My Henna Experience

Hello, my name is Erica, and I wanted to share my henna hair dyeing experience with the world!  I really want to spread the word and educate people on their misconceptions of henna.  I believe that this is an awesome, safe alternative to the horrendous chemical hair dyes that too many people use, and not enough know of the dangers of the chemicals that they’re putting on their heads!  I wanted a nautral alternative for coloring my hair red, so I did some research on the possibilities, and I came across henna.

Lawsone "hennotannic acid"

Lawsone aka “hennotannic acid”

A little bit about henna
This is Lawsone, the molecule responsible for the signature red color that you see on the “henna body art” tattoos.  Most people don’t know that the lawsone also has a strong attraction to keratin (hair protein)!

The lawsone molecule binds to the keratin, and stains the hair shaft red. This blog beat me to it to research how henna reacts with keratin..

Henna is permanent in your hair, and makes for a lower maintenance, damage-free alternative to coloring your hair red! Henna also has many benefits, including thickening the hair strand, strengthening and conditioning the hair, and promoting a healthier scalp.  Henna also gets rid of dandruff, and is good for getting rid of lice and ringworm as well.  Interesting, right?

More about Quinones

Lawsone is a quinone, which are conjugated dicarbonyl compounds. This simply means that there are alternating double bonds throughout the molecule, and there are two carbonyl groups (the =O groups).  Quinones are colored; in this case, Lawsone is a red-orange color.  Derivatives of quinones are common constituents of biologically relevant molecules. Some serve as electron acceptors in electron transport chains, and others are involved in blood coagulation, bone formation, and other processes.  Many natural and artificial coloring substances (dyes and pigments) are quinone derivatives.

Henna vs “Compound Henna”

The source of where you order or buy your henna is REALLY important for the outcome of your hair. Natural food stores and ethnic groceries do have henna (or “henna”, I’ll explain), but do not rely on these stores for henna.

First, the freshness of the henna is questionable.  Henna shouldn’t be more than about a year old, if that.  The store employees will not know or care to find out how long their henna has been on their shelves for.  Order your henna from a reputable source.  I’ll post some good sites at the end for more information and reputable vendors.

Another thing, which is very important, is that the purity of the henna is questionable.  Most boxed hennas are not pure henna.  One thing to be aware of is that in the countries that process the henna, they do not have the same standards that are required of American companies when it comes to declaration of ingredients.  Some “hennas” either don’t have henna in them, or contain very little henna. Here are a couple of examples:

Noorani 'henna'supreme-henna-blackEagle's Brown 'Henna'

There are no such plants as “blonde henna”, “brown henna”, or “black henna”.  Sometimes, cassia obavata is referred to as “blonde henna”, but think of cassia as cassia, which can be mixed with henna and indigo.  “Black henna” can possibly mean Indigo, but think of Indigo as a separate thing.  Anything other than 100% genuine Lawsona inermis powders are commonly referred to as “compound hennas”.

Quoted from (NOTE: The owner of is doing her doctorate research on Lawsone aka henna, which qualifies her as being a competent, reliable source of information regarding henna and its misconceptions)

Chemicals, metallic salts or other plants must be added to henna to make any color other than red.

Metallic salts alter and fix a dye stain. Many “henna colors” are created with metallic salts.  The most frequently used material is lead acetate, though silver nitrate, copper, nickel, cobalt, bismuth and iron salts have also been used.

Dyes with lead acetate gradually deposit a mixture of lead sulfide and lead oxide on the hair shaft. 

When you hear that henna has “metal”, “lead”, or “coats the hair” and “leaves it brittle”, that refers to a compound henna dye, full of these metallic salts. 

Hair bleach, permanent hair color, and permanent wave solution are a disastrous combination with compound (metallic salt) henna dyes. These can result in green, purple, or totally fried hair. 

Pure henna turns your hair one color: red.  Be careful of the brands that try to convince you that they are safe and “all-natural”.  Some dangerous ingredients in hair dyes include ammonia and para-phenylenediamine, or PPD.  PPD is an extremely dangerous chemical!  Para-phenylenediamine also goes by other names:  p-toluenediamine,  p-Phenylenediamine, paraphenylenediamine, 4-phenylenediamine, phenylenediamine.  I paraphrased this information, retrieved from I placed the link at the end of my post.

Preparation of henna for use

Lawsone is unique because of its structure.  It’s an extremely unstable negatively charged structure due to the presence of 2 carboxyl groups (C=O) and one acid group (OH).  Therefore, in order to “preserve” the lawsone molecule,  a warm acidic mixture is required in order to make the henna dye your hair properly. Do not add boiling liquids; this is unnecessary and will weaken the henna dye.

Good liquids: Lemon Juice (fresh lemon juice or Realemon will work), orange juice, grape fruit juice,strong herbal tea, or warm water can be okay. Lemon juice might make your hair dry; the herbal tea is the most popular, drying-free option.

Some okay liquids: vinegar or coffee. Vinegar can be pretty stinky, although it won’t damage your hair.  Coffee isn’t recommended, because caffeine can be transferred transdermally (through the skin), and can irritate the skin.

Not recommended: liquids that are too thick or not acidic at all.  One example I can think of is coconut milk, which may prevent the henna from releasing the dye (not enough water/acid content).

Other things you can add to improve henna experience:

Oils..! Some of the best oils to include in your mix are Coconut oil, olive oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, and flax seed oil. I would recommend only adding a limited amount of oil into the mixture.  Some claim that oils will prevent the henna from penetrating the hair shaft.  I cannot verify this statement, however oils like coconut oil have a pretty high acid content, which shouldn’t prevent the lawsone from penetrating the hair shaft.

Powders: Amla, sugars and Aloe are some that I can think of right now.  Aloe is really good for moisturizing the hair! Also, henna tends to relax the curl in your hair.  You can use Amla as a separate treatment to restore curl back to your hair, or use with the henna.  Amla will tone down the red in the henna though! You can also add things such as dextrose or even sugar to smooth the consistency of the henna mixture.

NOTE: If you use Amla in your henna mix, don’t add anything other than water; amla is already acidic, therefore it isn’t necessary, and you’ll make the mixture excessively acidic.

My Henna Recipe (and supplies)

For the type of henna, I used Red Raj from  It has a high yield lawsone content (my Feb 2013 crop had 3.32%), which is great for gray coverage.  I was just looking for the reddest stuff possible 😛 I used sleepytime chamomile herbal tea for the liquid, and louana coconut oil to smooth the mixture. I used 300 grams of henna because of the length/thickness of my hair.

Here is a good guideline for how much to use on your hair (
How much you will need depends on your hair length, and thickness. This will give you a generally idea of how much you’ll need for 1 application:

Above ear length: 50-75 grams
Shoulder length: 100-125 grams
Bra strap length or mid-back: 150-175 grams
Lower back (above hips): 200 to 225 grams
Hip/Waist length: 250 to 300 grams

300 grams Body Art Quality Henna
3 1/2 cups water
10 tea bags chamomile herbal tea
1/4 cup coconut oil
Stainless steel or glass bowl
Mixing tool


My tea brew… It’s very dark/strong!

I put the water in a pot, and brought it to a boil.  Then I added the tea bags to the water. I used 2½ cups of water, but I changed the recipe to improve the consistency.  3 ½ may be the golden number here, but we’ll see next time I do my hair (or another brave soul’s).

The reason why I chose to do 10 tea bags was to ensure that the tea was significantly strong.   Chamomile tea is very conditioning for the hair, and well… Might as well give my hair the whole treatment package! I let the tea steep and cool down for about 15 minutes.

Then I put the henna powder in a mixing bowl.  I wanted something that could be held onto, should the need come when applying the henna to my hair. In hindsight, the white plastic was a terrible idea; it only served to stain the white a slight orange color -.- the henna should mix to a “stirred yogurt” consistency (not the case with my particular mixture; I actually made it too thick, and I added the last half cup of water and the coconut oil in right before I got ready to put the henna in my hair… it was still a little thick.)  The recipe has been changed accordingly.. just mix it to the right consistency 😛 make some extra tea or have extra liquid ready.

NOTE: When henna is ready to be used, it will be less green/more brown at the top of the batch than the bottom. If you used something acidic like lemon juice, your dye won’t release as quickly. The henna won’t turn brown like mine did, so you will have to do this henna test. Place a small amount on the back of your hand for a couple of minutes, and then wipe it off. If your hand has a bright orange stain on it, your henna is ready.

Here is what the henna looks like at various stages:

Henna Powder, Dry

Henna Powder, Dry

Henna mix, not ready

Henna mix, not ready

Henna mix, ready

Henna mix, ready

This is the Henna that I used

This is the Henna I used

The red raj from hennasooq has a very fast dye release. The box indicated to wait 3-4 hours for dye release, but it was releasing dye almost right away!  It was turning brown as I was mixing the henna.  Fresh henna will release dye very quickly; older henna will require a longer time frame for dye release.

I then asked my boyfriend to help me put this stuff in my hair.  It was very thick; my head felt very heavy after all was said and done.  The proper technique of application is to generously apply the henna onto the roots (slathering on the scalp is encouraged to maximize coverage… it’s good for your scalp), and then work the henna through to the tips.  Sectioning is highly recommended to reduce the amount of work required to evenly and thoroughly distribute the henna.  Sectioning will also reduce the risk of missing hair.

Here are the pictures of my hair

Before: A darkish blonde base color was what I started with.  I bleached it a couple of times with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide.

Love my closed-eyes pictures...!

I Love my closed-eyes pictures…!

Up close and.. serious!

Up close and.. serious!

Ferocious scrunchy face

Ferocious scrunchy face

Stupid laughing face :P

Stupid laughing face 😛












During: The application process took 30 minutes, because my boyfriend did it wrong. He tried to just slather it all over my hair after he did one section properly. So lazy! 🙂 so I had to go through and mush it onto my scalp… that’s why I got it all over my hands! I left the henna in my hair for about 4 hours. That’s a good amount of time… some people leave it in overnight! I was too impatient though, and the henna smelled like hay. Not my favorite smell, but some people do enjoy it! Pictures wise, there’s not much here, my boyfriend was too busy putting henna in my hair to get any good pictures of the application of the henna.  Sorry D: maybe when I do a follow up with my root touch-up will I get better ones!

Scrunch face, "caught red-handed"! Uh-oh... lol

Scrunch face, “caught red-handed”!

Look how the henna holds my hair in place

Look how the henna locks my hair in place

Um, cleanup on aisle 8.. looks like smeared poop!

The henna looks like smeared poop!

What I got off of my face and neck..

What I got off of my face and neck..

After: The henna rinsed out of my hair pretty easily.  The red was apparent even when my hair was wet.  That meant that there was A LOT of red in my hair!  As I suspected, my hair turned out to be SUPER red after I styled it, and it feels great! Red Raj means business..! My hair is slightly orange on the lighter parts, but it will oxidize and tone over the next few days. I’ll post pics if any significant changes occur.  I’ll also take more pictures, specifically in the sun, to show off the shine that henna gives!

Closed eyes trademark again... So awesome! :)

Closed eyes trademark again… So awesome! 🙂

After 2

Me fiddling with my hair, being weird

Me looking like a nerd, can't take pics with a phone very well

Can’t take pictures with a phone by myself!

Look at the shine my hair has... and how red it is :D

Look at the shine my hair has… and oh so red!












External Sources:
Here you can read about the dangers of PPD, a dangerous chemical used in almost all chemical permanent hair dyes:

Here you can read about “compound hennas” and the misconceptions that people have about henna… including hair stylists!

Here you can find a lot of cool information about Henna

Reputable vendors of Body Art Quality Henna
Rajasthani henna

Jamila, Red Raj, Yemeni henna

Harvest Moon henna

If you would like to list more things that can be added to henna, comment about my hair or anything you’d like to say about henna in general, please feel free to do so!