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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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… 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… 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 πŸ™‚

ABdS

Thanks! No problem doll πŸ™‚

Joy

I actually just bought some henna cream dye at Earth Fare before reading this article. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚

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… 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… 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… Read more »
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