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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Natural, Non-Toxic, Frugal, and Organic Hair Color

My New Red Hair

I don’t wear makeup very often, I use virtually no beauty products regularly… but I have colored my hair for YEARS.  Since I was a sophomore in high school in fact!  My natural hair color is a dishwater blonde that doesn’t really flatter my skin tone and it makes me feel very much like I recede into a crowd.  Coloring my hair is fun, makes me feel good, and allows me to shape how others see me.

But in the last 2 years, as I learned to live an increasingly sustainable life, I couldn’t bring myself to use those nasty chemicals anymore!  They are really bad for your skin, your health, and the planet.  I even tried some of the “natural” hair tints in the natural foods store, only to look up their ingredients and find they weren’t much better than the “non-natural” varieties.

A few weeks ago, however, I was feeling low and frumpy and overworked, and I hit my limit.  I needed a change!  I couldn’t bring myself to go to a salon and use all the crazy chemicals there.  So I went to the natural food store and read every single package of hair color.

Ick. This or that kind of alcohol or sulfite or SLS or – wow – I was so disappointed that there really wasn’t anything!

For twenty minutes I stared at these packages, hoping that somehow the ingredients would change before my eyes, or that maybe one of the colors didn’t have nasty stuff in it.  But alas, I began to walk away, giving up.

And then…

In the same packaging it had when I used to color my hair in college 15 years ago… Henna.

Ingredients:  Henna.

That’s all.

I was a bit apprehensive.  There were only 4 colors, and I’m used to having a high amount of control over the color process.  But it was only $6.  Yes, $6!!  So I bought it.

I got it home and looked inside the package:  green powder.  I remembered henna being pretty and giving my hair some nice, natural color and shine.  But I was still unsure.  So just in case, I looked up how to get out the hair color if I hated it.

How To Get Henna Out Of Your Hair

There are instructions inside the box for how to use powdered Minute Maid to remove the color.  Here are further instructions from Light Mountain – they recommend using the first two options within 24 hours:

A. For darker shades make a mixture of baking soda and molasses using equal parts. Make up enough of the mixture to be able to coat all of your hair. Apply this mixture to your hair and let it dry, a blow dryer can be used, until it is hard then rinse out.

B. For lighter shades make a mixture of Crystal Light lemonade mix  and a rinse out cream rinse/conditioner using equal parts. Use 1/2 cup of cream rinse/conditioner to one tub of lemonade mix. Apply to your hair and let dry, a blow dryer can be used, then rinse out.

C. If the treatment is older, more than 24 hours, you can try using a high detergent shampoo and a deep conditioner. The conditioner should be one that you leave on the hair for 20 minutes. You can also try a “clarifying” shampoo, also known as “swimmer’s shampoo”.

Easy enough.  Ok, I took the plunge…

Henna in Hair

Applying Henna To Your Hair

I followed the very detailed instructions that came inside the package.  It’s like putting mud on your hair – it takes a little getting used to.  (Yes, redefining normal:  it’s ok to put a mud-like substance on your hair rather than a chemical mess!)

  1. Protect. The package comes with gloves.  Use them!  Henna will color your hands a pretty color, too!  Also moisturize your face beforehand, and apply some kind of oil to your hairline around your face – I use jojoba oil, but olive oil or any other type of oil will work.  This keeps the henna from dying your face.  But don’t worry – chances are that you will drop some on your skin, and just make sure to get it off right away so it doesn’t sit there long enough to dye your skin.
  2. Mix. Pour the henna in a NON-METAL bowl with NON-METAL utensil.  In a NON-METAL container, boil 3 cups of distilled or filtered water.  Gradually stir in enough water for it to be thick but not too thick – about the consistency of pudding.
  3. Let it Sit. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to 2 hours – the longer you let it sit, the deeper and faster the color (I let it sit for 2 hours).
  4. Apply. Apply it as you would apply any hair color:  divide your hair into sections with a NON-METAL comb or brush and NON-METAL clips.  Apply from the roots outward with your hands, comb or brush.  Cover with the plastic bag that comes with the henna.
  5. Heat. Optional.  Heat will enhance red shades in particular, and decreased the amount of time you need to leave the henna in your hair.  I blow dried my hair for about 20 minutes – I felt guilty about using the electricity but was too vain not to.  You can also sit in the sun if it’s a warm day.
  6. Leave In. Up to 2 hours.  The longer you leave it in, the deeper the color.
  7. Rinse. Rinse with warm water.  If you like, you can use a dilute baking soda mixture to help rinse out the henna, but don’t shampoo.  Wait for 24 hours before shampooing, so the color has time to set.

Hair drying henna

The Result

Seriously, my $6 application of henna came out just the way a $125 hair color would (and has) in a salon!  Not only that, but it is healthy for my hair rather than a depleting process, it doesn’t make my skin break out the way salon dyes do, it smells nice, and I’ve received a whole lot of compliments.

I’m hooked!  And I’m glad I didn’t have to use the Minute Maid.

My New Red Hair

What Do You Use?

Do you color your hair? If so, what do you use?

Similar Posts:

42 comments to Natural, Non-Toxic, Frugal, and Organic Hair Color

  • That looks great! One tip though, from an ex-hairdresser (11+ years and color correction was my specialty), do NOT perm your hair with henna on it, if you choose to get a perm at a salon, be sure to TELL YOUR HAIRDRESSER that you have henna on your hair, even if it’s months or even a year old, if you still have hair that has had henna on it, tell your hairdresser it was HENNA. There is a good reason to do this, henna and perm solution do not play well, I remember in beauty school, a demonstration to show what henna’d hair does the instant you pour perm solution on it, instant smoke and melting hair, not a pretty sight (or smell!), imagine if that were still attached to your head…

    I’m sure that if you are using henna on your hair because you want to get away from chemicals, chances are that you will not want to get a perm, but there might be someone who reads this who would want colored AND permed hair, this is just a word to the wise, choose one or the other, or if you must have both, get the perm first, then do the henna, and don’t perm over the henna later, be sure to allow the henna’d hair to grow and be cut off before perming it again, don’t think that just because many months have passed and the henna has faded that it’s still safe.

    Hope I didn’t scare anyone, I just want everyone to be safe.

    Wretha

    • patsycline

      That was a very informative reply. You should post that on utube and send an email to the manufactures of Henna so the put it on the side of the box. Can’t imagine my hair melting on my head! Thanks again.

  • Great subject! Thanks so much for posting. I’ve wanted to try henna, but been afraid to. Thanks for the information.

  • I’ve used henna…been happy with the results. I usually do it in the fall because I can get some pretty good highlights from the sun during the summer. I agree, very messy.

  • OK how does one boil water in a non-metal container? Do they make a glass or ceramic teapot or bowl that can go on the stove top? (I know that sounds like a dumb question, but I don’t think I have seen glass pots since I was a kid).

    • Tree, there are glass (Pyrex is one brand) pots still available in the stores for use on the stovetop, you can also use ceramic, you can also try an enameled pot, just make sure it has no breaks in the enamel.

      Wretha

  • I used henna years ago and was very happy with the results. Not sure why I moved away from it – thank you for the reminder!
    Tree, I use a glass 8cup measuring cup to heat the water in a microwave (yes electricity).

  • I have dark blonde hair that’s very sun-sensitive, so I take advantage of that. I steep 2 chamomile tea bags in 1 cup of boiling water, then squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon. I apply it to my hair then go outside in the sun, then rinse it after a few hours. It works great to bring out highlights, but I don’t think it would work as well on darker shades of hair.

  • Melinda, the color is just lovely on you. Beautiful.

  • Hi Melinda, your hair looks great (and I have to say, I think that your “before” color was flattering, too). I’m actually phasing out my henna haircolor. I used straight henna from the Indian grocery for over a year. The color was vibrant, and I loved using a product that was non-toxic and had minimal packaging. However, the time and mess involved in applying the henna (I left in on for three hours, minimum) got to be too much for me.

    Despite reading that henna cannot be dyed over, I tried anyway. I was pleased when the haircolor appeared to cover the henna, but it faded within a week. Now, I’m just dealing with my light roots, which look quite ashy next to the hot red henna (that stuff just doesn’t fade!). I’m not crazy about the current situation, but people tell me that the color looks “really cool.” To compensate, I got a cute, short haircut that is flattering, so I don’t care as much about the color.

    This post is a great intro to henna for the uninitiated. Hope that you continue to love your color!

  • I have been dying my hair for a few years now and feeling guilty about the chemicals, but not ready to accept the dull hair that comes with age.

    I have been putting highlights and low lights in my hair and I’m not sure about going red or darkening my hair, but I would like to use a natural product.

    Your hair turned out to be a very nice color.

    Thank you for the “how to get henna out of your hair”, maybe that will give me the courage I need.

    • dawn

      What is your natural hair color? And what color henna did you use or is there only one color? You’re color looks beautiful. Lastly, how long does the henna color last. I get gray roots and need to touch up every 3-4 weeks currently. Also, I read someone said you cannot color your hair after henna; that it won’t cover it up. Does that mean once I use henna, i can never go back to regular hair coloring???

      Thanks for the awesome info.

      dawn

  • This is very cool! I’ll try it someday. I’ll be posting this on my 5 Seed (natural beauty) Facebook fanpage! Thanks for sharing!

  • upma

    When I was researching about making the transition from chemical hair dye to something more natural, I found this website very useful! http://www.hennaforhair.com

    It is a messy, tedious process, but well worth it. Full disclosure though… I’m lazy and have since gone back to my chemical ways (Aveda). I know I’ll probably go back and forth forever.

  • Rob

    Back in my high school days, when I had hair, long beautiful hair, I use to spray lemon juice on my hair and lay out in the sun, letting my nordic heritage turn me into a blonde god= other than that never colored my hair

  • kathy

    great post. i have brown hair, with altogether too much grey sneaking in. i want to dye it, but not toxically. i’ll give henna a shot.

    your hair looks great, melinda.

    kathy

  • Lori

    @Rob – Rest assured that Melinda and I (I’m her little sister) used the lemon juice + sun trick every summer as well, way back when we were both truly blonde.

    @Melinda – Your hair looks great! Love the color, and it’s gotten so long!

  • I love to have red RED hair, so I will have to try this! I love the idea that it doesn’t fade, ever…

    Thank you

  • Jealous-Your hair is beautiful!
    Jana

  • It came out beautifully! I stopped using hair color more than a year ago – they’re just too toxic for my taste. Since then, I haven’t used anything at all on my hair, although I’ve been tempted to. I like it just the way it is, but it’s always nice to know a green girl has options. Plenty of my friends use henna – on their hair, and for body art – it’s lovely. Thanks for sharing. Peace. :)

  • Henna is awesome!

    That color looks great on you!

  • crystal

    i am in sydney, i am looking for henna hair color powder
    i don’t know where i can get this.

  • Angel Hawkins

    Hi Melinda!! I`m sad to say that I have strayed from the green living.. but be happy to know that I am finding my way back! I have light brown mousy hair naturally and have dyed my hair for almost half my life..since I was 17! I am now 32 and a half and I recently have had a allergic reaction to hairdye!! it was very very painful and it has stirred me to not dye it anymore..EVER! I am letting it grow out for the second time in my life (the last time I did when I got pregnant with our son) and the only problem is I have bleached Blonde… so wish me luck. I might look in to see if henna will help me darken my hair naturally…to even it out!!

  • pah

    I have very dark brown hair and starting to see some gray. Would henna be effective @ covering it or should I just be gray & proud? I don’t want to use chemicals, either!

  • Thanks for the post! I have natural red hair and have noticed a few grays popping up…welcome to 40!
    I think I will try Henna when I can not take the sprays.

  • Sharon

    Hello. Just wondering if anyone can help me. I want to try the henna. I have used regular dye before and have always had a problem. My hair from birth is Strawberry blonde and has gotten a little dull and almost more on the blonde side than the red. But when I use commercial dyes I cannot use reds because my natural red hair even if not seen screws up the color. I would love to get a nice auburn color like yours in the picture but I am deathly afraid due to past (bozo the clown) accidents :)Any suggestions?

  • Andrea

    I have very dark brown hair with gray coming in faster than I’d like. I’ve never dyed my hair and don’t want to use chemicals, but lately, I’ve seriously been considering trying a natural dye. My aunt (who has even darker, possibly even black hair) said she has her hair dyed with henna, but I find her dye job to be strangely unnatural red-on-black. It reminds me of when my high school friend used to dye her black hair with red kool-aid. I don’t want to change the regular color of my hair, just hide the grays. A slight variation on brown’s okay, but are there different shades of henna or is it all reddish?

    • Sammie

      Andrea,
      Yeah there are blacks and browns and other colors at whole foods. Just make sure to do a strand test first – it might turn out a different color if you just go for it but it usually has pretty good pay off.

  • Lyndsay

    Oooh, this is interesting, melinda, that colour is exactly what I’ve been thinking about. My natural hair is dark blond but I have been dying it black then dark brown since I was 16. Recently I’ve started aiming a shade or 2 lighter as I don’t want to be dying over my grey when it comes (how will I know?!). And I think a red might suit me. I’ve been a bit apprehensive about henna as I’m sure I’ve read that it creates a bit of a “no going back” situation where the only option is to let it grow out = scared me off! as my hair is long and dark and my roots will be light and disappointing.
    The other problem I have is the only way I’ve gotten any decent volume in my fine hair is through my fab 80′s perm! Oh no! I’m pleased the first comment on here is a warning from a hairdresser about this particular peril.

  • Rhonda

    Andrea…answer to your question…yes there is a variety of colors…I used henna to color my light brown with a lot of grey, a rich medium brown with henna. It is a real pain in the buttocks, for me lots of mixing other stuff to do what I needed…like black coffee in place of the water, egg and vinegar and vegetable oil added (per package instructions)…my hair color…beautiful!!! Many compliments…the main thing I really like about it is it does not strip your natural color and then replace it, it just coats it so you don’t have the ugly, fried, fade going on, and when your roots grow out you don’t notice them much. I have tried to find other permanent hair color products that don’t suck your natural color out that is easier to use and I haven’t found any. I bought mine at Whole Foods

  • ann-marie

    I have mousey blonde hair. I used to get highlights, but got lyme disease and became chemically sensitive. I had finally found a hairdresser that used the Organic Color Systems so was able to get highlights again. However, I’ve moved and can’t find a hairdresser that uses it near me. Henna doesn’t bleach. I have four inch roots and hating it. HELP!

    • Jessie

      To Ann-Marie:
      Where do you live? If you happen to be in New Mexico go to Gambei wellness spa and salon in Nob Hill. They are the only organic spa in Albuquerque offering Organic Color Systems. The whole spa only uses organic products including formaldyhide and tulane free nail polish. Their website is gambeispa.com. Good Luck!

  • It’s definitely not that easy that will look after the black locks, but it really isn’t because very difficult as persons assume

  • How sweet for you to post stuff like this (:
    P.s. Don’t feel guilty for using the blowdryer once in a while. it’s sometimes necessary =)

  • The first time I ever dyed my hair I was 14. I used a temporary black hair dye and ended up with gray hair. At least I found out I look good in gray. I never dyed my hair again. I have severe chemical sensitivity and it just wasn’t an option and later it wouldn’t have been an option because of my values – all those chemicals – ick! But I was wanting a change for two years and finally near my 34th birthday I tried Henna. I loved it! Even if it was a big mess. I plan on doing it again too – and it leaves the hair feeling so wonderful and I do red head pretty darn well!

    Love that it worked out for you too!

  • Hey everyone! I work at a salon that uses Organic Color Systems! It’s great- probably the cleanest professional line you could find.
    We have tons of people that have chemical sensitivities before, but with OCS they’re totally fine and can enjoy the experience. As a professional, it’s a life saver to work with.
    Stylist normally have the worst bronchial system just behind coal miners because of all the horrible chemicals..

    I’m in PA if anyone is looking for a salon!

  • Kat

    I recently switched back to henna. (it was my first color back in college also!) and am very happy with it. the red color lasts way longer than the hair dyes did and my hair is much healthier with it.
    it gets easier to apply, i use application brushes from the beauty supply store. the smell i’m not so thrilled with but it goes away soon enough and the color doesn’t so that makes up for it.

  • Andrea…answer to your question…yes there is a variety of colors…I used henna to color my light brown with a lot of grey, a rich medium brown with henna. It is a real pain in the buttocks, for me lots of mixing other stuff to do what I needed…like black coffee in place of the water, egg and vinegar and vegetable oil added (per package instructions)…my hair color…beautiful!!! Many compliments…the main thing I really like about it is it does not strip your natural color and then replace it, it just coats it so you don’t have the ugly, fried, fade going on, and when your roots grow out you don’t notice them much. I have tried to find other permanent hair color products that don’t suck your natural color out that is easier to use and I haven’t found any. I bought mine at Whole Foods

  • [...] – I found a great blog entry about how to apply or remove Henna from your hair by Melinda Brianna [...]

  • Cheryl

    I am a natural redhead and have never chemically colored my hair. I am 55 and have no gray but my hair has gradually faded. I use henna from Just For Redheads and the color is great. This company has shades from Champagne to deep Auburn and they recommend a two step process to effectively cover gray. Only issue is the price. I recently bought a $6 product from the health food store and am ready to try that. I love the shine and softness that henna produces. It is messy but I just soak in a nice hot bath while I apply and process. It works great.

  • Nathan

    I am a blond child, and i want to dye my hair green. Is there a way that you could do that with Henna, but not have it be permanent? I am curious because my parents would not let dye my hair unless it was organic and it could either be removed over time or wash out in the shower. So, would that be possible, or can it only be permanent?

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