve found that I really have to work out all the lumps in the mixture before applying as that has caused a bit of problems the first go-around. No terrible smell or burn. There are still a little bit of chemicals in it, but not the amounts in drugstore and mainstream brands. The henna I get are from the little stores that sell Indian or Thai food as it is native to their countries. enJOY! It is awesome!

  4. Dudley Z. Garner June 11, 2013 at 10:41 AM #

    I know you say you left it on for 3 hours for brunnetes. But I have black hair and I founf online it says that if you live it less time (45 min) it will be light brown and if left longer it will be dark. Is that true for you? have you seen a difference of the shade when you leave it longer or less? (will be my first time using henna) I want the light brown. so how long should I leave it on to get it to be light?

    • Allison June 13, 2013 at 4:38 PM #

      Hi Dudley! I actually only left mine on for 1 hour. I think it does make a difference how long you leave it on– how much your hair absorbs the color. I haven’t tested that theory, but that’s what I would assume.

      If you have black hair, it’s going to be hard to lighten it with henna. I would definitely follow the color instructions on the box– I have dark brown hair and I dye mine black with henna, but it doesn’t turn truly black–just really dark brown. When I was younger, I tried to henna my hair blonde, but it didn’t really do anything.

  5. RadiantLux June 12, 2013 at 4:04 PM #

    Once I did it myself and it was a huge mess. I have dry hair and left it on too long, so it became maroon. The second time I did it, I went to a Pakastani hairdresser shop. I live in the Chicago NW suburbs. Henna is very common in Pakistan and India. It was a lot easier to have her do it, but the wait was boring in the shop. I think it was still left on too long. Back then I didn’t have gray to cover. Six months ago I purchased a health food store henna kit (different brand than you show). It was a big mess again AND it didn’t do a damn thing.

    • Allison June 13, 2013 at 9:38 AM #

      I used to have the same problem with henna dying my hair red no matter what color I tried! I find that using the coffee instead of water really helps. I also try to choose a color pretty close to my own hair color. My goal at this point is to cover grays and make my hair darker, whereas when I was a teenager using henna I wanted my hair to be lighter. I find that the henna isn’t a very drastic color change– it enriches my own color and adds some depth, but if I were trying to actually change the color of my hair, I would go with a natural dye over henna.

  6. Linda June 12, 2013 at 6:19 PM #

    What brand do you recommend? For black.

    • Allison June 13, 2013 at 9:40 AM #

      Hi Linda! I use the Light Mountain Natural brand black and I’ve had good luck with that. I’ve also tried Rainbow Henna, although I think the Light Mountain Natural works better. I know some people who have had good luck with the henna from Mountain Rose Herbs (http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/hair/hair.html) and LUSH also carries henna that I’ve heard works well…

  7. Elle July 17, 2013 at 4:39 AM #

    I tried a natural henna based dye (dark brown) for the first time today and I’m really happy with the colour in spite of the smell! However I thought I had washed it all out (water ran clear) but when drying and styling my hair my hands are still getting stained by the dye, is this normal?
    I left the dye in for 2 hours as I have naturally quite light hair at the roots (ash blonde) though I have been dying my hair dark brown for years.
    Interesting what you added to the dye — might have to try your coffee trick as my hair tends towards red tones and I don’t like them either!

  8. Christina August 23, 2014 at 10:42 PM #

    I also do not like reddish hair, mostly because I have a darker, light skin tone; and it doesn’t compliment me very well. I recently just ordered the dark brown shade of the Light Mountain Henna from drugstore.com. I was wondering how could I make it even darker; add something to it like coffee or espresso, rosemary, what? Will it make a difference the longer I let it sit in order to get it really, really dark; like a nearly black. I was going to buy the black, but I was afraid it would turn out too black since my hair is a dark blonde/light brown color. What would you suggest, Allison? I would greatly appreciate any advice or tips. New to this henna thing. I have used chemical hair dye in the past, but it only ruined my hair and didn’t benefit it at all. I wanted a healthier approach this time and to get something out of it: thicker, softer, and more managable hair. If you could assist me with any information that would be a great help, please contact me via cahoefert@gmail.com. I really appreciate it.
    Thanks. 🙂 P.S. Do you know of any shampoos and conditioner, even glosses for darker brunette hair/black colored hair. I cannot really find many out there; save for the ones for women of color and where I can purchase them. Thank you, again!

    • Allison August 26, 2014 at 3:08 PM #

      Hi Christina– I have naturally dark brown hair and I buy black henna to get it a really dark brown. There are different things you can add to take the red out– and you can add indigo to make it darker. I’m definitely not an expert in this– I recommend going to http://www.hennaforhair.com they have a lot of great information and articles you can read about what to add and what color to buy. They also have some shampoos and conditioners for darker hair.

  9. Sophie October 28, 2014 at 9:54 AM #

    The first time I used henna, my hair didn’t change colour then I read up on it and it says you need to mix the henna with something acidic like lemon juice (the premixed sachets won’t work )and let it sit for 6 hours. Then apply it to hair and leave it on for like 8 hours. I did that and it worked but it left my hair extremely dry. I’ve read up on it and they say to add coconut milk to the mix for nourishment. I’ll be trying that soon.

  10. dbean July 17, 2016 at 10:10 AM #

    I have used henna off and on for most of the last 39 years. I mix cognac and strawberry blonde for my sort of brunette hair. I do like it to look a bit auburn and have had great success. It is so easy to do yourself that I cannot imagine paying someone to do it for me. It is a bit messy (work at finding the right consistency), but after doing it a couple times you will have a routine. I add conditioner to the mix (conditions while it colors and comes out easier) and a bit of cider vinegar (to set the color?). When I do the rinse out, which can be a bit of a task, I simply walk into the shower and use the hand-held sprayer. I use lots of conditioner after it is rinsed and shampooed to make it easier to comb out later.

    One word of caution – henna is a plant. If you leave it on your scalp area too long you might find you have some sensitivity to it, even for a day or so later. Perhaps try a dab on your skin in a hidden area and leave it for an hour?

    The brand I use is Avigal Henna and always have. Love it.


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