Henna Hair Dye Tutorial – All Natural, Safe and Healthy

I’ve been using this safe and natural hair color for years and have been very happy with it! Here are my tips and tricks on how to make the process easy, effective and simple.

Henna Hair Dye Tutorial - How to Use this Natural and Safe Hair Color

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that chemical hair dye isn’t exactly safe or healthy, right? Right. (Check out the Skin Deep Database if you aren’t sure). The ammonia, fragrances, artificial colors and so many other ingredients can go right onto the scalp, right next to your brain. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know if what’s going near my brain is safe or not. And several years ago, when I started caring about what I was putting on my skin and in my body and reading ingredients, I switched from commercial hair dyes to henna.

Why Color Your Hair at All?

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t care at all that I have early grays coming in. I wish I didn’t care, but I do! And that’s okay. It’s okay if you care, too, and if you don’t (like my badass sister!), then you go girl! More power to you. But I am just not there yet – I still want to be gray-free for now. I’m sure there will come a day when I just don’t care anymore and will let it all go. But that day is not today. So, what’s a natural girl to do?

Just Say No to Chemical Hair Dyes

My favorite brand used to be Garnier Nutrisse (see the toxicity report for Garnier Nutrisse here). I loved their vibrant colors and it seemed to be healthier for my hair. But, I was started to develop psoriasis on my scalp with ugly scaly, patches that looked gross! And the dye would burn my scalp as it went on my hair, and left my hair drier and drier the more I colored it. Even the dyes at the salons burned and irritated my scalp, and the toxic fumes they released irritated my eyes and nose, and gave me a headache. Looking back, I can’t believe I continued to use it! It wasn’t the smartest decision I ever made, but at least I did finally change. Getting pregnant further made my decision, as doctors recommend that pregnant women not use chemical hair dyes.

The Revlon products get a “High Hazard” rating (7 out of 10, with 10 being the most toxic) and Clairol products get an even worse rating starting at an 8 for “High Hazard.” YIKES. The fragrance in all of them is the worst offender! No wonder my skin was having fits! (See all of the brands of hair color and their toxicity ratings here).

Chemical hair dyes strip the hair shaft of all moisturize and chemically alter it to change the color. Henna coats the hair, like paint, and does not alter the structure of the hair. (Dark colors of chemical hair dye have also been linked to blood cancer – yikes!)

Henna Hair Dye Results - Before and After Gray Coverage

The grays become like natural highlights in my hair – the parts that are still brown and auburn get a little dark, and the grays turn to a brighter red.

All About that Henna

When I first looked into henna hair dye, I found tutorials that said it took SIX hours to process and I was immediately scared off. Six hours? Who has that kind of time for something as silly as hair dye? Not me. So, I kept looking until I found other brands like The Henna Guys that only takes 1.5 to 3 hours to process, so I picked them! Plus, on their website, they have detailed information about how to apply it so I was no longer intimidated.

What Exactly is Henna?

If it comes from a trusted company, it is a pure powder ground from the henna plant that is a small, flowering shrub. The fragrant flowers are used for perfume, and the leaves are dried and then turned into a fine powder which is used as a dye for skin, hair, nails, fabrics, leather and more! This tradition dates back to the days of Ancient Egypt where it is said Cleopatra used it to adorn her body and it was used to paint the bodies of mummies. The tradition still continues today with henna tattoos, called Mehndi, in India, the Middle East and even Africa!

Henna Can Make Hair Healthier!

What I love best about using henna hair dye is how my scalp and hair feel afterwards. My hair is SO soft and it feels amazing! That’s because henna is a natural conditioner and has even been used to treat skin conditions. Henna restores the acid-alkaline balance of the scalp without affecting the natural balance of the hair, covers the hair shaft and builds a protective layer that safeguards it from damage. Regular use keeps your hair healthy, strong and moisturized – I have definitely found this to be true!

How To Apply It

Pick Your Color

First, figure out which color you want to use. The Henna Guys have quite a few products to choose from – to get the auburn/red color that I use, I use Auburn.

Mix the Color

You’ll need rubber or latex gloves, a non-metallic bowl and brush (I like this set), wear an old shirt, and do it in the bathroom where you can wipe the dye off the countertop and floor in case it splatters. It will stain and dye carpet, rugs and clothing! I’ve found that it doesn’t stain my skin and washes off in one or two washes.

There are 2 Ways to Mix the Dye

I’ve always done it the easy way which is to mix the powder with warm water, stir, and apply right away. I get pretty decent gray coverage this way, about the same coverage I used to get with reddish chemical hair dyes, but not quite as good.

The second way is to mix the powder with water and a part acidic medium to release the dye even more. Apple cider vinegar, chamomile tea (or any other tea, but that one is the most popular), and lemon juice are recommended (but only a tablespoon or so of lemon juice as it can be drying to the hair). Then, leave it out overnight and cover it with plastic wrap so stays warm.

As you can see in the picture, it is literally like painting your hair with mud! Kinda fun.

Henna Hair Dye - It's Like Playing with Mud!

Apply the dye

Starting from the front to back, or from the grayest part of your hair to the darkest, start brushing the dye onto the roots first. I let it stay on my roots for 30 minutes, then apply it to the rest of my hair, but only if I’m changing the color or the color has faded. I find that it doesn’t really fade because I use sulfate-free shampoos. Shampoos with sulfates may strip the color. After all the roots are covered, apply to the rest of your hair if needed. If not, then just leave it on the roots! Brush it on just like you do the chemical hair dyes.

Henna Hair Dye Tutorial - How to Apply ItProcessing

Let it process for 1 to 3 hours – the more grey you have, the longer you should let it stay on. I have a lot of gray these days, so I let it stay on for 1.5 to 2 hours. Cover your scalp with a shower cap as the heat of your scalp will help to draw out the dye. I use henna on days when I know I’ll be home for several hours and am usually cleaning, cooking or doing other things that don’t require me to be presentable (like being a mom!). It does look grainy, like dirt, just like you see in the picture! Don’t worry, it’ll all wash out.


Wash It Out!

“I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair! I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair! I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair, and send him on his way!” You get a big huge smile from me if you know where that song is from! (Did you guess South Pacific? Yay! Are you a musical theater buff like me?)

Sorry, I got distracted! Where were we…yes, washing it out. So, I find it easiest to wash my hair out in the shower because it takes a good 10 minutes to get it out of my thick hair and it really hurts my back to lean over the sink that long. If your hair is short and fine, you might be just fine doing it over the sink, though!

The key here is to not use shampoo for the first 48 hours after applying. Just rinse and use conditioner to get all of the mud, I mean henna, out. I’ve also found my Apple Cider Vinegar conditioner to work well for this! It’s gonna take some scrubbing with your fingertips to get it all out of your scalp, so turn on some music and sing really loud to South Pacific, and scrub away!

More Tips

For the first few days after you color your hair, use an old towel to dry it so you don’t get the dye on a nice towel as it will bleed some. If you go to sleep with wet hair or put on clothing with wet hair, use that same old towel or wear an old shirt that you don’t mind if it gets a little stained. Again, that’s only for the first few days after coloring in my experience.

How Much Powder Will You Need?

Generally speaking, shoulder length hair needs about 100 grams of powder (3.5 ounces), bra strap length about 200-250 grams (7-8.5 ounces), hip length about 300-350 grams (10.5-12 ounces), and so on. I have super duper thick hair that is bra-strap length and I need 3.5 ounces do the roots and several inches past the roots, which I do each time I color so that the new growth blends in well with the old.


About Sara McFall

Sara is the owner and founder of My Merry Messy Life, which started in 2011 as a way to chronicle her journey to a natural, chemical-free lifestyle and to share her passions of mothering, real food, homeschooling and crochet. She is a mama to three precious and energetic little boys and wife to a university professor who loves to sing, dance ballet and ballroom, and live simply and naturally.


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