DIY: Make Your Own (red) Haircolor at Home with Toxin-Free, All Natural Henna



Attention wannabe redheads–or even those of you who are dying to add a reddish or auburn sheen to your beautiful dark locks–this post is for you.

For about 15 years, I was miserably tied down to the cycle of coloring my hair, month after month, year after year, hair coloring after hair coloring. If there’s a shade of hair out there, I’ve probably had it–including the less fortunate tones of green/grey that I would often flaunt after a particularly bad color job. Pink, purple, blue, black, brunette, redhead, platinum blonde, natural blonde, triple toned hair… you name it, I’ve done it. Some looked good, others looked bad, all were toxic-chemical based.

About 9 months ago, I decided I wasn’t going to color my hair anymore. Big changes! And, for the first time in a very long time, I began to really see my natural hair color–all 7 glorious inches of it (the ends were dyed to match the natural roots just before I started hennaing). I even discovered a million grey hairs that I did not know I had. Neat. But, as much as I loved the new shine and feel of my “real” hair, I found my natural hair color pretty bland. Along with my pasty skin, I was beginning to feel like a big bowl of unadorned oatmeal.

I started craving color again… as I do.

But, I was definitely done with chemical coloring, and I wasn’t wanting the blonde look that I can achieve with some lemon juice and sunshine…

Then I remembered henna! Ah, yes; the perfect solution to brilliant, natural, long lasting color, with zero toxic chemicals. The color hangs on for about 1 to 3 months, so it’s a permanent hue, but without damage. In my experience it fades subtely, so by the time you need a re-up, much of your natural hair color will be shining through again. I’ve colored my hair 3 times now with henna, and each time it gets silkier and stronger, and the color a touch more red and defined.


This is me with henna colored hair, 3 applications to date. My last henna application was a week ago; oxidization has occurred and this is the color it will remain for a month or so, or until I henna it again.

Henna is a tropical flowering plant that’s been used since ancient times for coloring skin, hair, fingernails, silk, leather, and more.  The leaves are dried and ground into a fine powder, which is then mixed with an acidic substance (lemon juice/amla powder/vinegar) and water and then left in a container for 6  to 24 hours. Over this period of time, the dye of the plant (called lawsone) then “releases” and is able to bind with the proteins in hair, skin, etc. The dried henna powder, when mixed with water, smells similar to hay or even freshly raked leaves.

Many of you may be familiar with henna as temporary “tattoos”, but people have also used it to add strength, thickness, and a hint of color to their locks for eons. Henna colored hair was the fashion in 19th century Europe ( think Pre-Raphaelite –so many Redheads!) and Lucille Ball made “henna rinse” all the rage in the 60’s with her signature red locks. The term “henna” is often misused to reference “black henna” (which could mean indigo) and “neutral henna” (cassia), which are not derived from the henna plant.

Henna can be mixed with other natural hair dyes such as cassia (also known as senna)  for lighter shades of red and blond, or indigo for brown, auburn, or black hair. Many dried bricks of henna haircolor, including some of the henna hair color sold by LUSH include these other natural dyes, which is why they are available in different colors. If you are interested in dying your hair a different color than red, such as brown, auburn or black, it can be done with plants. It often involves henna (+ other herbs such as Indigo, etc.), but I don’t have any experience coloring hair with any natural dyes other than henna. Here’s a great forum for your perusal, if you’re interested in learning more.

The impostor henna haircolor that you want to avoid is any that contain metal salts or toxic-chemical ingredients. Metal salts can interact with chemical hair dye, relaxers, or perms.

Avoid anything labeled as black henna, unless it specifies that the ingredients are 100% indigo. Henna and “black henna”  in general have gotten a bad rap because of a chemical called PPD   that is often sold as haircolor/body art dye and marketed as a black or blue henna. If you use a “black henna mix” that contains PPD, or any other mysterious chemicals, you are risking your health, and your hair. Stick to 100% herbs that are proven safe for hair.  If it has rosemary, cloves, chamomile, indigo, senna, you are probably good to go. If it contains anything that even sounds remotely like para-phenylenediamine, run away. Fast. 

Henna is perfectly safe and all natural and can generally be used without any issues at all. The one exception is if you suffer from Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency— an X-linked recessive hereditary disease–don’t use henna. And, to play it safe, don’t use on children under 12 years old, since it may not be known whether or not the child has this deficiency.

When first opened from the package your henna powder should be a greenish powder and smell lightly like hay or leaves. If it does not resemble the photo below, it is not henna.

henna hair color from DIY henna manifest vegan-2

Henna will tint your hair a variation of red. Or, rather the leaves contain lawsone–a dye molecule that is masked by the chlorophyl in the henna plant, which is released by adding an acid to the pulverized/ground leaves. Lawsone binds to the protein in your hair shaft to create a redder version of your natural hair color.

Here’s a great diagram to explain it.

Henna doesn’t darken your hair, but if you have blonde or grey hair, it will give it more contrast. Think of it like a burnt sienna tinted stain. If you apply henna onto very dark hair, the color will be subtle and will work with your natural hair color to add shine, thickness and a beautiful burgundy hue to your hair when seen in direct sunlight. If you have bright white hair, your hair will turn a brilliant strawberry blonde. What I love most is how natural the color looks. I’ve received many compliments on my hair from people just randomly crossing my path (this never, ever, ever, used to happen), and strangers are most shocked when I tell them that it’s colored. They all, at first, think I’m naturally blessed with shiny red/auburn locks. Even my husband agrees it’s the most natural looking color [he has seen] that I’ve had–aside from my own, of course.

Your final color of hennaed hair depends on the original color of your hair, the texture of your hair, the quality of the henna used, how long you leave the henna paste on your head, whether the dye was properly released, etc..

Below is a very generic color guide, and a much more thorough version, with real human examples, is available here.

White: Bright Strawberry Blonde

Grey: Very Light Red/Golden

Salt and Pepper: Medium-light Reddish Brown

Black: Deep Dark Burgundy when viewed in sunlight; otherwise, little color change

Very Dark Brown: Burgundy highlights when viewed in sunlight, otherwise little color change

Dark Brown: Burgundy, reddish in sunlight

Medium Brown: Auburn with Deep Burgundy hues

Light Brown: Natural Medium to light Red

Dark Blonde: Natural Medium to Light Red

Natural Blonde: Light Red

Platinum or Golden Blonde: Bright Strawberry Blonde

Dark Red: Enhances color and shine

Medium Red: Enhances color and shine

Light Red: Deepens color, adds shine

Strawberry Blonde: Deepens color, Natural Red

Some things to keep in mind:

1) The henna I use and recommend is not from a box labeled “natural hair color”, “organic hair dye” or anything similar. The contents of your package should read : 100% henna powder (sometimes they put the country of origin), and that’s it. Nothing more. You can purchase body art quality henna at most Indian markets, or online at various retailers. Amazon carries this brand which is excellent quality in my experience. Jamila, which is pictured above is also good quality. Check the date; fresh is best.

LUSH cosmetics also carries a line of  henna + other herb based hair colors, Their caca rouge (red) is henna mixed with lemon juice and cacao butter …and some other things. There’s another brand that has drawings of wild animals on the box that contains even less ingredients, just a mix of henna and indigo in most cases.

2) You can, despite what many stylists warn, use henna over chemically colored hair, and vice versa. I did. My hair looks a ton better than it did pre-henna. I’ve also known many people who have colored over hennaed hair–and while they note that it was difficult to completely remove the red, their hair did not fall out. Much of the scaremongering comes from those so called “henna” haircolor blends or pre-made pastes that contain toxic substances (PPD!! metal salts!!) that will, in fact, ruin your hair. Don’t use that stuff, before or after you color your hair with anything. Ever. It’s expensive and it will probably turn your hair green and if you try and color over it, it may melt off. So, fair warning. Remember, unless you are buying from LUSH or another manufacturer that only uses 100% botanical ingredients, just stick to body art henna + whatever other herbs you find necessary. I add a little amla powder in with my henna paste in place of lemon juice (see below) simply because lemon is drying and my hair is already hella damaged.

3) You must wait for the dye to release before beginning, and then once it has begun, you must keep it on your head for, like, 6 hours. Seriously. This is a time commitment, people. But the tradeoff is zero chemicals and radiant color.

4) Henna, when first washed from hair will seem quite red, maybe TOO red for your taste, even. Give it time. It can take up to 3 days for henna to oxidize, which will tone down the color and make it less orange. Mine always starts out a brilliant natural red color, and then oxidizes to a tamer auburn color after about 4 days.


natural hair color versus henna hair color. note the damaged condition of the “before” hair.

Okay, so here’s how you do it!

Step 1: The night before you plan to henna, mix up your henna powder with enough water to make a fluffy paste. 100g is how much henna I needed to use to fully cover my hair, which is slightly longer than shoulder length. Stir in 1/4 cup lemon juice, vinegar, or another acidic liquid (skip the lemon if using amla powder, which is gentler on damaged hair). Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 6 to 12 hours, or until the dye releases. You can test the dye release by simply placing a dab of it on your palm. Wait 5 minutes and then rinse. If the spot turns orange, then the henna’s dye has released and you are good to go.

If you want to see how the color will look on your hair before committing, simply snip a lock from an inconspicuous area of your hairline and color it with the henna and wrap in plastic wrap. Wait 4 hours, rinse, and dry. The rest of the henna will be fine to set while you test the color.

Step 2: Prepare a work area and gather your materials. You will need:

  • amla powder (optional, but is said to tone the red down a bit, and be gentler on damaged hair. If you use amla, no lemon juice is needed in the initial henna paste)
  • an old tee-shirt you don’t mind lounging in for 6+ hours
  • coconut oil
  • rubber gloves
  • a dropcloth/or several sheets of newspaper
  • a few rags you don’t mind dying red
  • your prepared henna paste
  • plastic wrap
  • 6 good solid hours to color your hair (movie marathon!!)
  • a very good deep conditioner, lots and lots of it

Step 3: Put on your old tee-shirt.

Step 4: If you are using the amla powder, mix it with just enough water to form a paste, and then stir it into your henna paste.

Step 5: Prep your hairline and ears by covering them with a thin coat of coconut oil to protect your skin from unintentional dying. It’s pretty easy to wipe off and doesn’t stain to bad if you accidentally get some on you, but better to just prevent it.

Step 6: Put on your gloves and make sure your floor underneath (and other spaces around you) are protected from any accidental spills. If any occur, wipe them up quickly with a dampened rag.

Step 7: Slather the henna paste onto your hair, starting from the roots and working outward. This stuff is not like regular haircolor. It is more like mud. It will be difficult to get it covered completely, but try your best until it’s all covered, and massage it in there very well. Feel free to add a touch of water to your hair if it’s feeling too dry. You have to keep the henna powder wet for the entire 6 hours (the plastic wrap will help immensely), so be sure to start with a wet paste.

Step 8: Wrap your head completely with plastic wrap.

henna process from DIY henna manifest vegan

Step 9: Sit around like this for 6 hours. Pamper yourself. Embrace it. Have some chocolate and/or wine and read a good book.

Step 10 Rinse your hair! It will be tough to get it all out, but using a conditioner to rinse it out and then deep conditioning once the henna has been thoroughly rinsed out will help tremendously. It takes a while to get it all out, so I’d recommend wearing gloves. Don’t worry, the henna won’t stain your tub.

Step 11: Wait for it to oxidize, which takes about 3 to 4 days, and enjoy your new red locks! Repeat as often as you need with new root growth. Your hair will smell like henna for a day or so after coloring, so be prepared for that as well.

Step 12: Flaunt your hot new red tresses and watch heads turn. Specifically your own when you pass by a mirror. Whoa! Who’s that smokin’ red head?

Oh, it’s you.

Happy Hennaing!

Read more about henna here: The Henna Page

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34 Responses to DIY: Make Your Own (red) Haircolor at Home with Toxin-Free, All Natural Henna

  1. Jen says:

    I have bought my henna, it’s chilling in the freezer until this coming weekend :D
    But I have a question…
    When you talk about reapplying every month or so, it’s to cover the roots, right? And brighten the fade?
    Many people talk abou how their hair gets richer and richer with each application, have you noticed a saturation threshold, where the hair stops getting more intense? And do your roots show up as lighter than the rest of your hair?
    It’s the roots that are worrying me lol

    • allyson says:

      Hey Jen!

      Yes, the reapply is to cover the roots. My hair does get a touch more color on it when I color from roots to tips, but I almost feel like the fade of the henna over that period of time almost balances it out. For what it’s worth, I first get the color nice and even on my roots, and then coat the rest of my hair with what’s left of the henna. Oftentimes I even thin it out with a bit extra water.

      Overall, my hair is richer than the first two or three applications of henna… but yea, I think I’ve hit my threshold. It doesn’t seem to be getting any redder, or darker for that matter–just “fresher” after each application… and shiny! The refresh really does a number on my hair’s shine for two good weeks after I color.

      With my hair… the roots match exactly to the newer growth close to the roots–it’s actually darker than my tips since they were platinum at one time. All in all, I’d say it’s a very natural progression in color. :)

      Best of luck!! <3

      • Jen says:

        I wanted to do an update to you. Thank you Thank you for doing this tutorial. I LOVE my hair, it’s been since August that my hair has been the most beautiful shade of red and you gave me the confidence to do it. I honestly thought, by now I’d be getting tired of it, but my hair is crazy healthy and strong! I’m still excited about it, and I get crazy compliments from real redheads.

  2. casacaudill says:

    I’ve used the LUSH caca rouge henna three times now. The first time I had amazing results. The second time I wasn’t thrilled with it but decided to give it another shot. This time – two weeks ago – there was absolutely no difference. I am going to order some of the powder you recommend and give it a shot because I do not want to go back to chemical dyes. A hairdresser destroyed my hair back in March.

  3. MG says:

    Your tutorial is so fascinating and informative. Good thing you warned G6PD people not to use it. I have that deficiency and i was wondering since couple of years ago why i had terrible reaction with henna.. Now i know :) ive been dreaming of shifting from chemical hair colorants to natural ones, but id better be safe. Happy coloring! :)

  4. rk says:

    Very in-depth informative article. We used to use henna as kids to make designs on our hands etc. It’s been used to cool off the body in summer heat for generations in India! Although I have always wanted to try using henna on my black hair, I am petrified that it might turn orange at some point :) Oh, my family members with black hair and other non-colored with anything else use henna along with tea dye to strengthen the color.

  5. […] Well, actually I went to Target, but the next day I dyed my hair! I did it with henna (I followed Manifest Vegan’s DIY post) and, while it took absolutely-freaking-ever, I couldn’t be happier! All natural, chemical […]

  6. I just did this yesterday and I couldn’t be happier with the results!!! So much cheaper and better for my hair than when I dyed my hair “Ariel red”, its so beautiful!!! Thank you for posting this, I am a henna convert!

    • allyson says:

      Hi Lacey! So excited to hear this! It is “Ariel’ red on me too especially in the sun–I am in love with the color. So natural–I’m really glad you found a good alternative. :D

      <3 allyson

  7. Mandy says:

    I wold love to try this, but wanted to know if it would work when using the no-poo shampoo method… I use baking soda to wash my hair and apple coder vinegar/water to condition/rinse. Works great for me, been using for over a year.

    • allyson says:

      Hey Mandy,

      I do no-poo the same exact way quite often (about twice a week) and I haven’t noticed any weird color changes or anything. I think you should be a-okay. :)

      <3 allyson

  8. Rana Sammy says:

    I enjoyed reading this! Thanks so much, it answered all of my questions! yaaaaaaaaaaaay :D

  9. Jess G says:

    The amount of fading must vary from head to head (and perhaps from henna to henna?), because I used to henna my hair and there was no fading at all while I had “regular” hair. The color stayed true and darkened and intensified over time as I dyed over it to cover the roots. I ended up quitting reapplying when I dreadlocked my hair and the henna color finally began to fade slowly from repeated abuse and serious deep cleaning washes, but three years later when I cut them off you could still see the henna color in the ends. I did always mix with 100% lemon juice (no water) so perhaps that contributed.

    I guess I want it to be emphasized that this can be a pretty permanent decision – it can’t be bleached out either, so if you don’t like it the options are basically to dye darker over it or cut it off.

    I do love it though! It’s funny that I ran across this post now, as I have been considering going back to it and your photos might have just solidified my decision to go for it.

    • allyson says:

      Yea, it is way more permanent than temporary haircolor… but from my experience, much less so than traditional red hair color. I had a horrible time with that type of red color, not to mention it faded within days for me every single time. And I kept doing it to myself!

      I bet your hair looked gorgeous with dreads and henna! Currently, mine is definitely darker at the roots (and picks up a tiny bit more color each time I do it, but the ends of my hair were superdamaged and platinum blonde before I put the “natural” colored hair color on pre-henna–so I think that has a lot to do with it too. I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone using straight lemon juice.. that’s interesting.

      I love hearing everyone’s henna experiences! I feel like I run into a ton of people who henna that I always assumed had naturally red hair… pretty neat. :)

  10. Taira says:

    I’ve been using henna for over a year now to dye my hair. I quit using conventional dyes because of the chemicals. Anyone that is thinking of trying it should go for it. You can get chemical free henna dye in a variety of colors. The color stays on as long as the temporary color I used to use, I really don’t notice it fading. I just know I need to dye it when I see new hair growth, usually in about 6 weeks.

  11. Holy cow, what a great post! Thank you so much for this… I too have that lovely natural shade of hair described by many as “dishwater blonde” and have been dyeing it since I was 16. But I do wince every time I slather those chemicals on my head. I can’t wait to go the natural route with henna. (You look gorgeous, by the way!)

  12. Rose says:

    I love this tutorial so much! I, too, have had every hair color under the sun and while I’m really feeling my (unnatural) blonde right now, I do worry about the chemicals… plus it’s so gosh darn expensive! I wish there was a DIY henna-like bleach (a platinum shrub? IDK?!) for me. But I think henna will be my next step!

    (P.S. longtime reader, first time commenter… I love everything you post! Thank you!)

  13. Kelly says:

    Fantastically informative post! Thank you so much! You encouraged me to finally go ahead and try it for myself. I’ve been meaning to do it for years, because my hair has been suffering and I think it’s partially to do with the constant chemical dyeing.

    I did my daughter first (she had blue foils that needed to be gone before school started) and have a few questions! Firstly, it was REALLY messy, and the consistancy was like sand. It was really hard to get it all into her hair and the more I rubbed, the more it clumped into little balls and fell out. Is that normal?

    Secondly, it darkened her blue layers, but didn’t get rid of them. Is that just because I didn’t have enough? We were running low by the end of it, and I wasn’t sure how thick it should be?

    Would love to know your thoughts! :)

    Kelly x

  14. urbanvegan says:

    You look fab as a redhead, my phellow Philly phriend. Gorg!

  15. […] DIY henna hair color on the Manifest Vegan blog. When you look at the before and after photos of the blogger Allyson, it’s amazing that not only does her henna-dyed hair look vibrant and beautiful, it’s actually healthier looking than her natural hair. Imagine that. A hair dye that leaves your hair less damaged when you’re done the process! […]

  16. Trina says:

    I’m gonna do it! I’m pretty sure. I think. I’ve been mulling it over for a few years. I even have samples of every color Lush offers somewhere in my bathroom. I’m sure they’re expired. But what I wanted to tell you is I so, so appreciate you writing about the henna powder, and your experience, and the detailed directions. You’re a hair color enabler. I may soon be looking much less bleh. Thank you.

  17. NZ Vegan says:

    Amazing! I’ve always wanted to try henna! With fading over time, would it ever eventually go back to the original colour? After several months or so?

    • allyson says:

      Hi there!
      It does fade over time, but I think some color remains in there regardless–although it’s a much more natural bit of color than say color that would remain from storebought boxed dyes.
      After a month or so, the color gets a little less vibrant (much more natural) so I like to re-up for the roots and the extra pop of color. Unfortunately, I’m still digging the red, so I have no personal experience with letting it fade out. Perhaps this forum could help? http://forums.hennapage.com/forum/2

  18. Betty Bake says:

    thank you for a VERY informative post :)

    loved it and Im going to try out the black version of henna :)
    thanks again!!!

    Betty Bake

    • Jen says:

      Don’t use black henna! It’s not 100% natural henna and can be very dangerous. It can cause permanent damage when used on skin. I wouldn’t touch it. Also, I add pomogranite juice to my henna to make it more red than orange.

  19. vegantester says:

    okay, i’ve been teetering on the edge of henna-dyeing for a few months now, and i think you’ve just pushed me firmly in the direction of actually doing it!

    the thing that was really putting me off was the idea that once you start it, you can’t stop – everything i’d read suggested that it wouldn’t fade out and i’d have to deal with awful roots AND not be able to chemical-color over top if i ever wanted to. but it sounds like those aren’t really issues at all!

    i have naturally mousy-colored hair, so i’ve dyed it on and off for 15 years, but permanents leave terrible roots (my hair grows fast) and semi-permanents fade out so quickly.

  20. Lauren (PB&G) says:

    Wow! I LOVE that you color your hair with henna. It’s such a beautiful shade! I miss my redhead days of dyeing. I’ve taken to just “dip dyeing” a black section in my bangs but I feel so blah about the rest of my hair. I think I may have to try this; even the friend who cuts my hair chastises me..

    Thank you SO much for sharing! Very informative post and awesome results!

  21. Kathleen says:

    I like the sound of this despite the mess but has anyone used it to cover gray? Mine is pretty much all white from the looks of my roots and I’ve heard that can be very hard to color.

    • allyson says:

      yes, the mess is intimidating; especially at first. but, it gets easier to manage after a couple of tries. you’ll get your rhythm and figure out how to apply it to your head without applying it to the walls. :)

      I have a good deal of grey at my roots, and the color there is my favorite–very rich and vibrant. Here are some examples of people’s hair after henna: http://www.hennaforhair.com/mixes/index.html

  22. Caitlin says:

    i love that last picture of you! i wonder if i should try this out. i’ve always wanted to be a red head.. ;)

  23. Love this! I dye my hair with henna, but use the bars from Lush. Just need to get the courage to use the powder alone. I adore the color I get and how great my hair feels after.