Skip to main content

How Henna Colors Hair

Avatar • Feb 27, 2012

Henna_for_hair
By Joe Parker of Cush Cosmetics

The Origins of Henna

Before I delve into mechanics of henna, I think it’s important to know a little bit about its rich history.  The henna bush is indigenous to North Africa, the Middle East, south Asia, and northern Australia.  As far back as the times of ancient Egypt, people have used henna to dye hair, skin and fingernails.  They would harvest the henna leaves at the end of the summer season just before the rainy season began because the leaves had the highest amount of dye content during that time period.  The leaves would be dried, milled, and sifted; and then later sold as a fine powder for dying.

What is Henna Exactly?

The active ingredient that enables henna to color hair is lawsone- which is also known as 2‑Hydroxy‑1,4 Napthaquinone.   Lawsone is a weak organic acid that has a typical concentration of 1.3–1.5% in henna leaves that are harvested at the height of the summer season, as mentioned above.  In order for lawsone to be effective, it must be preserved.

How is Lawsone Preserved During the Manufacturing Process?

Lawsone is unique because of its structure.  It’s an extremely unstable negatively charged structure due to the presence of 2 carboxyl groups (C=O) and one acid group (OH).   It will ionize and then react (decompose) quickly, which makes it ineffective for hair coloring; therefore it needs to be preserved.  In today’s manufacturing practices, lawsone is preserved with citric acid during the milling process. However, during ancient times, lemon juice or tea was added to the henna powder to create an acidic paste of permanent hair colorant.  The over abundance of protons from the citric acid make it less likely that the acid group or carboxyl groups on the lawsone molecule will ionize and decompose.  Remember, it’s the release of lawsone in the henna leaves that gives henna its pigment.

Tip:  Make sure the Henna product you purchase has citric acid on the INCI ingredients listing.  If the lawsone has decomposed, it will not color the hair.

The Color of Henna

Lawsone’s color is red to orange only.  So when you see henna in colors other than reddish orange, other pigments have been added.  The important question to ask is, “What are those pigments?”  Are they natural pigments such as indigo, turmeric, catechu, amla, vashma or black walnut shells?  If so, you should have a basically safe colorant for your hair.  However, if you see colors listed like the ones below, the odds are that the manufacturer has added a synthetic dye, which studies suggest are toxic.

Next Page
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
37 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rhonda SanDiego
Rhonda SanDiego
8 years ago

I am interested in it’s affect on relaxed hair and grays.

Pat
Pat
8 years ago

I use henna from Logona. The best way to cover my gray hair for me is to start with a bright red colour. After that I use a darker shade of henna each time I use it. When I have used the darkest brown colour I turned to the bright red colour again.

By the way, my hair is natural. I think that henna can have a different effect on chemical treated hair, but I really would try it if I had relaxed hair.

Cinnamondiva
Cinnamondiva
8 years ago

This is a really good question, Rhonda. I wonder the same thing. I’ve been told that henna can be damaging to relaxed hair but I don’t know if this is true.

I’ve never hennaed my hair before but maybe I’ll try it someday. …does it make your hair shiny? I’m sure the color looks beautiful!

Henna
Henna
8 years ago

I know several women who’ve used it specifically to color gray hairs, so it should work well in this case. Not sure about relaxed hair, but I also don’t know why it wouldn’t work.

The Bean
The Bean
8 years ago

I use the Lush Caca Rouge. I looked at the ingredients again and correct me if I am wrong but they are not any of the “bad” ones are they? I have natural hair and I would love to try adding the dried limes. Could you say a little more about how to dry them etc in order to use them to create the paste.

Thanks and great post!

Kailyn
Kailyn
8 years ago
Reply to  The Bean

I was just looking into Lush’s henna after reading your suggestion, I would look into Limonene (skin irritant) and more importantly Eugenol (clove oil which sounds harmless, but it can cause liver damage and dermatitis). They use it in some cosmetics, but also to kill insects. Might just be something to consider/look into?

sosoulful_0125
sosoulful_0125
8 years ago

I have used henna once and besides rinsing out the henna I did not have any problems(rinsing is very very messy). The color, I was really afraid of since I have always used commercial dyes and my ends were very light(honey blonde), but it came out to be a reddish brown color, so I was pleased. I used the Nupur Mhendi Powder 9‑Herbs Blend (purchased from amazon); I mixed the powder with green tea.

shay
shay
8 years ago

i used indigo henna once when I was around 16. I still cringe at the mess I made in my parent’s bathroom. I’m interested in Henna (it’s the only hair coloring product I’d use) but i wonder if there are places I could get my hair professionally dyed with henna. I’d rather not do it myself. I’m not that coordinated. I live in the DC area.

b.
b.
8 years ago
Reply to  shay

+1

Mops
Mops
8 years ago

i used lush’s caca rouge some time ago and found no change in hair color. i left it on 8 hours.
my hair is natural and dark brown. the girl inside said it would take about 3 more times but at 25.00 per bar, i said heck no!
and afterwards, my hair felt dry and there was ALOT of snap, crackle and pop for a week. i shedded like crazy as well. i also had what felt and looked like grains of coffee beans in my strands.
overrall, i wouldnt henna again.
or i would at least try another brand.

Natalie
Natalie
8 years ago
Reply to  Mops

+1
My hair does not like henna, I added lots of honey to my mix and applied it the next day, I left it in overnight and all I got was straw hair. I bought a massive block from Lush so will try it again but once I have finished using it all up I won’t bother again.

Khadija
8 years ago

Using pure henna, and pure ayurvedic herbs for your hair can make all the difference. Certain products that have other ingredients in them and henna, are diluted such as Lush so you won’t get the full affects as with any product the ingredient listed first will be the strongest. Using herbs straight give you the strongest and best results. Everyone should have or use a henna or ayurvedic hair recipe tailored to them and their hair type. Once that is down packed it’s very easy to maintain and keep it up. The benefits are shine, strength, thickening, and just overall… Read more »

Natural Newbie
8 years ago
Reply to  Khadija

What henna brand do you use?

She
She
8 years ago
Reply to  Natural Newbie

I think she is talking about the henna at hennasooq if that helps.

honeybrown1976
honeybrown1976
8 years ago

I use Jamila henna once every 6–8 weeks. I am transitioning (21 months) and it’s worked well for me. I have a reddish tint to my hair and it feels and looks fuller and stronger. I recommend it (I don’t know how it behaves on relaxed hair).

honeybrown1976
honeybrown1976
8 years ago
Reply to  honeybrown1976

Forgot to add: I mix with hot water and a couple of tsp. of lemon juice — nothing complicated.

Danny
Danny
8 years ago

I am a henna user and I do once a month. It is extremely difficult to get the color to show up on your hair unless you’ve dyed it prior to using the henna or you already have light colored hair. The henna I use is from India and I buy it from my local Indian market,and its there that I was told since it is a organic hair treatment I can add things like lemon or Cayenne pepper to either give a blonde look or a reddish-auburn look.

TwennyTwo
TwennyTwo
8 years ago

About the clove oil: the reason it’s used is because of the terpenols in the oil, which are not only fragrant but help the color to achieve a darker brown. I’ve used clove oil in henna mix I would put on hands, and it works really well. Lavender oil is suggested as a safe alternative for those who are pregnant or have sensitive skin. This is only for those who want brown, not red, color.

Sonya
8 years ago

I have been using henna for about a year. I buy my stash from a local Indian market. The brand is called Dulhan. I mix my henna with red wine and honey. Surprisingly, the wine is not any more drying than henna with green tea. I love the deep red I get with the wine. I do find that mixing with red wine decreases (exponentially) the “henna itch.” My primary purpose is to color my gray, but I love all of the other heavier hair and detangling benefits too. I have converted many naturals to henna.

Teresa
Teresa
8 years ago

I just did a henna treatment this weekend. I used the Karishma brand from my local Indian grocery store. I mix it w/coconut milk, amla oil, honey and little bit of cheapie condish (VO5 Moisture Milk). I’ve tried it w/green tea before, but it ran down my face and neck.
The coconut milk works better for me. My hair is soft, strong and pretty reddish color. I’m hooked:)!!!

Best fitness guide
8 years ago

Someone necessarily lend a hand to make severely articles I would state. This is the first time I frequented your website page and thus far? I surprised with the analysis you made to make this particular publish amazing. Great process!

J. Elizabeth
J. Elizabeth
8 years ago

I use henna at least once a month for the past 5 months. I have a slight reddish tint to my hair due to the henna. I use Jamila henna and it has strengthened my hair greatly and made it really soft.

T. Stewart
T. Stewart
8 years ago

I use Rajasthani Twilight purchased from Mehandi.com. Found out about this broker from the curly nikki blog.I mix my henna with water steapped with green tea and rosemary. Then mix with honey. Will keep on overnight. and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS deep condition after!!!!

She
She
8 years ago

I also bought Rajasthani Twilight henna from Mehandi. I tried it out on a section of my hair when it arrived. Initially the color was a deep burgundy color, but after it oxidized it left a brown tint in my hair. I have black hair so I wasn’t expecting to see a difference. You can really see it in the sun. I am looking forward to applying it on my whole head this coming may when college is out. However, I hear some condescending information about henna. One is whether it looses hair texture or not, whether it is permanent color… Read more »

Tricia
Tricia
8 years ago
Reply to  She

No you can not use commercial colour afterwards. Yes it is a permanent colour but it would fade eventually ( can’t say after how many washes) and yes it looses hair texture in some people’s strands!

Henna
8 years ago

More information about Henna.

Lee
Lee
8 years ago

I’ve been using henna for a couple of months now. I’ve done about 5–6 treatments and like someone previously mentioned it’s very important to deep condition with a moisturizing conditioner afterwards. A really great site that has tons of information on it is Curly Nikki http://www.curlynikki.com/search/label/Henna. quick tidbits about henna.. real, pure, natural henna doesn’t come in different shades. So if you are buying one that says “blonde” or “auburn” then it’s not pure henna. There are additives that aren’t natural in that. You will want to be careful to find the proper type. It’s also important to let it… Read more »

her
her
8 years ago

Can someone tell me if hair can be professionally colored with say a natural hair color, like say Aveda, after using henna?

Lezlee
Lezlee
8 years ago

I henna once a month, and it is the BEST thing I have ever done for my hair. The best place to get SAFE info on the BEST henna, is http://www.hennaforhair.com. The writer did her doctoral thesis on henna, and the site focusing on pesticide and chemical free henna. PLEASE!!!!! Do you research before you trust a label.

Graham Erbe
8 years ago

Awesome share! Appreciate it!

intlgrrl
intlgrrl
8 years ago

I get my henna from henn mendhi.com, which is also hennaforhair.com. I agree that deep conditioning is an absolute must afterward. A lot of people say that is the most important thing to remember when taking the time to henna. Also, if you want to tweek that color of your henna, you can add indigo powder or amla powder. Indigo helps make the henna more audurn or brown, and amla usually helps with towning down the color of henna. I also add a little cassia to my henna to help give a nice gloss to my hair.

CoachNiquenya
8 years ago

I have henna’d my hair 4 times now. I use Jamila or Reshman henna from my local Indian market. It’s really cheap there and is the same as my Indian friends use in their own hair. I mix it with either boiling water and apple cider vinegar, fresh squeezed lime juice or yoghurt and I also add a tablespoon of turmeric to yellow the henna red a little bit. I have a beautiful reddish brown hue in the sun that didn’t show up really well until after the third time I henna’d. My hair, which is normally very thing and… Read more »

HC
HC
8 years ago
Reply to  CoachNiquenya

Henna seems very promising, but does it work on dying specifically–dark hair?

Snehal Preet
Snehal Preet
3 years ago
Reply to  CoachNiquenya

Does mehendi affect the colour of black hair?

Nickie
Nickie
8 years ago

HENNA
Other Names: Alcanna, Egyptian Privet, Hennae Folium, Henne, Jamaica Mignonette, Lawsonia alba, Lawsonia inermis, Mehndi, Mendee, Mignonette Tree, Reseda, Smooth Lawsonia.

Reference
http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-854-HENNA.aspx?activeIngredientId=854&activeIngredientName=HENNA

mae
mae
8 years ago

so if you have black hair, and you use henna, itll change the color of your hair. no matter what?

alice
alice
7 years ago

I have natural dark brown to black hair will it change my colour to red ? or will it just give it a red tint ?

37
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x

Shopping Cart