10 Steps to a Good-Hair Day: Eco-friendly Coloring With Henna

In a hair-perfect world there would be no scary chemicals in commercial hair dye and my natural hair would be straight; not curly. Luckily, there’s henna (Lawsonia inermis), a wonderful plant and natural hair dye to help with the hair coloring issue, making the world a better place for hair. Natural hair dyes like henna are not as easy and quick to apply like commercial ones, but they triumph on other accounts that really matter.

 “You must mix henna with…”

There are literally dozens of stories I’ve heard on the “right” way to apply henna (“never during your period”) including what should or should not be mixed with it to make it work. My friends mix it with coffee, wine, beer, olive oil, egg, chamomile tea, black tea, nettle tea, and equally swear by the efficacy of results.

So, is there a right way to apply henna and what is it? I am torn between three possible answers: “I have no idea”, “I don’t care” and “whatever works for you”. I am just a woman, one of many, whose hair is glad there’s henna and who experimented a lot with different henna mixes.

And here is how it works for me.

Start by making sure your mood is right and you have four hours of interrupted time.

Get your magic ingredients

Henna, water, salt, apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)

Assemble your tools

Glass bowl, sturdy gloves, wooden spoon, plastic foil, old t-shirt, old hat/scarf.henna tools

henna in a bowl

How to dye your hair with henna: 10 steps

  1. Wash hair with shampoo and dry it.
  2. Put on an old t-shirt. Expect to get dye on the shirt you are wearing. Don’t be surprised to discover bits of dry henna everywhere including your underwear. Protect anything in your working area that you don’t want to see stained. Henna will splatter a lot and once you’re finished you will be surprised to find it in unexpected places. Cover your hairline and ears with lotion (if you don’t want them to be orange during the next few days).
  3. Put dry henna in a glass bowl. I have a medium long hair and need around two cups of dry henna. Add one teaspoon of salt and 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.henna salt and vinegar
  4. Add hot water to the henna powder until it reaches the consistency of mashed potatoes. Mix well. Henna mixture of the right consistency will remain on the spoon when you hold it upside down. Note: You can mix henna with lemon juice only and leave it overnight before applying the mixture the next day. I tried this too but noticed no difference in results.henna mix: the right consistencyhenna on wooden spoon
  5. Take some of the mixture and start applying it in sections (left side, right side, etc.) from the scalp upwards. If you have a friend to do this for you, that’s even better. Massage thoroughly every section, making sure your hair is completely coated with the mix. At this point you will resemble Borg Queen a little bit. Nothing to worry about. You may even get into the character if you feel extra playful.applied henna
  6. Take an old plastic bag, shower cap or plastic foil and wrap your head well so nothing is left uncovered. Henna will find a way to escape from your wrap anyway, so take measures to minimize the quantity of those mischievous henna bits.henna hair with plastic wrap
  7. In addition to the foil, I protect myself with an old winter hat. Choose anything that will give protection and not impede with your other activities. Henna will stay warm longer and your head will also be warm. You don’t want to get a headache because of the cold henna.hat over plastic wrap
  8. Now that you are well protected, do something fun and relaxing: read, give yourself a pedicure, write a letter to your best friend and pour yourself a glass of lemonade. For best results let henna work for three hours.
  9. I used to rinse henna with shampoo for years, but now I rinse it with water only and notice much better results. I wait one day to rinse it with shampoo.
  10. Style as usual. Your hair will be shiny, silky and smooth. If you have naturally curly hair like I do, your curls will look conditioned and well-defined. And it’s true: You will receive many compliments on sunny days.henna curly hair

About coloring gray hair with henna

Henna covers gray hair wonderfully, but those hairs will be more orange than the rest of your hair (unless you are naturally blonde). If you want to use brown or black natural hair color (henna with indigo, walnut, sage etc.) and hope for good results, you’ll have to color your hair twice. This means you should apply the red henna first, let it work, rinse and dry. Then, you should do the same by using a brown/black henna mixture and let it work for at least one hour. If I feel like changing my hair color to black, and I don’t have that extra hour in one day and I apply the black henna the following day with great results.

Reduce your environmental impact

Even though henna is an eco-friendly hair dye, you can do extra steps to minimize your environmental impact.

Rinsing henna requires significant amounts of water, a precious resource. If you don’t mind going the extra mile, you can reduce your water use and be creative by:

  • dipping your head in a bucket of warm water, removing as much henna as you can before taking a shower (Neither pretty nor fun, but saves tons of water)
  • jumping into the sea or lake if you happen to be near any of these two bodies of water (Really fun, especially if you like to scare off other swimmers. Just kidding, I avoid other swimmers by all costs!)

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