Is Henna Worth It? The Pros and Cons

By Jarmelia of DIY Hair Care Blog 

Henna has some undeniable benefits for hair, which is why so many people use it and love it.

Some of these pros include:

1. Stronger Hair – The lawsone (dye) molecule penetrates the hair shaft, binding with the keratin in the hair. This makes hair stronger, but also is one of the qualities that makes henna removal near impossible. Henna also coats the hair and fills in rough spots on a frayed cuticle. This adds a second layer of strength, but it DOES NOT lock out moisture.

2. Smoother, Shinier Hair Henna, as stated above, does coat the hair, but it is a permeable coating that does not lock moisture out. The henna helps fill in rough spots on the cuticle. With the cuticle rough edges smoothed over, the hair feels smoother and the cuticle takes a lot less damage during combing and manipulation. It takes several days for Henna to stabilize. It becomes more flexible and durable as it oxidizes and cures–it is in fact a plant resin that is flexible and solvent enough to penetrate the hair at the cuticle, carrying pigment with it.

3. Non-Fading Red – Anyone that has used red chemicals dyes knows how badly they fade. Henna may fade a little after the first application, but after the second application fades very little.

4. The Absence of Chemicals – Chemical dyes are not only VERY damaging to hair, they can also cause scalp burns, allergic reactions, and recently studies have linked long term use to cancer. 

While there are benefits, there are also some drawbacks as well:

1. Application Process – Henna can be hard to apply evenly on your own, can be a huge mess, and is tiring on the arms and neck. It also has to be left on for a longer time than commercial chemical dyes (4-12 hours), so more time has to be slated for the process.

Henna for natural hair

2. Experimentation – To find your ideal mix, dye release time, application time, rinsing method, etc. all require some experimentation. It is not out-of-a-box color, and it may take some tweaking to find your ideal results. Your perfect color is never a guarantee.

3. Dry Hair – Some people report dry hair after using henna. It mimics a protein treatment and you MUST follow up with a moisturizing deep conditioner.

These may be pros for some, cons for others:

1. Loss/Reduction in Curl – Many users of henna report a loss of curl. This is by no means a universal effect, and should be neither discounted, nor counted on. It seems that wavies (s curls) are the most susceptible to this, though some curlies are as well.

2. Cannot Lighten Hair – Henna cannot lighten your hair, ever. On some colors of hair it may appear to brighten it, but you should count on any color you get with henna being darker than what is already on your head.

3. Darkening with Multiple Applications – Henna will darken with multiple applications. If one wants to keep a lighter color, only the roots should be touched up, and repeated whole-head applications will progressively make the color less orange and more burgundy.

4. Cost – Depending on your mix, how much hair you have and how often you henna, it may either be more or less expensive than chemical dyes. Though that doesn’t factor in one very important thing… the price your hair pays on chemical dyes. Many people find that they only need to do a full-length application one or two times, and the because henna doesn’t fade much, they can save a lot of cost by only redoing the roots.

5. The Smell – Some people love it, some people hate it, but the smell of henna lingers in your hair for awhile after the application, often reviving when your hair is wet. Some herbs, such as ginger, can be added to shift the smell of the mix, but nothing will eliminate it entirely. Most people feel it has a smell somewhat like grass or hay.

6. Variable Color – Henna can and does shift in color depending on the light the hennaed hair is placed in. The same head of hair can go from burgundy to firey copper, just depending on the light.

Where do other henna colors come from?

Go to any local health food store and you’ll see boxes and boxes of “natural” hair coloring products claiming to be 100% henna. Well, we know that henna only comes in red, so what gives with all the shades of brown and blonde and black? Many natural hair colors are a blend of henna, cassia, indigo, and other color enhancing herbs. Beware, though. Many “henna dyes” contain things other than herbs, that can SERIOUSLY damage your hair.

What is Neutral Henna (Cassia Obovata)?

Cassia Obovata is often referred to as “neutral henna.” It is not henna and it does not alter the color of hair greatly, though it may give more golden tones with repeated applications. It has similar conditioning benefits as henna, but they are not permanent, and they disappear without reapplication.

Are you interested in Henna? Have you ever used Henna? Did you like the results?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast.

54 thoughts on “Is Henna Worth It? The Pros and Cons

  1. i guess im one of the few people to like henna. i dont find it too time consuming i’ll mix it all at once and freeze whatever i dont use for the next time. it doesnt take me long to apply and its not messy for me. i put it in before i sleep. in the morning shower and rinse. my ends were dyed red using a box colour over time the color has faded to copper. but the henna has really brought life back to my ends and to the rest of my hair because my hair already have a natural red tint. i loooove it. you know what they say different strokes for different folks.

    • Here in South Africa we love to use Henna. I use black Henna al my life,but what I do I mix my Henna with olive oil or any oil and then I wet my hair and than apply the Henna to my hair. The black colour stay in longer.

  2. I’ve been using henna once per month for 2 of the 2.5 yrs I’ve been natural, and it is the BEST thing I’ve done for my hair. My hair is stronger, healthier, and thicker than ever, and I owe much of that to including henna in my regimen. I noticed a difference in my hair’s strength after my very first application.

    I started heanna’ing for conditioning properties, so I don’t mind not getting much of a color change. I only have a noticebale red tint in the light :)

    I make my mix with water, green tea, some conditioner, castor oil, olive oil, and 2 tblsp of amla powder, which I apply immediately and leave on for 8-9 hours. Before I settled on this mix and the right proportions, my hair would sometimes take 2 DC sessions to become normal again. But I’m an old pro now :) Sometimes, my hair feels like it doesn’t even need a DC afterwards!

    I think there are many faithful henna users out there, so if you’re looking for stronger hair, def give it a go.

  3. I also love henna and have barely any cons.

    I use Hesh from an Indian shop that costs about £1.50 for a 100g box and I buy a few at a time. I think I use about 50g? It is called Mehandi because it is meant to be used for the body, so it is Body Art Quality and fine enough for me.
    I mix with Amla since this a) stops my curls loosening and b) provides the ‘required’ acidity instead of lemon juice or acv, both of which dry my hair out. I;ve never tried without something acidy so I can’t say if this *really* helps the dye release.
    I also add Brahmi and or Bhringraj/Maka for an extra Ayurvedic treat. I use only a couple tablespoons of each so the boxes (90p-£1.75) last me a year.
    For the mixing liquid, I always brew a tea made of hibiscus leaves (and sometimes Rooibos) a) for the extra red (reds if using rooibos too) and b) because hibiscus is conditioning and adds slip. Sometimes I add burdock root pieces to the brew too for slip.
    I ALWAYS add honey/agave nectar for moisture and usually add some cheapy conditioner (moisture + slip).
    I always make enough for 2 or 3 applications and freeze the leftovers in clean takeaway tubs. I make these extra really thick so I can add hot water to them after defrosting before application. It’d be too cold for my head otherwise!
    CON ALERT – I must remember to bring the henna out of the freezer if I want to use it the next day, however, if I do forget (once) I can just whip up a frest batch.
    I ALWAYS wear the henna overnight or all day (so 12 hours minimum) and wash it off in the morning/night.
    Because of this, plus the defrosting time, I do not need to let the henna sit for dye release, it releases on my head/while defrosting.
    I always make my mixture thick (but spreadable) to prevent drippies.
    I always wear gloves and an old t-shirt, plus use a dark old towel. I have never stained/dripped on anything other than these items.
    I ALWAYS apply the henna to fully detangled hair. I also stretch the hair if I am organised enough (i.e. 24hrs+ in large braids or banded).
    I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS apply coconut oil to my hair before the henna. Always!
    I always fully cover my hair with a plastic cap or bag. It MUST be fully covered because if it dries into a crust, well… have fun washing it off! The plastic wrap keeps the paste moist.

    • CON ALERT – I know it takes a dedicated 5-10 minutes of pure rinsing to get most of the henna off my hair. This wastes water and annoys relatives/flat mates.
      I then co-wash with a conditioner from the £1-shop a couple times. I could probably skip this and the excessive rinsing because of the coconut oil (‘always!’ lol), but why test it?
      I deep condition all day (if I washed the henna out in the morning) or all night (if I washed the henna out before bed) and baggy with the DC.
      My DC must never contain any protein.
      CON ALERT – I must wash my hair loose, which I usually don’t do now my hair is beyond TWA, so this can cause tangles, however 10 hours DCing usually melts tangles away. And detangling beforehand helps.

      Mixing and freezing the henna takes an extra 10 minutes, applying takes 10 minutes maybe, that rinsing and double co-wash takes ~6 minutes longer, so really all it takes is an extra half an hour? Even with my disorganisation. My hair is kinky and DENSE, but it still rinses out ok. My hair is very dark brown so I only have the smallest hint of colour in light. But the colour is lovely. It makes my hair indestructable for a good month after though (I guess until the roots come in?) and I have no idea how since shedding comes from the scalp, but shedding is greatly reduced. The strands feel smooth. CON ALERT – it makes my already coarse sections too coarse, but makes my fine sections perfect. Somehow the smoothness and thickness combine to reduce SSKs too; it’s the only time I can wear a wash and go with no issues! The smoothness/thickness/coarseness is the *shortest*-lasting feature though and goes after 10-14 days/2 washes maybe? I do the henna ~every 3 months. Everything I use is sitting in my home or I buy it once a year – 2+ years (burdock and hibiscus).

      Henna? Yes please and thank you!

  4. I used Henna for 2 months in July – August of this year. I made 8 applications to my hair. I found that it didn’t change my hair colour (which is what I wanted), my hair texture changed – loss of curl and my hair was noticeably drier, even though I deep conditioned often.

    I don’t like it and I am not sure when if I would do another treatment!!

    Actually I googled an Aphogee alternative and I found ( I did one treatment so far and I’ll use it to see if it strengthens my hair!!

  5. Do any of you ladies have experience with using the pre-mixed henna from LUSH? I’ve applied henna before with mixed results (mostly good, my hair just HATES neutral henna), and I’m looking for a quicker, less messy application method. I just want to know if it’s worth it before I drop that kind of money on a hair product.

  6. @Dananana I have used LUSH’s Caca Noir and found it to a an easy henna treatment. PRO: You just add water – and I also add two tablespoons of honey as well) – the indigo (which I buy to get black) is already added. Gives the few grey strands I have good coverage. It comes in a block of six cubes which gives you 2-3 applications depending on the length of your hair so I found it to be good value for money. It has shea butter mixed in so not too drying though I still DC afterwards. The CON: It is far grainier than henna in its powdered form so requires a lot more rinsing.
    I like it for my hair and would recommend it but ultimately your hair will tell you by how it feels & whether or it is right for you and your hair type.

    • Thanks for your reply! I just tried out the LUSH henna last night…and I loved it! It was wayyy easier to mix than packaged henna powder, though I did use a cheese grater to change the block into a powder (pshh, double-boiler–ain’t nobody got time fo’ that!).

      Also, unlike any of the other henna brands I tried, I didn’t need to DC 62581251481 times to keep my hair from turning into straw. I just DC’d once for 45 minutes with L’oreal’s Intensive Smoothing Conditioner (the slip made it great for post-henna detangling), and presto-changeo, my hair was super soft, no roughness or breakage at all.

      I did find that it was super grainy, but every experience I’ve had with henna involved some graininess–this brand was no worse than the others I’ve tried.

      TL;DR, I’d give it an 8.5 out of 10: pricey, but well worth it for the multiple applications and lack of “the straw effect”.

  7. I want to achieve a black colour (1b) and cover grey. How do I do this? I tried henna once on a relative and it simply would not cover the grey.

  8. @Nina, I use henna and indigo for darker, black tones. The 2-step process works for me. No conditioner is added to the henna as the henna may not bind as well and that is what the indigo needs to really bind and color the hair. I apply the henna let it sit for 4-8 hours, rinse then apply the indigo. I add 1-2 tsp of salt for every 100g of indigo and it helps with stubborn greys. I rinse it out then DC and I’m good to go. Some people lie to do a 1-step process and get a deep brown color. I’m trying to go full black, and I haven’t had a problem coloring my grey hair.

    • @Amber

      Why salt though? I’m thinking about henning,but I just keep reading articles about it,not sure yet. I do have greys also, but stubborn greys need salt to coat the strands.So there is a possibility that if I henna with Indigo that my greys will remain w/o salt?! That is weird,and this is the first time I have heard of this.

      • @Uli,
        Salt enhances the color uptake and retention when you use indigo alone on freshly “henna’d” hair. If you are doing a one-step process and mixing the indigo with (pre-mixed) henna, then the salt is not needed. The first time I used indigo, I used very little salt and the color didn’t hold well for very long, especially on my gray hair (turned deep burgandy color). The second time around, I used more salt and it held after rinsing and deep conditioning. The salt really did help with the gray hair.
        Indigo molecules are larger than the lawsone molecules in henna. Indigo needs the henna to dye the hair. My whole process starts with freshly washed hair as I avoid shampoo for at least a week to give the henna and indigo a chance to set and oxidize. I hope that helps!

  9. I’ve been toying with the idea of applying a henna treatment but I’m deathly afraid of losing my curl definition! My hair is textbook 4a curlies with a splash of 3c at the crown–any pointers?

    • My daughter is a 3C w/3B in front, so we don’t want her curl pattern loosened there especially, but she loves the conditioning effect of henna – to combat it, I actually do a henna+conditioner application in the front with full henna going to the rest. It’s weird – I know, but since we’re roots only now (I did whole head probs 4x when we started), it’s easier. By overlapping (new growth for her is about 1/2″ monthly, so each time we roots-only apply henna, we do 1.5-2″ to ensure older new growth gets hit multiple times before they outgrow the application area), we ensure new growth gets at least 3 henna trmts on average. Her hair is eczema free now, strong, thick, lush, and beautifully burgundy-hue-ish when the sun hits her off-black hair!

  10. Is anyone worried about potential health hazards from henna? My husband googled it and found out that even though henna has been used for centuries in India and other places, there are elements of henna that are considered toxic and even carcinogenic. Apparently the longterm use of henna in many parts of the world has led to henna beeing allowed in the US and Europe, decpite its toxic content. I am no expert, so can’t say more about this, but it definitely made me think twice berore using henna on my daughters hair.

  11. I have been using Henna for the past year and it does a good job creating bold burgundy that shows mostly in the light, however I have a good amount of grey so the died grey strands pop, creating a nice affect. It makes my hair stronger, and I need this benefit because my hair is having lots of breakage. I will continue to trim every 6-8 weeks and henna every 6-8 weeks as a colorant and as a conditioning, protien treatment. I mix with vinegar, olive oil, lots of Aussie Moist and green tea in place of water. I have become good at applying it without making a mess, but my household complains about the smell. For me its worth it, because I would not dare put color on my hair unless it was in top notch condition. I have a few years to get to that point. Its been two years and now I know how to deal with my beautiful hair, but in the beginning I was lost!

  12. I am Caucasian, and just started using henna on my 62+ old long brown hair. I happen to love it! The first time I used it, I used just a regular henna, with no specific color indicated. It turned my gray hairs “reddish”, which looked a bit odd to me. Since I have never dyed my hair, the red was a bit too pronounced for me.

    The second time I did it, about a week later, I used a different brand, that was supposed to be dark brown. It certainly was, and it turned my dark brown hair almost black, but it toned down the brassy red that showed up on my gray hairs. They look more “burgundy” now. That treatment only took about 30 minutes, which was great!

    What I love about henna, is:
    – the smell – it smells to me like grass, after it has been mowed
    – the SHINE it gives my hair
    – the results!

    I never expected to do anything to change the color of my hair, but did not like all of the gray hairs that kept cropping up, and the fact that my hair seemed to have lost its shine. Henna has changed all of that.

    It IS a little messy, but the cleanup is fast, and I am pleased with the results.

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