your natural self

A Guide to Coloring Your Hair Naturally Using Henna and Herbs

Published on July 11, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Are you considering natural hair dye alternatives like Henna or herbs to color your hair?

If so, you’re in the right place.

Not only do henna and Henna/herbal blends color hair, preserve its luster, and even cover grays, but they’re not as challenging to use as they once were.

In this article, you’ll learn all about how to color your hair naturally using Henna and herbs, including:

  • The benefits of switching to natural hair dye alternatives
  • 9 myths and facts about modern Henna products
  • Which herbs can be used with Henna to achieve a specific color
  • Tips for using Henna products on gray hair
  • Step-by-step instructions and helpful insider tips on how to color your hair using Henna or Henna/Herbal dyes

The natural hair dye industry has come a long way in a few years. 

Come along as we explore how to use Henna and herbs to color your hair naturally.

Why Consider Natural Hair Dye Using Henna and Herbs?

Navigating the world of natural hair dyes can be tricky due to the prevalence of greenwashing* in the beauty industry.

*Greenwashing refers to marketing or advertising efforts to make products or services appear more natural, safe, and environmentally friendly than they are.

Although many hair color brands use words like: “natural,” “from nature,” “organic,” “made with organic ingredients,” “eco-friendly,” “ammonia-free,” “non-toxic,” “made with botanical ingredients,” or “herbal-infused,” the truth is most hair color contains chemicals. 

Many of which, such as PPD, ammonia, phthalates, formaldehyde-releasing chemicals, and phthalates (to name but a few), are potentially harmful. REF#2254 REF#2255 REF#2256 REF#2257

Chemicals are so pervasive in hair color because chemical reactions are required to open hair follicles and form pigment molecules that infiltrate the hair shaft creating color.

This may not be of concern if you only color your hair occasionally. 

However, if you color your hair every few weeks or months, the cumulative effect of these chemicals may be of concern.

The good news is there is a more natural way to color (not dye) your hair.

You stain the hair shaft using henna or other herbs that are bold in color.

By staining vs. dying or “lifting” your hair, you can add highlights, cover grays, or naturally darken your hair.

How Do Henna and Other Herbs Work As Natural Hair Dyes?

As just discussed, Henna and other herbs and plants work by staining your hair.

This process works a lot like wool, textile, and fabric-dying operations and home practices of yesteryear.

People worldwide would gather up specific local herbs, plants, nuts, berries, seeds, and even sea creatures, such as the mollusk, known for their staining qualities.

Some examples of these ethnobotany dyes include: REF#2258

  • Black walnuts
  • Hibiscus
  • Chamomile
  • Sumac
  • Indigo
  • Henna
  • Cinnamon
  • Amla
  • Nettles
  • Lichen
  • Bloodroot
  • Chokecherry
  • Mulberry
  • Sage

These items would be crushed and made into dyes, which would be used to color fabrics, wool, and textiles.

Various natural hair care companies have applied this ancient wisdom to modern hair color formulas to suit nearly every shade.

Henna is a popular base because of its long-lasting nature. 

However, many brands now combine Henna with other natural staining herbs and plants to create blondes, brunettes, reds, and other shades.

9 Myths and Facts About Coloring Your Hair With Henna and Herbs

Many people avoid trying Henna and Henna products because they’ve heard nightmare stories of damaged hair, stained bathrooms, or bright-red hair that couldn’t be re-colored until it grew out.

But are these stories true?

Let’s look at some myths and facts about modern Henna products:

1. Myth Or Fact: Henna And Herbal Hair Color Won’t Cover Grays

This myth and fact depend on how Henna and other herbal dyes are used.

Typically, herbal or plant infusions used alone without Henna will not be enough to cover grays for very long.

However, combining the right herbs with Henna can work on grays (in most cases) similar to permanent hair color.

The trick is to leave the combination on long enough and/or apply heat for some or all of the process.

Gray hairs tend to be more color-resistant (to natural or chemical dyes) and require more processing time.

If you have a mix of gray hair and your natural hair color, using a pure Henna product may result in the grays being a lighter orange or red than the rest of your hair. 

This can look great—like natural highlights. However, a Henna product with other natural herbal dyes (like indigo, chamomile, black walnut, etc.) would be a better choice if you want a more uniform color.

Applying heat helps by softening and naturally opening up the hair follicles so they will accept the stain. This may also shorten the processing time.

Look for Henna-based products designed to cover gray hair on the first application for gray hair insurance. These usually contain additional herbs to optimize the staining process.

At-home heat sources could include a microwavable heat cap with natural rice or grains, a blow dryer, or a home bonnet hair dryer.

2. Myth Or Fact: Henna Is Too Messy To Use At Home And Stains Everything In Its Path

Myth, with caveats.

Yes, Henna will stain everything in its path—but not immediately. If your Henna stains things immediately, it probably contains chemicals.

This staining power makes it effective as a natural hair color.

However, if you use gloves, apply lotion or oil to your hairline, work on a hard floor, and wear an old t-shirt or towel over your shoulders, it should be no different than using any other home hair color kit.

Many people find pre-mixed Henna or Henna/herbal powdered products tidier than melting down a brick of Henna.

Treat it like any dye, and you shouldn’t have problems.

3. Myth Or Fact: Henna Will Dye Your Hair Bright Red Or Clown Orange

This is a myth and a fact.

If you use pure Henna, yes, it will dye your hair red. 

However, the extent of the redness depends on the shade of your hair, the type of henna, the type of hair you have (some hair types tend to absorb a lot more red than others), and how long you leave it on.

However, as previously mentioned, many Henna hair color products contain Henna combined with other herbs and plants, such as indigo, to create specific blonde, brunette, red, and darker shades.

These Henna/herbal blends may or may not require a two-part process to achieve your desired color.

Bottom line: If you don’t want red hair, look for Henna/herbal Hair Color blends that combine Henna with other natural substances to create the desired color.

Some lines even offer companion products or “drabbers” designed to tone down the reddening effects of Henna. 

These can be helpful if your hair absorbs excessive amounts of red from natural or chemical hair color.

4. Myth Or Fact: If You Dye Your Hair With Henna, You Can’t Go Back To Regular Hair Color Until It Grows Out

Myth, with caveats.

With today’s modern Henna products, you can go back to using chemical-based hair colors if you choose.

However, in some cases, it may help to wait 1-2 weeks after applying the Henna to avoid the possibility of hair color chemicals driving the Henna into the hair shaft. 

Just like if you made a blunder with chemical hair color, it may take some corrective color to regain your normal shade, but a lengthy or complete grow-out time should be necessary.

Check with your stylist for their recommendation.

5. Myth Or Fact: Black Henna Is All-Natural

Myth. Products labeled “black henna” or “Kali Mehndi" are likely combined with chemicals such as PPD. REF#2259

Natural henna has a reddish-brown hue, not black. 

However, there are Henna/Herbal combination dyes that are all-natural and will dye your hair black or very dark brown.

6. Myth Or Fact: Henna Can Dry Out Your Hair

Fact in some cases. 

Compared to chemical-based hair colors, Henna is extremely gentle and beneficial for your hair.

However, some people experience hair dryness after using Henna due to its high protein content. 

If you have concerns about your hair drying out, you can always add some nourishing oil, like jojoba, to your Henna treatment or seek out a brand that contains oils.

7. Myth Or Fact: Henna Cannot Lighten Your Hair

Fact. Since Henna contains no lightening chemicals (typically peroxide or other bleaching agents) it will not lighten your hair.

However, you can use certain herbs and plants, such as chamomile and lemon juice.

There are also Henna and Henna/herbal dyes designed for blonde hair, which can be a great option for covering grays or adding highlights.

8. Myth Or Fact: You’ll Have To Wait Days Before Washing Your Hair After Applying Henna

Myth. Some Henna brands recommend washing your hair immediately following the final rinse-out. 

While other brands recommend waiting 24-48 hours after the final rinse to allow the color to develop fully, but not longer than 48 hours.

9. Myth Or Fact: It May Take Several Applications Of Henna To Achieve Desired Results

Fact. Although many people achieve their desired color after just one application of Henna or Henna/Herbal dyes, for others, it can take 2-4 applications to get the results they’re looking for.

If you’re a first-time user and/or have a long history of using chemical hair color, you may have to do more than one application. 

However, once you dial in your perfect color.

Common Herbs & Plants Used In Natural Hair Color and Henna Hair Color

Certain herbs and plants can be used solo or combined with Henna to color your hair.

Here are some examples of herbs used for natural hair dye:

    • Amla/Indian Gooseberry: An Ayurvedic favorite that contains tannins for darkening and re-pigmenting hair.
    • Ashwagandha: In Ayurveda, a combination of Ashwagandha and coconut oil or yogurt is used topically as a natural hair color.
  • Beet juice: Can add red highlights to your hair or help cover grays in redheads.
  • Black tea: Strong infusions can be used as a rinse to darken hair and cover grays.Black tea can also be used in place of water with powdered Henna to create a richer brown or more caramel-blonde color.
  • Black Walnut Hulls: These can be made into a tea and used as a rinse to darken hair.
  • Coffee: Strongly brewed coffee can darken hair and cover grays. Coffee can also be used in place of water with powdered Henna to create a darker brown or black color or to tone down redness.
    • Curry leaves: Topical preparations combine crushed and dried Curry Leaves with coconut oil, which is then heated and used as a hair tonic. 
    • Chamomile: Will help naturally lighten your hair when used as an infusion or spray.
  • Hibiscus: Strong infusions of Hibiscus will add red highlights to your hair or cover grays in redheads.
    • Indigo: Comes from the leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria plant and is used as a natural hair color for dark hair. It’s typically combined with Henna for a more natural, predictable outcome.
    • Lemon juice: Acts as a natural hair lightener.
  • Nettles: Strong infusions of nettles can be used as a hair rinse to help darken and strengthen hair.
  • Rosemary: Strong infusions have been used for centuries to help darken hair and promote shine and luster.
  • Sage: Strong infusions can be used to darken hair and cover grays.

    The Pros and Cons of Coloring Your Hair With Henna and Herbs

    As with any endeavor, there are pros and cons to using all-natural hair dyes, such as Henna and herbs.

    Consider the following when deciding if Henna and herbs are right for you.

    Pros of Using Henna and Other Natural Hair Dyes

    • By using Henna and/or herbs, you can avoid the potential harms of hair color chemicals
    • Natural hair color systems, like Henna/Herbal blends, typically contain less plastic than conventional hair color kits
    • They won’t damage your hair like other hair colors and can even help improve hair quality, texture, and shine
    • There is less chance of an allergic reaction or rash
    • Henna and herbal hair colors are safe to use around children
    • They are a safer choice to use when pregnant or nursing
    • Henna and herbal hair colors do not have an offensive smell
    • They are typically less expensive than going to the salon or buying a high-quality home hair color kit
    • Henna and herbs are biodegradable and safe for the environment
    • Henna is affordable and easy to find online or in your local natural foods store
    • When properly applied, Henna and Henna/Herbal dyes can last 4-6 weeks

      Cons of Using Henna and Other Natural Hair Dyes

      • Henna and other natural dyes typically require longer processing time, especially if you’re coloring grays
      • It may take some time to dial in the perfect natural hair dye system
      • Not everyone likes the smell of Henna or other herbal hair dyes
      • A two-part process may be required to achieve your desired color, especially for darker colors
      • Henna will not lighten your hair
      • Making your own hair dyes using Henna, Indigo, and various herbs can be messy and time-consuming
      • Using pure Henna versus a Henna/Herbal combination product may result in color variations for those with gray hair
      • Henna-based coloring systems may leave your hair too red. However, you can take steps to mitigate this
      • Your salon or hair stylist may not be comfortable applying Henna or other herbal hair dyes
      • Henna may be too drying for some hair types
      • Although rare compared to chemical-based color, some people may experience an allergic reaction or skin rash to Henna or other herbs

      Ultimately, it comes down to how much you care about chemical-free hair color, how willing you are to experiment with different colors and products, and how much time you want to spend on your hair.

      Take some time to research different brands and color kits to determine if Henna or Henna/Herbal hair colors are right for you.

      Should You Buy A Kit Or DIY Your Natural Hair Dye?

      Coloring your hair using natural hair dye gives you many options. 

      You can buy a premixed natural hair color or brew your own concoction using herbs, Henna, tea, coffee, and/or Indigo.

      There are many tutorials online for various DIY all-natural hair dyes.

      The benefit of buying a premixed kit is everything’s done for you. Mix, apply, wait, apply heat, rinse, and move on to part two.

      You can also tweak these kits by adding your own tea, coffee, or herbal infusions instead of water. So there can be some DIY aspect to it.

      However, some trial and error may be required to achieve the right color.

      The benefit of DIYing is you can dial in exactly the color and shade you want.

      However, this takes time, research, and lots of trial and error.

      Ultimately, either method can work. It just depends on how involved you want to be with the ingredients that create your perfect natural hair color.

      How To Color Your Hair With Henna or Henna/Herbal Blends

      Although different products may have variations in instructions, here’s a basic how-to on coloring your hair with Henna.

      Helpful tips before applying Henna or Henna/Herbal hair dyes:

      • Before coloring, wash your hair thoroughly with a natural clarifying or chelating shampoo or add a tablespoon of baking soda to your favorite shampoo. This will help eliminate build-up and oil so that the dye can coat and stain your hair more effectively.
      • Most Henna products are applied to wet hair because Henna and natural dyes contain no chemical wetting agents. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.
      • Check the manufacturer’s instructions before applying Henna, as some products must develop after mixing for 30-45 minutes.

        Steps to Apply Henna or Herbal Blend Hair Dye

        1. Step 1: Cover your scalp line with oil, a balm, or ointment to prevent skin staining.
        2. Step 2: Mix your Henna with hot water, hot tea, or hot coffee in a non-metallic bowl (such as silicone or glass) to a thick pancake batter-like consistency. You want it thick enough not to drip but not so thick that it’s difficult to apply.
        3. Step 3: Apply Henna to your hair in sections, working from the roots to the tips until you cover your entire scalp. There are many online tutorials showing the best ways to apply hair color.
        4. Step 4: Once you’ve covered your whole head, give yourself a nice scalp massage to ensure even distribution. 
        5. Step 5: Put on a shower cap or plastic wrap on your hair to help lock in heat and prevent drips.
        6. Step 6: Allow the Henna/Henna Herbal dye to process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Depending on the product and whether or not heat is applied or recommended, this may take several hours or less. If you’re unsure how long to leave the product, contact the company for recommendations. Typically, gray hairs require longer processing time; the longer you leave it, the darker and richer the color.
        7. Step 7: Rinse according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Some recommend shampooing; others recommend rinse-only and no shampooing for 24-48 hours.

        Style and enjoy your new hair color!

        Tips On Finding The Best Henna and Herbal Hair Color

        Buying Henna used to be easy because there were limited products available.

        However, thanks to growing awareness about the benefits of clean beauty, there are now several Henna products to choose from.

        Here are some tips for selecting the best Henna or Henna/Herbal dye for your hair:

        • Do your due diligence! Read reviews, scrutinize labels and ingredients (100% natural products should contain only Henna, herbs, or natural oils), look at before and after photos, and compare prices
        • If you have gray hair, look for Henna or Henna/Herbal blends designed to cover gray hair
        • If you have dark hair, consider a Henna/indigo blend 
        • Look for organic Henna products to minimize the risk of pesticide residues
        • If you have concerns about heavy metals, which is a possibility in Henna and herbs grown in areas prone to heavy metal pollution (think unregulated coal-burning plants and heavy pesticide use),REFE#2260 look for Henna products that are tested for heavy metals and avoid Black Henna or Henna with additives or questionable ingredients REF#2261
        • If you’re concerned about Henna drying out your hair, look for brands that contain nourishing oils such as neem, jojoba, or coconut
        • Make sure you’re purchasing the right type of Henna for the job: permanent (lasts 4-6 weeks) or semi-permanent (lasts 1-3 weeks)
        • Compare processing times. Most pure Henna products require 2-4 hours of processing time, while some Henna/Herbal blends may require less, especially if heat is applied
        • Look at what’s included. If you’re a first-time at-home color user, you may want a full kit with gloves, a cap, a hair color brush, etc. If not, consider a color-only kit to reduce waste

          Looking For More Natural Beauty And Hair Tips?

          Check out the following articles:


          • 1. , "Hair Dyes and Cancer Risk", American Cancer Society.
          • 2. , "Toxic Beauty", Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard University..
          • 3. , "Hair Salons - Formaldehyde in Your Products", OSHA.
          • 4. , "Endocrine Disruptors", National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences..
          • 5. , "Native Plant Dyes", US Forestry Service, USDA.
          • 6. , "Allergic contact dermatitis caused by skin painting (pseudotattooing) with black henna, a mixture of henna and p-phenylenediamine and its derivatives", Archives of Dermatology.
          • 7. , "Determination of Heavy Metals in Henna Leaves and Cosmetic Henna Products Available in Zliten, Libya", Al-Mukhtar Journal of Sciences..
          • 8. , "Determination of Heavy Metals and Other Toxic Ingredients in Henna (Lawsonia inermis)", Journal of Environmental and Analytical Toxicology.