By Nicole of HairLiberty.org

Hen­na is a plant that grows in the hot, dry cli­mates of the East­ern hemi­sphere. For decades, wom­en from North Africa, India, and the Mid­dle East have used hen­na to stain their hair, skin, and nails. The red hen­na dye is con­tained with­in the leaves of the plant. After the plant is har­vest­ed, the leaves are dried, ground, and sift­ed into a flour-like pow­der. In the last few years, hen­na has become a pop­u­lar treat­ment option for African Amer­i­can wom­en seek­ing more nat­u­ral reme­dies for their hair. Check out the most fre­quent­ly asked ques­tions.

Is hen­na safer than com­mer­cial hair dye?

Yes, but it’s very impor­tant that you only use 100% pure hen­na. Low-qual­i­ty hen­na mix­tures may con­tain addi­tives like PPD to make the dye stain stronger and dark­er. Dye addi­tives may cause aller­gy prob­lems or react with chem­i­cals that have been pre­vi­ous­ly applied to your hair. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the FDA has approved hen­na for use as a hair dye, but does not reg­u­late its safe­ty. So, the sell­er of the hen­na is the only one who real­ly knows the qual­i­ty of what you’re pur­chas­ing. Mehandi.com and LUSH Cos­met­ics are two sup­pli­ers known for high qual­i­ty.

Hen­na is gen­tler on your hair than per­ma­nent hair col­or because it only deposits dye on to the sur­face, not inside the cor­tex. The effects from hen­na are most sim­i­lar to semi-per­ma­nent hair col­or. Both are safe enough for frag­ile African Amer­i­can hair.

Can I get the same col­or results using hen­na as with com­mer­cial hair dye?

May­be. Pure hen­na pow­der can only pro­duce a red to orange-red col­or. Dif­fer­ent crops (depend­ing on loca­tion) pro­duce dif­fer­ent lev­els of red, rang­ing from auburn to cher­ry. If you see hen­na adver­tised as pro­duc­ing black or brown shades that means the hen­na has been mixed with some oth­er sub­stance. For exam­ple, hen­na is com­mon­ly mixed with cocoa pow­der to pro­duce red­dish brown.

Since hen­na is a deposit­ing dye, it can­not light­en your hair…only bleach can do that. If your nat­u­ral hair col­or is dark black, hen­na may not show up at all or it may pro­duce a red shim­mer.

If your nat­u­ral hair col­or is dark brown or lighter (includ­ing grey), you are like­ly to see a col­or change after your first hen­na appli­ca­tion. The col­or should be sub­tle, but it will increase in inten­si­ty after every treat­ment.

If your hair is bleached or relaxed, your hair is more porous. Extreme­ly porous hair absorbs chem­i­cals more eas­i­ly and the hen­na may absorb into the hair cor­tex instead of just coat­ing the out­er shaft. The col­or may still be sub­tle, but def­i­nite­ly notice­able in direct light.

*Hen­na is a very inex­act method of col­or­ing your hair. If you real­ly want a sub­stan­tial change in hair col­or, you’re bet­ter off vis­it­ing a licensed cos­me­tol­o­gist.*

Will hen­na loosen nat­u­ral African Amer­i­can coils?

Some­times. A quick Inter­net search pro­duces thou­sands of results on the sub­ject. The only thing we know for sure is that everybody’s expe­ri­ence is dif­fer­ent. If you want to loosen your nat­u­ral coils, you can exper­i­ment with hen­na. Any effect will hap­pen grad­u­al­ly. Most wom­en who report looser curls say that it took 3 or more treat­ments to see any dif­fer­ence. How­ev­er, if you tru­ly wish to trans­form Type 4 coils to looser curls, a chem­i­cal treat­ment (applied by a licensed cos­me­tol­o­gist) will deliv­er more sig­nif­i­cant and uni­form results.

How do I get the most out of my hen­na treat­ment?

First, pur­chase your hen­na from a rep­utable sup­pli­er (see above). To get the most val­ue for your mon­ey, choose pure hen­na with high dye con­tent. Typ­i­cal­ly, 100 grams of pure hen­na only con­tains 2 or 3 grams of dye. The rest is just ground up hen­na leaves. So, for the most effec­tive treat­ments, you def­i­nite­ly want the high­est dye con­tent avail­able. Ask your sup­pli­er which hen­na they rec­om­mend to cov­er greys because that usu­al­ly means max­i­mum dye con­tent.

When work­ing with pure hen­na, the liq­uid that you use to help the dye release can impact the treat­ment results. An acidic liq­uid will help the dye release faster. Aloe vera juice is a great choice because its pH is low enough to smooth your hair’s cuti­cles with­out mak­ing your strands stiff or dry. Always con­di­tion your hair after a hen­na treat­ment, even if it already feels soft.

Hen­na treat­ments have been done by North African and Indi­an wom­en for decades with lit­tle to no instruc­tion. Unless you’re real­ly hop­ing to achieve curl loos­en­ing or a col­or change, feel free to exper­i­ment by adding Ayurvedic herbs to your mix (sup­pli­er web­sites usu­al­ly offer plen­ty of recipes). When attempt­ing to change your curl pat­tern or hair col­or, keep it sim­ple and just add an acidic liq­uid. A batch of high dye con­tent hen­na can quick­ly become low dye con­tent if you add too many oils and herbs to the mix.

The biggest advan­tage with hen­na is that you can do it your­self. Your hen­na sup­pli­er will give you all the instruc­tions you need for a suc­cess­ful treat­ment. Whether your hair is nat­u­ral or relaxed, a prop­er­ly applied hen­na can add shine and soft­ness to your hair. You can’t count on any oth­er ben­e­fits, but feel free to try it a few times and see what you get!

Great piece! Ladies, what are your thoughts? Have you used hen­na sim­ply for its dye­ing prop­er­ties? Do you prefer it over com­mer­cial dye?
For more inter­est­ing hair arti­cles check out HairLiberty.org.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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41 Comments on "Henna vs Commercial Dye"

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Dorism57

hen­na turns my gray, grown out red col­or almost a hon­ey blonde. I like it

Martha

When col­or with Hele­na could I perm my hair or would that straight­en out too.

Clark

I used to be sug­gest­ed this web site by my cous­in. I’m now not cer­tain whether or not this put up is writ­ten by him as no one else recog­nise such dis­tinct about my prob­lem. You’re incred­i­ble! Thank you!

Isaura Gildow

Oxi­diz­ing agents are usu­al­ly hydro­gen per­ox­ide, and the alka­line envi­ron­ment is usu­al­ly pro­vid­ed by ammo­nia. The com­bi­na­tion of hydro­gen per­ox­ide and the pri­ma­ry inter­me­di­ate caus­es the nat­u­ral hair to be light­ened, pro­vid­ing a “blank can­vas” for the dye. Ammo­nia opens the hair shaft pores so that the dye can actu­al­ly bond with the hair and speeds up the reac­tion of the dye with the hair..’

Take a peek at our inter­net page as well
http://prettygoddess.com/

Michelle

Almost two years ago, I used to hen­na my hair when I first did the BC and became nat­u­ral. I soon got bored with it and missed hav­ing my wild col­ors, so I dye my unhenna’ed hair now. I nev­er had a prob­lem with col­or break­ing off my hair, but I am vig­i­lant about tak­ing care of it. Per­son­al­ly, I love the ver­sa­til­i­ty of hair­col­or­ing with per­ma­nents, but if your hair isn’t up for it, I would advise again­st it and go with the hen­na instead.

irene

I have been try­ing to grow my hair for over 2 years so far from a shaved mohawk style to nor­mal­ly long hair and it has only reached the top of my shoul­ders right now, which means it grows extremel­ly slow­ly. I have the impres­sion that com­mer­cial hair dyes slow down this pro­ces­sion even more and sice 2 months I use hen­na instead. It doesn’t actu­al­ly helps my hair grow faster but keep­ing it healthy means less time to reach a back lenght.

imani
I have been debat­ing about try­ing hen­na bc my semi-perm hair dyes dont bind to my greys very long. Ive been told my hair is so dark and has low-poros­i­ty so thats why even the per­ma­nents bare­ly col­or my greys! I stopped using per­ma­nent bc I learned they con­tain ammo­nia & per­ox­ide to achieve the per­ma­nent col­or bind­ing. I decid­ed any­thing that pen­trates my cor­tex to work isnt hair healthy. Some­one said I could STRIP my hair to make it more porous to col­or but thats a HELL NO! Im not break­ing down my hair for a col­or! Then I… Read more »
tracy

I start­ed get­ting grey hair ear­ly and found that reg­u­lar dye did­nt last long on it. So I did try hen­na and it works great not only did it turn my grey hairs red it did­nt fade or wash out. So yes hen­na will cov­er grey hair very well infact since I start­ed using hen­na in Decem­ber I havent seen any more grey. Make sure you use body art qual­i­ty it gives more col­or. Hope this helps

Dorie

Hel­lo, I was won­der­ing if I could quote a por­tion of your site for a paper on cho­les­terol. Please Email me con­firm­ing this so I can use your site as a source. Thanks

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[…] Mom­Ja­maica Blog Awards today, Good luck to everyone!Blog Announce­ment & Good Luck for Exams!!!Henna vs Com­mer­cial DyeY­our Ques­tions About Show­er Stall Base­sH­en­na Based Hair Col­orsCan I bleach hen­na out of my hair? […]

anastasia
4x I have used hen­na, first few times I was on the fence, by the third time @ I was hooked!! I have most­ly 4a-z (cuz the­se strands get crazy y’all-no sys­tem seems to fit my strands) with some 3’s thrown in. There was some curl loos­en­ing (for the obvi­ous 3 type strands), but the major­i­ty of my hair does not “curl”-It’s more like Cipriana’s hair(she’s high­light­ed as a style icon), but not as long or as thick-yet, so I would say my hair was smoother, shinier, and dare I say big­ger! My hair breaks much much less-It seems to… Read more »
anastasia

Duh, could have just said my hair is sim­i­lar to the mod­el pic­tured! LOL =) Peace and bless­ings!

zaksmama
I’ve used hen­na on and off for years, and would rather go gray than switch to syn­thet­ic dyes. My curls are slight­ly loos­ened, and when I use con­di­tion­er after I hen­na, my hair has a soft­ness and sheen that it nev­er has with any­thing else. There are times when the col­or wasn’t what I want­ed, but you do need to find the brand you can trust (I love Ancient Sun­rise), a recipe that works for you (black tea + ACV for me), and you’ll get good results more often than not. Some­times, it will be because it was good hen­na.… Read more »
cygnet
I have used hen­na strict­ly for dye since 2007. Althouogh I love red hair and have thor­ough­ly enjoyed the col­or effects on my hair, I miss my lighter col­or. From now on, I will do a cas­sia treat­ment and only add a very small amount of hen­na just to impart a hint of col­or to the roots with­out dark­en­ing the rest of my length. Because my hair is nat­u­ral­ly light, I could use cas­sia by itself to get that hint of col­or, but it would be yel­low and I’m going for more of a straw­ber­ry blond/light red col­or. Even­tu­al­ly, I… Read more »
Shelli

Ooops! Meant to attach a pic­ture! Real­ize though, you can see the red in my avatar pic!
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ABdS

NICE!!!

Shelli

Thank you ABdS!!! I love your col­or too!!!

Shelli

I use hen­na for both the con­di­tion­ing and dye­ing prop­er­ties and love it! How­ev­er, I’m a fine curly and hen­na loos­ened my curls a lot, so I now only do my roots a few times to get the red col­or I want and the max­i­mum con­di­tion­ing. I then gloss the length of my hair with left over hen­na, but most­ly con­di­tion­er. I have a lot of grey and hen­na turns it a fire red that I love. I have this red streak thing going on and I can’t wait until it’s the full length of my hair.

miranda

This has been help­ful as I’m inter­est­ed in try­ing to add some col­or to my hair for the fall. My prob­lem is is that I have locs and am gen­er­al­ly afraid to dye my hair with hen­na or com­mer­cial dye. I have had them for over a year now and they’re locked pret­ty well. I’m just wor­ried about the risks. Any tips?

aiych
I’ve used Jami­la 4x and Resh­ma hen­na 2x over the past 3 years. I did have a pret­ty good Jami­la treat­ment on my first time, it made my hair notice­ably stronger and the red was very notice­able. I use the same ingre­di­ents each time but have var­ied the dye release time and the meth­ods I used to get the dye to release (freez­ing, heat­ing, etc). The Resh­ma hen­na was meh. I might try Jami­la a few more times.  I noticed that when I left the hen­na in the fridge for about 24 hours my col­or turned out the best. When I… Read more »
ABdS
This is the col­or I get when I hen­na over pre-light­ened to light­est brown (using tex­tures and tones hon­ey blonde) hair. My nat­u­ral col­or is dark­est brown.  When I used chem­i­cal reds, semi or per­ma­nent, they always and all fade no mat­ter the brand. Gar­nier has come out with an intense reds line for dark hair that may be worth try­ing. Though I’ll be stick­ing to my hen­na since I don’t want a dou­ble chem­i­cal col­or process on my hair. Can we say bald in six months or less? lol I’ll try to attach a cou­ple of pics. 1st is my short… Read more »
aiych

Wow, I love that red, it’s gor­geous! I have con­sid­ered doing hen­na over light­ened hair but hadn’t seen pic­tures of it on nat­u­ral hair until now. Very pret­ty.

Thanks a bunch for the respon­se :)

ABdS

Thanks! No prob­lem doll :)

Joy

I actu­al­ly just bought some hen­na cream dye at Earth Fare before read­ing this arti­cle. :) It’s prob­a­bly not 100% pure hen­na, but hope­ful­ly it’ll work. My hair is super short so mis­takes are easy to get rid of. I got my hair pro­fes­sion­al­ly dyed a mon­th or so ago with reg­u­lar hair dye and it got kind of uncom­fort­able; noth­ing like a relax­er burn, but I don’t even want to be remind­ed of those days, lol. Hope­ful­ly this hen­na is a suc­cess.

ABdS

I use it for its dying prop­er­ties and mix it with yogurt, cin­na­mon green tea or aloe vera juice. 

Red hair is glo­ri­ous to me so to achieve a longer last­ing true cop­per-red I hen­na over my pre-light­ened (Tex­tures & Tones box blonde) hair. It takes all day but my red lasts from col­or to col­or with very minial fad­ing. LOVIN IT!!!

Rose

I have had nat­u­ral hair my whole life and used to use Hen­na when i was younger to turn my hair from brown( its nat­u­ral col­or) to red or auburn. I love the con­di­tion­ing effects of hen­na.. I haven’t used it in a long time but i think I will go pick some up. Thanks for the infor­ma­tive arti­cle it brought back good hair mem­o­ries with hen­na. :)

Kia

I’ve used Hen­na about 3–4 times, and it has nev­er made my hair red­dish-brown. I hon­est­ly saw no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence, only that my hair felt a lit­tle thick­er after­ward, but noth­ing worth the time it takes to do the treat­ment. The red­dish-brown was the col­or I was try­ing to achieve, but I think my hair is just too dark. I would love to get my hair dyed, but I’m ner­vous about the dry­ing chem­i­cals from com­mer­cial dyes. :0(
Gonna do some research to see if there’s a more mois­tur­iz­ing line!

T.
I use Lush hen­na blocks (Caca Rouge) to colour, main­ly to cov­er up my greys. It turns them a nice cop­pery colour, kind of like high­lights and it gives the rest of my hair a rich mahogany tone. I prefer it over com­mer­cial dyes because it’s sub­tler; it kind of enhances my nat­u­ral hair colour with red­dish tones, rather than replac­ing it, if that makes sense. It’s also a fan­tas­tic con­di­tion­ing treat­ment for me. My hair is usu­al­ly coarse and bushy; the hen­na makes the strands feel so smooth, and gives it a fan­tas­tic glossi­ness. What I like about the Lush… Read more »
mangomadness

I only use hen­na for it’s dying prop­er­ties. I’ve used Dul­han Hen­na (http://www.amazon.com/Dulhan-Henna-Powder-100gms/dp/B003ZW7HDS/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1312912588&sr=8–3) twice or thrice with good results. It gave my black hair a nice red­dish-brown cast that shows up in the sun­light. I also feel like it “thick­ened” my strands a bit which is nice for some of the fin­er strands on my head. I like hen­na and will (prob­a­bly) con­tin­ue to use it the future.

I would nev­er use a com­mer­cial dye–I don’t wan­na change my hair col­or dras­ti­cal­ly and I’m scared of “chem­i­cals” (and the dam­age they can do).

Anon

I know this may deter those that hate any­thing affil­i­at­ed with sub-Saha­ran Africa, but it also pop­u­lar in some South­ern Africa, East Africa, and West African coun­tries.

Jade
I used a box hair col­or on my TWA to make it a medi­um brown.  I used hen­na about a year lat­er and it turned the ends red. I am not fond of red hair. That was about 3 months ago. My hair is brown on the ends again.  My ends are in poor con­di­tion, so I’m grad­u­al­ly cut­ting them off. I can’t tell if the box col­or, hen­na, or the age of my ends con­tribut­ed to the dry­ness and split­ting. I don’t like the chem­i­cals in box col­ors, so I won’t try that again, but I would try hen­na again, this… Read more »
sosoulful0125

I have only used com­mer­cial dyes, which I am actu­al­ly try­ing to grow out. I have read a lot about hen­na pros and cons. One thing I want­ed to know is if you have used com­mer­cial dyes in the past(bleached to achieve a brighter col­or) can you switch to hen­na. This is then only thing that has made me hold back on the hen­na expe­ri­ence, because I do not want a dis­as­ter.

Kay

I have used hen­na over bleached hair.…not at the same time. I used bleach to light­en my hair last year and this year I tried hen­na. I had seri­ous dry­ness and break­age after and I deep con­di­tioned fre­quent­ly. I real­ly can’t tell if it was the hen­na or just break­age from the bleach but I will not rec­om­mend it. Like some­one else sug­gest­ed may­be do a strand test or use the hen­na on a very small area of your hair and observe the results for may­be a mon­th before you use it on your entire hair.

Lisa

It was more like­ly from bleach­ing your hair then any­thing else.

Karlyne

It the Hen­na behaves like a Pro­tein treat­ment it may indeed be the Hen­na. I say strand test. I just put an Aveda hair dye in my hair sole­ly because of the info I read about the Hen­na ie:messy, many appli­ca­tions for it to appear, dry­ness etc

Ms. M
I for­got to men­tion that anoth­er rea­son I’m going back to box dye is the time and incon­sis­tan­cy with hen­na. You can mix hen­na up with the same recipe(I usu­al­ly used water or weak tea), let it sit for hours to wait for dye release, then put that smelly heavy crap on your head for anoth­er 4–8 hours and end up with dry, stinky hair that only has yellowish/orangeish tones than the red/burgundy you want­ed or expect­ed. Anoth­er time you could go through that end up with a dark­er col­or. Hen­na can vary from sea­son to sea­son and by man­u­fac­tur­er.… Read more »
AnAcquiredTaste
OMG! I should have read ur post BEFORE I Hen­na-d my hair. It took hours, was com­plet­ley Under & overwhelmed…13 hours lat­er I’m not impressed with the hen­na treat­ment, but at least I tried it *shrugs* :-| I have nev­er done it before so plz fac­tor tht into my expe­ri­ence, (*note tht its like NOTHING u nvr done before) unless u cake ur hair with a mud like mixtue on a regular((MESSY!)) There was pro­duct EV-ER-Y-WHERE. Repeat Err-where! ((SMELL?)) was a mix­ture of fresh cut grass, manure, and old greens… ((Process?)) Took entire­ly too long, and I dont see any… Read more »
cygnet

I’m sor­ry you had such an unpleas­ant expe­ri­ence with hen­na. How­ev­er, before going back to the box dye, do check to be sure it doesn’t con­tain PPD. If it does, it may inter­act with the hen­na that is in your hair and ruin your hair, leav­ing you with a worse mess than what you’ve described as already hav­ing.

Starla

Thanks for the com­pre­hen­sive feedback..appreciated.

Ms. M
I’ve been using hen­na for 3 years and am going back to hair dye. I used it for con­di­tion­ing and for dye(covering a few greys and to add shine). Con­di­tion­ing: My hair is ultra fine and I was euphoric the first time I used hen­na and could actu­al­ly see a sin­gle strand of hair again­st my dark col­ored shirt! It’s nor­mal­ly so fine that you can’t see it, but there it was. So it did thick­en up my fine strands but only a tiny bit. And even though the results are cumu­la­tive, they basi­cal­ly stopped after the 2nd or 3rd hen­na.… Read more »
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