DIY Tutorial: How to Dye Your Hair with Henna

So a few months ago, I posted an article explaining why I love using henna to dye my hair. Now I'm going to show you exactly how I do it.

Some quick disclaimers: this process, though rewarding for tons of reasons, is both a little messy and a lot time-consuming. It's not something you can do as a quick touch-up an hour before you need to meet your friends at the bar, so invest in a box of disposable gloves, choose a day when you're off and there's no one around (because you will be wearing a plastic bag on your head), find a good book to read, and make a spa day of it. It's also not a good idea to use henna on hair that's already been colored with chemical dyes. Still up for it? Awesome. Swiftly moving on.

Prep Time.

Before anything else, you're going to need to get your hands on some henna. While I've heard of people using store-bought henna that's already in the form of dye, I've always done it with loose powder that I've gotten from the internet. It's worked wonderfully every time, and this way I know exactly what I'm putting in my homemade dye. Here's the brand I'm currently using.

Red henna hair dye recipe

Next, you need to get your tools and ingredients for the dye.

Items you will need:

  • A mixing bowl that will not stain (either metal or ceramic)

  • Disposible gloves

  • A plastic bag or an old shower cap

  • An old towel

  • A bit of aluminum foil

  • Some paper towels

  • Clothes you don't care about

*Keep in mind* Henna stains are difficult if not impossible to get out; the above items should either be disposible or already soiled.

Ingredients you will need:

  • Loose henna powder (see above)

  • Fresh-brewed coffee (let it cool so it doesn't damage the dye)

  • A lemon

  • An egg

  • Olive oil

This is where the process gets creative. The above ingredients are ones that have worked well for me in the past, and so I've always used them. The egg and the olive oil serve to moisturize and condition my hair. Some people use coconut oil, avocado, honey--anything you'd put in an all-natural hair mask. The coffee darkens the dye a little bit so it's more auburn rather than strawberry blonde. For a lighter color, people use freshly-brewed black tea instead. Something acidic is necessary for the dye to release, but I've seen people use vinegar in place of the lemon.

As you can see, it's all up to you. You really only need the henna itself, something acidic, and some kind of liquid to create a paste-like consistency. Experiment with your ingredients, and use the ones you feel your hair needs. Might as well kill two birds with one stone, and restore while you color.

Once you've chosen your ingredients, it's time to combine them. I use about a cup of henna powder, but I have pretty thin hair, and I don't need a lot. As for the other ingredients, there aren't any particular measurements. I crack the egg in, squeeze the lemon, and add a few teaspoons (sometimes more, sometimes less) of olive oil. I add only as much coffee as I need to get a thick, paste-like consistency.

A quick heads up: If your mixture is too thick, you won't be able to coat your hair without clumping. If it's too thin, it'll drip everywhere. Aim for a texture that's something like brownie batter. Cake-mix-consistency is too thin, and cookie dough is too thick. Also, apparently henna day makes me want to binge eat baked stuff.

When you're done, cover your mixture with a sheet of aluminum foil and leave it somewhere dry and warm. On top of the refridgerator is a good place. Let it sit for at least an hour, but the longer, the better. This is so that the dye has time to release. If you skip this step, you'll still get the moisturization properties, but the color will be pretty dull.

Okay. Dye time.

Already clad in your no-shits-to-give wardrobe, find a place with a mirror and a counter and a sink. Preferably the bathroom. Put on your disposible gloves, unwrap your bowl of henna, and start spreading.

Dyeing hair with henna

Please excuse my expression. I was concentrating.

As you can see, I start from the top. Holding a one-inch section of hair in one hand, I coat the hair as best as I can with the other hand. I dip my fingers in the paste and rub it into the hair using a downward motion. Get as close to the root as you can, but try not to get any on your scalp; it will turn your skin an orangey color. Don't forget your ends; this stuff is great for fixing breakage and restoring strength. When you finish a section of hair, twirl it and pile it on top of your head. I don't have a picture of this step. Maybe I forgot. Maybe I don't want a picture of me with greenish-brown crap on my head in a Medusa-style wad circulating around the internet. Or maybe I forgot.

When you've worked your way down toward the nape of your neck and all your hair is coated and piled, secure it to the top of your head with a plastic clip (not unlike the one I've got on my towel bar there). However, if you're like me, you won't even need the clip. That hefty beehive-looking thing will be well-packed and sturdy, and it won't be going anywhere.

Finally, wrap your hair in a plastic bag, or an old shower cap, and do one of those twisty-post-shower towel tricks to keep the heat in.

Dyeing hair with henna

And now It's time to wait.

I've left this stuff on my head for as little as an hour. I've also left it on as long as twelve. Some people swear that you need to sleep in it overnight, and others think that by the four hour mark, the dye's released as much as it's going to. This, yet again, is up to you. A basic rule of thumb: the longer you leave it, the more intense the color will be.

For this particular round, I left the dye in for about three hours. When it was time to wash it out, I took off the towel and the plastic bag, got in the shower, and washed my hair as usual. It'll feel gritty and stiff at first, but if you just keep massaging, you'll find that the henna moistens and washes out. If you're left with a sandy residue on the shower floor, like I was, wipe it up as best you can with a paper towel, and wash the rest down the drain.

And here's the finished result. Keep in mind, I've been dying my hair with henna for years, and this was merely a touch up.

before after henna hair

The color in the second is much more vibrant. My hair's a lot shinier and there are fewer flyaways. While you can't necessarily see it, it feels a lot thicker and way, way healthier. So, with the whole process mapped out for you... Any takers?

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