Henna doesn’t cover gray: It’s written on the product box, and it’s part of hair-coloring culture. But times have changed. And it’s no longer a choice between going gray or using commercial hair dye.
There are two ways to cover gray with henna.
1. Henna kits that are made specifically for gray hair.
2. Using pure, powdered henna in a whole new way.
Henna Kits for Gray
Most henna kits for gray are 2-step processes. Your hair is first coated with a natural, non-toxic preparatory mixture. This helps the gray hair become more receptive to the henna.
There are also pre-mixed cream hennas on the market which will cover gray. Most, however, take 2 or 3 applications before the gray is covered completely. Some products, like Surya Henna Cream, are easier, 1-step processes which claim to cover gray on the first application.
Henna, as you probably know, coats the hair. It doesn’t open or rough up the hair shaft like most commercial dyes do. And because gray hair tends to be coarser and slicker than pigmented hair, henna has a tendency to slip off the gray. That’s why henna is categorized as a semi-permanent hair color. Even the best henna application washes out a little with each shampoo. And that’s why most boxes of 1-step, powdered henna will warn against using it on gray hair.
Pure Powdered Henna
Most henna users are already familiar with this green powder. It comes in a plastic bag (some buy in bulk), and it’s made from leaves of the Lawsonia tree. To create different colors, other natural ingredients are added, like walnut or clove.
If you’re gray and you want to use pure henna, you can. It’s a long process, but it worked for me and I’ll never go back to anything else. Light Mountain Henna is good as are many other brands.
Do a strand test. If you have your hair cut, save a curl to use for the strand test. Otherwise, cut a small bit of hair from underneath or in the back so the cut doesn’t show. Hold the hair swatch together with a rubber band, and go through the entire coloring process with this strand. This is important because it’s the only way to calculate the leave-in time. Unlike commercial hair dyes, henna varies wildly in how long you’ll want to leave it on to achieve your desired color. Timing for coloring gray hair can be from 2 to 6 hours.
Another reason for the strand test: to make sure that the final color is what you want. Henna on gray hair will come out lighter than henna on pigmented hair. Henna on blond hair is unpredictable. The strand test will let you know.
A note on purchasing henna. Read the ingredients carefully before you buy. Make sure there is nothing in the list you don’t understand. Any hair color containing PPD (p-Phenylenediamine, sometimes labeled as Paradiaminobenzene, Para-aminoaniline, p-aminoaniline, Paradiaminobenzene or PPDA) is off-limits for health and safety reasons. However, most hennas you find in a reputable health food store will be pure and safe. Hennas purchased over the Internet usually list their ingredients, and I encourage you to read them.
Ready, Set, Go
- The first step is to apply a line of emollient on your forehead. This will prevent the henna from staining your face.
- Next, mix a brown-based powdered henna in a non-metallic bowl, with just-boiled water. Add a couple of pre-beaten eggs if you like, to help keep the mixture sticky. Slowly add more hot water until the mixture is a smooth, thick paste.
- Apply to dry, clean hair, free of styling products, conditioners, spray, or moisturizers.
- Apply to roots first, as you would with commercial hair dye, but use more product – at least a golf-ball sized dollop of paste each time you part your hair and apply it. Every hair strand must be completely coated with the henna. Use the plastic gloves that are included in the package, and apply with your hands to get the most coverage. Continue to part your hair in 1/4-inch rows, rubbing the henna into the hair, until all the gray is covered.
- Yes, the henna will stain the scalp – but it’s non-toxic, and will wash off the scalp itself (not the hair) in a shampoo or two.
- After the gray is covered with the paste, apply the remaining henna to the rest of your hair if desired.
- Cover your head with a plastic cap, and cover the cap with a towel.
- Once an hour (or less, if you have a short leave-in time), take off the towel and plastic cap and spritz the henna pack lightly with water. Put the cap back on and manually (but gently) rub the hair to coax the moisture all the way through to the scalp and to make sure each hair strand stays covered with henna. Reapply the towel.
- You may want to bake the color in even more, by using a heating cap or hooded hair dryer for 10 minutes each hour.
- When the time is up, rinse the henna from your hair in warm (not hot) water. Your hair may be very tangled: that’s normal for now. So be gentle – don’t rub or tug. Apply a small amount of mild conditioner, like Jason’s or Aveda Color Conserve, and rinse it out after about 30 seconds. Do not use shampoo at this point.
How to Keep Your Henna from Fading
Wait at least 2 days before your first shampoo. After that, if you can shampoo every other day instead of every day, that will preserve your new color better. Be sure to use a color-safe shampoo. Some brands to try are Pureology, Aveda, Jason, Arbonne, and Aquage, among many others.
Note: I would not recommend too many styling products. So many of them strip color. But if you have a leave-in conditioner that you know won’t take the henna out with it at your next shampoo, go ahead and use it to untangle your hair and protect it from styling heat.
Your new hair color should be gorgeous, shiny, and healthy. Because the henna coats the hair, it makes the hair look thicker. And best of all, you’ve colored your gray without harming yourself or the environment.