Henna for Hair – the healthy hair-colouring solution

What is Henna for hair?

Pure henna is a green powder that originates from the leaves of the henna plant.  The active ingredient responsible for the characteristic red-orange colour, is Lawsone.  If you want to dye your hair a different colour, you must mix henna with other ingredients.

A Word of Warning

If you see products marketed as henna, which dye your hair colours other than red-orange, then they contain additional ingredients to achieve the desired result.  Many of these additives are nasty chemicals that are far from good for your hair.  Or, more importantly, for you.  Metal salts, such as lead, silver, and iron are but a few of the additives found in impure henna.  They react with the ammonia in chemical hair dyes, and damage chemically treated hair.  In some cases, the combination can actually turn your hair green!

PPD (para-phenylenediamine) is often added to create a darker colour, and may be described (erroneously) as “black henna”.  Regular exposure to PPD can result in chemical sensitivity, dermatitis, or far worse.[1. United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Health and Environmental Effects Profile for Phenylenediamines – http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/phenylen.html.]


  • Henna is great for your hair.
  • You can use it as often as you wish.
  • Much cheaper than going to a salon.
  • Creates natural highlights.
  • No nasty chemicals.
  • It’s safe to use on chemically treated hair.
  • Can be mixed with other herbs to produce different colours.
  • Produces a vibrant colour that doesn’t fade.


  • It’s messy.
  • Time consuming.
  • If it’s not pure henna, it could fry chemically-dyed hair – or turn it green!
  • Henna won’t lighten hair.
  • Over time, henna can straighten wavy or curly hair.
  • Henna has a distinctive smell.

My Story

When I started using henna, I had very little grey hair, and was able to get great results with the stuff sold in the bulk bins at my local Indian grocery store.  I loved my deep red curly locks.  Over time, however, I began to notice that an unattractive orange colour was appearing at my roots at the front of my hair.  I made the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water, and turned to boxed henna instead.  This gave me much better, uniform coverage, and I had a choice of colours – great, right?  Wrong!  I was unwittingly drenching my hair in nasty chemicals, which had the opposite effect to the pure stuff I had been using.  My locks became dry and dull.  What’s more, I was becoming frustrated with tearing open numerous sachets to make up the amount of dye required to colour almost waist-length hair.

That’s when I turned to Kali Mehendi – which I thought was fabulous.  One little sachet, mixed with a little water, created a convenient shampoo that did a great job in as little as ten minutes.  Unfortunately, this brand only came in black – but what the heck – it was so convenient, right?  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  For starters, the tingling I was experiencing on my scalp, was due to the high concentrations of PPD the Kali Mehendi contained.  Moreover, it was destroying my hair.  My curly tresses were becoming so damaged, that my trademark curls were straightening out and becoming limp and lifeless.  What I also didn’t realise at the time, was that once you go black, there really is no way back.  Chemical dyes are out, because the metallic salts added to the compound henna react with the ammonia, and fry your hair.  Henna can’t lighten dark hair, and there’s no darker than black, so you’re basically stuck with it.  The only option is to grow it out, or opt for a major hair cut.

Below are some of the boxed brands that I have used (and will not be using again):

Boxed henna - not pure henna

In an attempt to get around the problem, I carried out a great deal of research.  That’s when I came across Surya Henna Cream which, it claimed was:

“Guaranteed to Cover Gray and White Hair on the First Application”

and was:

“formulated with a botanical complex of 15 herbs and fruits from India and Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.”

I liked the fact that it came as a pre-mixed cream.  The bottle was equipped with a convenient applicator nozzle, and it took only thirty minutes for the colour to develop.  Unfortunately, the reality was that it didn’t cover the grey – despite claiming to do so.  Worse, it contained a number of far from natural, nourishing ingredients, including:

dipropylene glycol methyl ether, cetearyl alcohol, cetrimonium chloride, benzyl alcohol (and)dehydroacetic acid, aminomethyl propanol, sodium citrate, HC blue 2, HC yellow 4, disperse black 9, disperse violet 1.

It was then that I discovered the truth about henna – namely that pure henna comes in only one form –  a green powder that dyes hair an orange-red colour.  There is no such thing as “black” or “brown” henna – or any other colour for that matter.  The only natural way to achieve these shades, is by the addition of other herbs.  Adding indigo creates a darker result.  A little indigo creates a gorgeous deep red colour, as in the photo below.  A lot, turns your hair raven black – and there are many shades in between (more on this in my next article).

Henna for Hair

Another revelation, was the fact that there is an enormous variation in the purity of “pure” henna.  In all likelihood, the bulk bin stuff I was using contained impurities, and was stale.  Hence the traffic-cone orange effect on my grey.  Only pure, fresh henna gives that beautiful deep red hue – especially on grey roots.  Had I known this at the time, I would have switched to a brand that guaranteed purity and freshness.  My hair would still be in great condition and I wouldn’t be stuck growing out dry, damaged, black hair.  I’m now applying pure henna mixed with indigo (in equal measures) to my roots.  The result?  A silver lining in the form of the gradual transformation from dull black, to glossy red-brown lustrous locks.

What’s your story?

If you have used henna, and have an experience to share, I’d love to hear from you.

Where to from here?

In my next article, I’ll be looking at the techniques you can use to get the most out of your henna.

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