To Henna, or not to Henna? Natural Hair Coloring without the use of Chemicals

I have been coloring my hair pretty regularly since I was about 21, maybe a bit younger. I am 27 now. So that’s at least 6 years of chemically treating my hair. I really don’t need to color my hair, I don’t have any grays, and based off of other family members, I don’t think I will start to get any until I’m close to age 50. My dad really isn’t very gray at age 51, and I still don’t think my mom is at age 50. Crazy, right?

As a makeup artist, I have always had a love for the art that comes with hair color and makeup. For myself, I really have never done much to my hair besides darken it for a richer color. Highlights never seem to flatter me, and I would get bored with my natural medium-brown color, so darkening it was always my preference. The problem with color is that it is really hard to stop coloring your hair once you start. After a few weeks the color fades, and you are left with hair lighter than when you started. It’s really a trap, and best to be avoided for as long as possible.


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Brown Hair Before Henna

My hair before getting the Henna treatment. The last chemical color application I had was in October. My hair had faded a lot.

I always thought I would be that cool mom that let’s their daughter get their ears pierced as soon as they ask, color their hair if they want, wear makeup for fun, and polish their nails. But now that I’m a freak about health, I know I will NEVER let our child put chemicals on their head. Bill and I both have dark hair, and If we end up with a blonde child one day there will probably be a “what the…” moment from Bill (and probably me as well). I’m pretty sure when that day comes, we will be popping out a brown eyed “paleo mcnugget” (as Bill likes to say) with a giant “fro” of curly dark hair. In which case I will be hoping to have a good enough relationship with our child that they will respect my wishes to keep their natural hair color for as long as possible, and understand the health risks of using chemicals, without going behind my back and doing it anyway. Yes-these are the crazy things that keep me up at night…

Lush Caca Noir

This is the type of henna the women at Lush recommended I use – Caca Noir.

Anyway. I have been dying to get off of chemical color for my hair. I’m too young to be putting chemicals on my head for no reason other than to make my hair a little darker. It’s really just silly, and with all the good things I do for my body, hair color was the last of the chemicals for me to say goodbye to. We only use OraWellness, or Tom’s Flouride-Free toothpaste. I do the oil cleansing method for my skin as well as Green Pastures Beauty Balm, but lately I have really been enjoying the Primal Life Organics skin care! I don’t wear makeup often, and when I do it’s always Jane Iredale -my favorite mineral line that photographs beautifully! I currently use Dr. Ron’s moisturizing shampoo (Bill just uses Dr. Bronners). For styling my hair I typically use plain argan oil by Holistix. It smells amazing, and is just enough product for me to smooth out my curls with the blow dryer. When I wear my hair curly I will often use Kinky Curly from Whole Foods, but I will also still use Curl Cream by Aquage (conventional, but it doesn’t touch my roots, so I don’t worry too much).

Mixed Henna Caca Noir

The henna is combined with boiling water, and melts into a paste. Each tub represents 1 block from the package, which contains 6 blocks. They used 4 total on my hair.

As you can see our skin and hair products have really changed with our lifestyle. I cannot wear any perfumes anymore, they literally make me ill from the smell, so I usually just use straight coconut oil on my body when I feel dry. Your skin is your largest organ (and a permeable one, at that!), so think twice before going in for a spray tan, wearing perfume, or perfumed lotion on your skin. That stuff all absorbs into your body and bloodstream just as if you would have eaten it.

Henna Hair Application

At Lush, they will apply the henna for free. Application is straight forward, but can be messy!

Henna Hair Close Up

A close up look at the henna, during the application. I felt like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man.


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I have been battling with the thought of henna for months now. I really wanted to get off of chemical color as I said, but I was terrified at the thought of henna to which I had heard so many horror stories of things gone wrong, not to mention the bathroom disasters that come with it from making such a mess! I also hate to say it, but with our wedding being in 8 months, the idea of possibly “ruining” my hair color before the big day really freaked me out as well. We may be pretty natural as far as products go, but don’t get me wrong, I still very much care about my appearance, and I’m still a makeup artist at heart. I have two friends who have had great henna success, Stacy of Paleo Parents, and Liz of Cave Girl Eats. Liz’s hair color is much more similar to mine than Stacy (Stacy is a red head-Liz is a brunette), which gave me hope for henna. Henna if you don’t know is ONLY red. You have to add other things into your henna mixture to create a different color like brown. So, for a brunette you typically want to melt the henna down with coffee, and make sure that you have indigo added to the mixture. I love red hair. I think it is beautiful and fabulous (my best friend from high school is a red head, and so is my brother), but it’s just not for me. I like having dark brown hair. It’s what works for me, and what I prefer, so naturally I want to stay that way. It’s also worth adding that you have to be VERY careful where the henna comes from. Henna has gotten a bad name from misinformed hair stylists. “Fake” henna is sometimes blended with metals which react with chemical hair color. This can result in green hair, dry and brittle hair, or even worse-hair melting off of your head! This does NOT happen with real, pure henna (Lawsonia Inermis).

After the Henna

After the henna is applied, they cover you with a shower cap for easy travel. As you can see I was a little nervous.


The last time I had my hair chemically darkened was the week before Halloween, and I was told that you need to wait a few months after having chemicals put on your hair before you can try henna, and you also have to wait 3 months after henna to go back to chemicals if you don’t like it. I was planning to go to the henna salon in the D.C. area with Stacy, but that is a long drive for me just to get my hair done, especially when we are down to the wire with finishing Gather, so thanks to some kind folks on our Facebook page, I was informed that I could go to Lush and have them put the henna on for me! I figured winter would be the perfect time to try the henna. Our wedding isn’t until the end of August, and who ever really goes out in winter time anyway? If I needed to hide for 3 months, I’d be fine! I kid…haha.

Henna in Whole Foods

We needed to stop for some groceries on the way home, and got some strange looks in Whole Foods!

Right before Christmas I called and talked to the kind people at our local Lush store and booked an appointment for December 30th to have them apply henna to my hair. Once I told Bill I made the appointment he freaked out a little. He really likes dark hair, and I couldn’t really tell if he was more worried I would have a melt down if my hair was “ruined” or if he would (The first one, darling – Bill). After that I spent several hours on hennaforhair.com and YouTube looking for hope that my color would come out as I wished. After looking around online I decided that I felt confident in my decision to try this out, and I really didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. I don’t want to use chemical color anymore, so henna is my only option left.

I took off the shower cap after being in Whole Foods. The longer you leave the cap on your head, the higher the chance it'll turn red.

I took off the shower cap after being in Whole Foods. The longer you leave the cap on your head, the higher the chance it’ll turn red.

As the days got closer to my appointment I started to have dreams about going to get the henna put on. By now I was really just excited. I felt really good about it, and was looking forward to trying something new and interesting. Also the idea of my scalp not getting super itchy and irritated from chemicals, and my cats not attacking my head anymore after chemical color made me really happy. Yes my cats would attack my head after I would have color put on…every time.

After two hours, the Henna is fully developed. The color fades from green to a rich brown, and hardens due to the cocoa butter.

After two hours, the Henna is fully developed. The color fades from green to a rich brown, and hardens due to the cocoa butter.

The day of my appointment I unfortunately was sick. I came down with some sort of ear/nose/throat thing going around. I haven’t been this sick in years, literally, so this was a huge bummer. I didn’t think I would be a concern for getting the people at Lush sick, so Bill warmed me a mug of chicken feet broth and we headed on our way to Lush. When we got their we were greeted by 3 very sweet ladies. I showed them a photo of the color I prefer my hair to be, and they told me the Lush Caca Noir (yes it’s really called Caca) would be the color for me. It is mostly indigo, with a little henna mixed in, and the brown shade (Caca Brun) would be too red for me. I said “go for it”, and off they went to mix up my henna. After it was ready I sat in a chair while they slopped on 4 bricks of “mud” to my hair, tied it up, threw a shower cap on me, cleaned me up, and sent me on my way. The smell was very earthy, and a little stinky. It wasn’t awful, but after a whole day of smelling it on myself I got pretty sick of it. When we left Lush, we ran to Whole Foods to grab a few groceries. We tried to make it to Whole Foods before my appointment, but we ran out of time, so I was left to brave WFM with mud on my head and a shower cap. I got some crazy looks, but I really just had to laugh at the situation. It didn’t bother me in the least. After we got out of WFM I took the shower cap off of my head. The color needs air or else it will turn more red, so I didn’t want to keep it on any longer than needed.

before and after Henna - Caca Noir for Dark Brown Hair

Before and After the treatment. Success!

When we got home, I was really feeling sick. I pushed myself way too far going out to have the henna put on, and I needed to rest. I was told I could leave the henna on, and possibly sleep in it for up to 8 hours. The Lush brand has cocoa butter mixed in (which is why it comes in a block form), so it is a really great treatment for your hair. I needed to lay down, so as soon as it had been 2 hours (the time the color develops), I hopped in the shower to rinse off. This was part was VERY messy. They told me at lush to stand under hot water for a while to melt the cocoa butter (my hair was hard like a helmet), so that’s what I did. Green water came spewing down all over me, and before I knew it, I was standing in a puddle of green, mucky water. It was crazy. After the henna melted down again I was able to shampoo my hair. I scrubbed and scrubbed, and scrubbed some more. I rinsed out the shampoo and then repeated the process. After that I conditioned, rinsed, and I was done. I towel dried my hair, brushed, put in my argan oil, and then straightened my hair. My color was fantastic! Just what I wanted. Slightly darker, warm brown color, and very natural looking. My hair also was so silky smooth it was almost hard to style!

My first henna experience was fantastic. I will definitely be sticking with henna from now on, and maybe next time I will try to do it on my own.

Here is my list of skin/hair products that I use daily and really enjoy:

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OraWellness brushing blend– We love this for brushing, or gargling. Your mouth feels really clean after, and you know you are doing something really healthy for your entire mouth.

Coconut oil for The Oil Cleansing Method – I prefer coconut oil for this. I use it to take off my makeup and wash my face. It has worked better than any other professional skin care line/Dr. prescribed skin care I have tried in the past. I really like using Tropical Traditions Green Label Coconut Oil for skin and eating.

Beauty Balm – the smell is a little funny, but this stuff is literally like magic!

Primal Life Organics – If you really want a skin care regimen, but don’t want harsh chemicals, this is the stuff for you. It is fantastic!

Primal Life Organics Pit Stick – I love this deodorant! It smells and feels great. Definitely the best all natural deodorant I’ve tried yet.

Tallow Fluff/Cheeky Cow tallow body soap by Real Food Renegade (online store coming soon!) – our friend Erin makes wonderful body products out of tallow, olive oil, and essential oils. Her Tallow Fluff whipped body butter is to-die-for, and is great for dry winter skin (or even year round). When her web store is up and running, I recommend the lavender. We love the stuff!

Jane Iredale Mineral Makeup – I have been using Jane Iredale for years. I was first introduced to it when I was working in a medical spa on Long Island training with an esthetician and doing camouflage makeup on post-op patients. As a makeup artist this line is by far my favorite to use for print work. I use it on all brides, and for any photo shoot that I am in. As a health nut, it is also a brand I recommend. It acts as a barrier on your skin to protect it from air born pollutants, has natural sunscreen titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and is great for sensitive skin like people with rosacea. Plus, it is all gluten free except for 8 products (Absence, Eye Highlighter Pencil/Double Dazzle Pencil, Purelash Extender & Conditioner, PureBrow Fix & Mascara, PureBrow Gel, PureLash Mascara, PureLash Lengthening Mascara, Lip Crayons, Tantasia)!

Dr. Ron’s MSM Shampoo and Conditioner – I really trust the Dr. Ron’s products, and I love the shampoo. The smell is fresh, and my hair feels great after I use this. My scalp tends to be pretty sensitive, and I have had great success with Dr. Ron’s.

Argan Oil by Holistix for hair styling – This is my favorite product. It’s great for all styling, and the ingredients are 100% pure argan oil!

Ladies only: Even those products you use once a month are important. I have had great success with the Lunette cup. I used to use a Diva Cup, and really didn’t like it.  Stacy turned me onto the Lunette and I really like it! I highly recommend this one.




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    1. Heather94Happy
      January 2, 2013

      Thanks for this article. This is awesome. I follow a gluten-free diet…and in point of fact I’m gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, dairy free right now…and I’m also gradually switching over my entire lfiestyle to a gluten free one.

      So when I decided I needed more haircolor, I started looking for a safer, chemical-free alternative…and that’s when I saw this post on Facebook 🙂 🙂 I”m definitely going to give this a try. I’m interested in the henna sold via Mountain Rose Herbs.

      You’re so lucky to have a salon in your area that applied the henna for you. I can’t find a salon here in the area that will do it for me, and I’m on the central coast of California.

      If you ever try henna at home, I’d love to hear what your experiences are with that.

      Oh, and THANKS for the list of beauty and skin care products that you use. I’m always looking for good, safe options that not only work great but are good for my body, too!!! and I smiled you mentioned the coconut oil pulling method. I do that every day….at least once a day. it’s fantastic and I use coconut oil as a moisturizer for my skin and sometimes on my hair, too 🙂 🙂

      Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

    2. heyared
      January 2, 2013

      Wow… I’m so glad you posted about henna! I have been using it on my hair for years. I very much prefer it to chemicals for many reasons. I feel I can control the color much better with henna. Some things that you should know:

      Body Art Quality (BAQ) is completely pure, and it is what is preferable when using henna to color your hair or skin. Henna doesn’t come in colors, so although I buy my add-ins from Mountain Rose Herbs, I don’t get my henna from there because I don’t know that it is pure. There IS neutral henna, but the bottom line is the percentage of lawsone in the product, the higher percentage will produce red outcome. Lower or no lawsone produces only conditioning effects, but no color change. I don’t know that I completely trust the blocks that were used on your hair. It is convenient to have someone else apply the product for you, because it IS messy. But I think something must have been added to it in order for it to be in that form.

      I completely trust hennaforhair.com as a source of information and for their user guide to coloring your hair with henna. The founder of the site did her dissertation on henna, and is considered an authority.

      I add items to my henna. There are several schools of thought on that, and some say it doesn’t make a difference, but I feel it does. I add paprika (for fiery red highlights), cloves/black walnut shell (for brown low lights), caradmom (for scent) and lavender essential oil (for scent) to mine, in addition to the lemon juice that is used to develop the color.

      The salon immediately putting the henna on your hair is suspect to me, because henna has to process for some length of time in order for the process to work. Sure, boiling water will accelerate the process, but it takes more time than that.

      Doing your hair with henna is an arduous process. It is messy, as the consistency of the product is like mashed potatoes, but green like mud. It has to process for 24 hours in normal conditions before you put it on. It has to be on for hours, versus minutes with chemicals. Rinsing is challenging, depending on what you put in. Because it has to be on for so long, I have found that sleeping with it on my head, wrapped in cellophane, works best for me. I get headaches because of the weight of this product on my waist-length hair over time.

      I would STRONGLY recommend hennaforhair.com for tips and tricks from other users. There are literally hundreds of combinations there, and the site has been a ton of help to me. I too am venturing into a no chemical foray for my hair and body care. My next step is washing/conditioning without shampoo. 🙂

      Best. I love your site, and because I know so much from experience about henna, I couldn’t sit idly by and not post a long comment.

      Cari in Texas

    3. January 2, 2013

      Hi Cari,

      Thanks for all the great info, but I have to ask…did you read the post? 🙂 In the post I explain about the Lush henna. The reason it is in block form is because it has cocoa butter in it, which acts as a great conditioning treatment. The henna in the Lush henna is pure henna – lawsonia inermis. If you read the ingredients you will see that. There is also a lot of information out there by Mark Constantine, one of the founders of Lush who is also a hair scientist. He sources the henna from Iran, and is very particular about the ingredients they use. Mark also teaches henna master classes, and you can watch him teach on YouTube. I have also looked around hennaforhair.com and I listed that website in this post as a resource for people just starting out with henna. I definitely did my research before getting into this. Also, I did not go to a salon. I went to Lush, where you can purchase the henna and they will apply it free of charge for you. I did this because it was my first time using henna on my hair.


      Thanks again for the info, and kind words.


    4. January 8, 2013

      I do apologize if you listed this. Your nails always look amazing. I was wondering what nail polish you use. I have 2 daughters, and I would love to find a natural polish that I could use on their nails. Thanks!!

    5. alexandrawalters
      January 15, 2013

      I used henna years ago when I lived near a hippie herb store that sold it in powder form to be boiled and applied. I didn’t know Lush had it. I’m getting some right away!

      I have to use a lot of products on my hands that are harsh because I’m a nurse, so I try to make up for it when I can. I use argan oil and coconut oils like you do.

      I tried “no poo” and hated it! I co-wash! I wash my hair with conditioner. My hair is past my shoulders and can’t handle daily shampoo, no matter how natural. I can’t have hospital stink or workout funk making my hair feel dirty and smelly. Washing with conditioner (from the health food store) really works. I swear my hair isn’t greasy and it smells great. It works on the same principle of like-dissolves-like that the oil cleansing method uses.

      Thanks for the post! I can’t wait for “green” hair.

    6. paleokiteh
      May 22, 2013

      I have been reading your blog for a few years now and I love
      all your recipes. I’m very protective of my hair, but I wanted to try
      henna when you wrote about it. I really had to think about weather
      your amazing recipes that always work built enough of a trust factor
      for me to put my locks on the line. I thought and I thought, and I
      decided to jump in and give the henna a try. Oh boy am I glad I did!

      The LUSH henna rocks! It’s not too hard to use, it’s natural, it’s
      cheap, it gives great color and amazing shine. It also makes my scalp
      less itchy and dry. I’ve used it twice now and find that half caca
      brun and half caca noir works best for me.

      My hair, skin, health, and wallet owe you a big thank you. Rock on!

    7. thomasjackalone
      October 25, 2014

      I am using natural hair from http://www.indianhairstore.com since last 2 years and I have applied various types of colors on it till yet .I usually prefer to use good quality natural hair and hair products which does not cause any harm on my hair as well as on scalp .

    8. RochelleLY
      January 5, 2015

      Hey because you guys are all so into henna, I thought it was a good idea to share my new website (http://caresforhairs.com/hennahairdyes) here, so you could give me your feedback! Already several posts and reviews on a variety of top notch products are on there, but soon more how-to’s, guides, charts and reviews will start appearing! I have a page dedicated to henna hair dyes, but there are also other natural hair products such as organic shampoos and conditioners in their own category! Let me know what you think! Thanks!

    9. helentrot
      May 29, 2015

      Thanks for the great advice! I have tried that technic and it works pretty well. I am a brunette as well. Also, I would advise to use natural, not aggressive, conditioners to strengthen the color and the hair. I use Hair Recipes products: http://www.hair-recipes.com/ (I live in Toronto, it is a local company).

    10. issaonthego
      November 4, 2017

      Where to start? Well for starters I have been using Lush Hennas for eight or nine years…Never ever green and today I am at least 25% grey…what I do get is lovely copper highlights! I’ll take that over grey any day!

      I haven’t had a hairdresser who hasn’t shuddered when I say the word henna…lions and tigers and bears oh my! There are some hennas out there that are substandard with chemicals that make regular drug store dyes look tame… and yes you can damage your hair. I have used a henna over chemically dyed hair, I have chemically dyed over henna-ed hair (not freshly hennaed)… it has always been color over color… no issues.

      I used to get perms…and then they became not so fashionable, by then the greys were becoming an issue and I started with color rinses, that worked for a while then we upped it to permanent colors, then permanent colors with highlights…keeping in mind that every 6 weeks I was leaving the salon a couple hundred dollars poorer for just the coloring it cost more to buy the expensive shampoos and conditioners and deep conditioning treatments and my hair was meh, not straw but certainly not in the condition it is today…and get this I have gone back to getting permanents, I love my hair with with curls…I just always henna my hair at least two weeks before a perm or wait two weeks after one. I cannot however perm and chemically color my hair-that always equals straw!

      Its a little messy but you get better at it with less and less mess…I put the henna in a ziploc bag and cut the corner…apply it to the roots then work the remainder into the remaining hair…wear gloves and clothes you don’t care about…make sure you have everything before you start…vaseline if using, plastic wrap cotton to wrap around your head to contain drips (I have used folded paper towels in a pinch)…a rag to wipe the inevitable oops, plastic wrap or plastic bag if you are covering the henna…it is true if you cover the end result will be redder and if you let dry without covering it oxidizes and a lovely darker color is the result. People complicate the hell out of it…grate the squares…if I am in a real rush yes I will but honestly all I do is cut it in thin slices…that grumble into a product similar to if I had grated it…I don’t use double boilers or a bain-marie…little sauce pan…pay attention, heat it until it is hot…turn the heat off, give it a stir, go wash your hair, have a shower whatever (I always put a henna on clean unconditioned hair) …when you come back to your saucepan the larger chunks will mash against the back of a spoon…Ideally I do this before bed…sleep with in…yes I know its painful to be beautiful…wash it out in the morning…if I can’t work this into my schedule I like to leave it on at least 4-5 hours. I think heat helps… On sunny day I sit in the bay window with a good book and the hours fly by… I think I get better lasting coverage that way.

      The cost, health of my hair and the fact that I can choose to not expose myself to harmful chemicals and still NOT have grey hair are the deciding factors for me…I am extravagant I use 2 cubes for barely shoulder length hair…and I maybe do it once every 4-6 weeks…6 cubes costs less that $30 CAD …the color just gets deeper, your hair is always soft and…LUSH.

      Some people replace the water with coffee, beet juice, add cinnamon…I used to…but really I didn’t notice a difference that was worth the trouble.
      I have read about people experiencing green hair with black henna on grey hair something about the indigo used in the henna to achieve the black color…people say to use rouge, maroon, or brun first to cover the grey because they don’t have indigo and to then use the black over top… I have also read testimonials stating that the black covered the grey just fine without any precautionary procedures…I am happy with the dark brown I achieve by not covering, allowing the henna to dry and fairly frequent repeats…

      Start cautiously…I will warn that blond hair and rouge will give bright results…it shouts! I have nondescript brown hair…not lovely chestnut, just blah brown naturally. But boy-o-boy my hair on LUSH Henna is a fabulous!

      I love this product.

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