If your hair is going gray, you may find yourself reaching for a chemical dye every month or so. If you’re someone who tries to eat organic, use natural body products, and avoid harmful chemicals, all of that chemical exposure can be hard to square. If you’re committed to covering up gray hair, but wish you had a gentle, natural solution, here it is: henna and indigo.
If you’re not already familiar, a mixture of henna and indigo hair dye may be a game-changer for you.
Some conventional dyes brand themselves as “organic” or “natural,” but they still contain harsh chemicals. With a henna-based dye, these color pigments occur naturally, and they can actually be good for your hair.
Keep reading to learn more about how to make this natural hair dye and see step-by-step instructions for using it yourself at home.
Why Dye Your Hair With Henna?
Some people develop allergies to the chemical additives in hair dyes and report rashes and lesions on the skin and scalp. Others are concerned over the potentially harmful health effects of these chemicals.1,2
The most questionable ingredients in chemical hair dyes are:
- Paraphenylenediamine (PPD)
In addition to containing harmful chemicals, conventional dyes can also damage hair. Most dyes work by penetrating through – and destroying – your hair’s outer cuticle. The result? For some, this is a damaging process that dries out and weakens hair.4
To avoid potential complications, many people opt to use natural, herbal dyes on their hair rather than risk it.
Natural Henna Hair Colors: What Are Pure Henna And Natural Indigo?
Henna and indigo are natural, herbal dyes that have been used by various cultures for thousands of years.
What Is Pure Henna And Is It Safe?
Pure henna dye is made from the dried leaves of a flowering shrub. The henna leaves are ground into a powder and mixed with water to form a paste. Many cultures use this paste to stain skin as a form of body art.5 You can also henna your hair.
If you’ve ever seen mehndi or a henna tattoo up close, you may have noticed that the color turns from dark brown to a reddish-auburn as it fades. That warm, red color is what you will get when you dye your hair with it.
It’s a beautiful shade if that’s what you’re going for, but if you’re not interested in trading your gray hair for red hair, there are other options. To achieve a wider range of colors, people often pair pure henna with indigo, which has cool, blue tones.
How Does It Work On Hair?
Henna leaves contain a tannic pigment called lawsone. When lawsone is activated by water and an acid, like lemon juice or tea, it binds with the hair’s cuticle and leaves a permanent color. Without an acid in the mix, the dye will only be temporary.6 If you leave the henna paste on for a long time and it fully saturates your hair’s keratin, the results can be dramatic.7
Is It Safe To Dye Hair With Henna?
Henna is a natural, plant-based product that is safe for your hair. The process of the lawsone binding with keratin is conditioning for the hair.8 Anecdotally, fans of henna dye have reported shinier, healthier hair that grows faster.9
What Is Natural Indigo And Is It Safe?
Indigo dye comes from the crushed, fermented leaves of an indigo plant (Indigofera tinctoria). It has been used for thousands of years to dye textiles ranging from traditional Japanese Shibori to modern American blue jeans.
How Does It Work On Hair?
Indigo’s hue is a bold, striking blue. Because of its dark, cool tone, it is often used to balance the warm, red tone of henna.
When hair is first dyed with orange-brown henna and then overdyed with indigo, it can result in a deep shade of black. The indigo powder penetrates the hair’s keratin, reacts with the acidic henna, and blackens the orange color.10
If you mix the indigo and henna before you apply them to your hair, you’ll get a shade of brown. You can experiment with different ratios to achieve a spectrum of colors ranging from strawberry brown or chestnut, to jet black.
Is It Safe To Dye Hair With Indigo?
Pure indigo powder is all natural and safe for your hair. It lacks the chemical additives, ammonia, and parabens that are in many conventional hair dyes.11
Things To Know Before You Start
The Dye Is Permanent
This henna indigo mix is a permanent dye. Like other permanent dyes, the color will be the most vibrant in the first 4-6 weeks, and then it will start to fade. The color may fade, but the henna and indigo mixture will remain chemically bonded to your hair until it grows out.
Because of that, going back to conventional hair color after you’ve used henna might give you mixed results.
Some hairstylists recommend waiting until all of your henna and indigo hair has grown out before you switch back and only touching up your roots with semi-permanent dye while you wait.12,13
The second thing to note before you start is that natural hair dyeing takes some time. Unlike conventional chemical dyes that can take less than an hour, this will be a process. Once you prepare the dye, it can take up to 12 hours before it is ready to use. Most online tutorials recommend you leave the dye on your hair for 2-4 hours.
This is a good project to do on the weekend, when you have time to lounge, relax, and let the dye set in your hair. Sound good? Okay let’s get started.
Ingredients To Make Organic Indigo And Henna Paste
Before you color your hair, your first step will be to gather your henna and indigo and other ingredients. If you’re at all worried, talk to a stylist before application.
Here’s What You’ll Need To Make The Dye
- Henna powder – Make sure you get high quality, pure henna for hair. Look for a Body Art Quality henna (aka BAQ henna).
- Organic indigo powder – You want pure, natural, indigo powder made from indigo leaves. Make sure there is no PPD or other chemical additives.
- Lukewarm water
- Yogurt, lemon juice, or tea – This is the acid you’ll use to activate the henna dye.
- Coconut oil, olive oil, or cocoa butter – This is an optional (but recommended,) mix-in that will help make the paste even more conditioning for your hair.
What You’ll Need To Prepare The Mask And Apply The Dye
- Glass, ceramic, or plastic bowl (do not use aluminum)
- Wooden spoon
- Plastic gloves to protect your hands
- A towel to protect your clothing
- Hair clips for sectioning your hair
- Dye brush (optional)
How To Make The Paste, Step-By-Step
- Take your bowl and pour in 200 grams of pure henna powder. If you have shoulder-length hair or shorter, you can use less. 100 grams may be enough.
- Add one tablespoon of yogurt, lemon juice, or tea. This step will help activate the color.
- Mix with your wooden spoon.
- Slowly pour in lukewarm water (make sure it isn’t cold), mixing it in as you add it. Keep adding water until you have formed a smooth, thick paste that has the consistency of pudding.
- At this step, you’ll cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it out overnight at room temperature for 8-12 hours.
The Next Day…
- Wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo. Towel dry your hair, but keep it damp.
- Uncover your bowl and stir in 200 grams of indigo powder. Mixing it all together, add a pinch of salt. The salt will help release the indigo dye. The indigo will start to lose potency quickly, so you want to work fast.
- Stir in a spoonful of coconut oil or another natural oil to make the paste even more moisturizing. You can also add in a few drops of essential oils to give a nice fragrance.14
- Apply to your hair right away. Here’s how:
Applying The Hair Mask, Step-By-Step
- Apply cream or petroleum jelly on your face around your hairline. Don’t skip this step or you may accidentally wind up with dye on your face.
- Wrap your shoulder with an old towel, or put on some old clothes. Put on rubber gloves. This could get messy.
- Divide your hair into different sections, and clip them up out of the way.
- Starting with your first section, apply the paste from the gray roots to the ends of your hair. You can use your gloved hands or a dye brush. Make sure the hair is completely covered with the mixture.
- Repeat all over, until your hair is totally covered. You want all of your gray hair submerged in the mixture.
- After you’ve covered it all, tie or clip your hair up and cover with a plastic shower cap or wrap your head with plastic. Covering it will make sure it doesn’t dry out, so don’t skip this step.
- Leave the henna and indigo paste on your hair for 2-4 hours.
- Rinse the paste out of your hair, using cool water and no shampoo or conditioner. Try to wait 2 days before you wash your hair.
That’s it! The color should cover gray hair for 4-6 weeks depending on the thickness and natural color of your hair.15
What’s The Proper Ratio Of Henna And Indigo For The Shade I Want?
The shade you get will depend on the hair color you are starting with and the ratio of henna and indigo powder. Your results will be much different if you start with white hair than they would be if you start with black hair. Keep in mind that these herbal hair colors will only add color, they will not make your hair lighter.
Here are general recommendations for the henna to indigo ratio:
Red: All henna, no indigo
Dark Brown: 1:216
Jet black: Henna first, then indigo in two stages
Caring For Your Dyed Hair
Henna and indigo are natural, but they can still dry hair out.
- Try a deep leave-in conditioner treatment once a week.
- Wash your hair with high quality, natural shampoo and conditioner to prevent fading.17
- Use warm, not hot water when washing your hair. Hot water can damage dyed hair.18
Helpful Tips And Tricks
Before coloring your hair with henna and indigo, always do a patch test to check for allergies. To achieve the desired shade, you may have to experiment a little. Simply wait a few days for the color to fully settle in and apply another mask.
If you want a cooler tone, mix in some amla powder when you prepare the dye. Amla powder can tone down henna hair colors by darkening the henna and preventing the indigo from fading.19
Once you find the perfect shade for you, coloring with henna and indigo will be worthwhile.
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