How I colour hair naturally

How I colour hair naturally

Hallo! Just in case your hair needs a colour and cut while we’re all under SARS-CoV-related restrictions… today I show you how you I colour hair naturally!

The past two weeks I have been torn between producing travel posts in times when most of us cannot travel,  and more “general” posts. Things I have done for years but never wrote about them. Here in Germany hairdressers are shut  but may re-open in  May. If you are in dire need of a hair colour,  and there is no chance of visiting a salon… you can colour your hair naturally, sustainably and cheaply without needing to visit a hairdresser.

I have not taken to hair colouring naturally as an emergency measure because I can’t visit the hair dresser but have done so for many years. If you ask why, just look at the picture below. This is a bad root situation which I tend to hide under wide hairbands and surgical caps at work. About time I covered the roots properly because I love my naturally dark hair but hate the grey bits.


Why colour hair naturally?

Of course I know there are various home-dye kits available. This one is about colouring (not tinting)  your hair naturally, meaning ammonia, paraben, Paraphenylenediamine (PPD)- and nickel-free! While there are stringent laws for production of cosmetics in the European Union, the aforementioned ones are currently still permitted in hair colours. Especially PPD is a contender for causing allergic reactions, it is currently not banned in Europe, and is often found in darker shades, as it helps to seal in colour.

The following post will show you how I colour my hair using natural henna. It works works best if you have brown to dark brown hair. If you fancy being a temporary redhead, it will work, too!

lying on the deck of a yacht
I’m pretty low maintenance but try to stay reasonably groomed. This is ca. 2013 with much natural hair colour still intact


What you need

All you need is a packet of good quality natural henna. I prefer it to be organic,  but I appreciate that many places where henna is produced may have fewer organic certifications than Europe or the Americas.

Over the years, I have bought henna from various sources. I had some really good henna from Israel I bought on an online auction site.  The one I have been using for the past 2,5 years is a pure non-organic red henna from Besser- Natur. They say the henna keeps for at least a year, but my 1kg-bag will last about three years on my shortish fine hair, and it’s still working well. It also thickens quite nicely and is easy to apply… but  it is declared pure with no additives.

My next batch is 1kg of pure Indian Henna (the “Sara” Brand that I brought from my  trip to Jordan for about 3 Euros. I cannot say much about it, but I’ll report if it isn’t good.

I used to buy henna from Asian supermarkets, but I no longer do, because some of the products sold there may contain unwelcome additives. Some may not – it’s worth asking and checking the ingredients list carefully.

What is henna?

The henna used for colouring hair is dry and pulverized leaves from the Henna tree (Lawsonia inermis). The henna tree is a  shrub or small tree indigenous to North Africa and large parts of Asia. “Pure” henna is dried leaves from the trees and gives a reddish-brown colour. It also  strengthens and conditions the scalp, detoxifies hair follicles, and strengthens the hair. The natural dye reacts with the keratin on the outler layer of your hair (cuticle) and the dye will adhere to and encase the hair rather than penetrate into the hair shaft, creating a colour that is permanent and barely fades.

The “black henna” often contains indigo (Indigofera tinctoria, if you are lucky) or mystery dyes including PPE (if you’re not). Neutral henna is usually not derived from the henna tree but from an altogether different plant, (Cassia obovata) or Italian Senna (related to Senna alexandrina of laxative properties) which has similar conditioning properties but is completely colour-less.

My hair and how it changed by colouring it with natural henna

My hair is very fine , frizzy and has never grown much over shoulder length. It is dark brown with a good bit of grey, especially round the forehead, which I have tried to cover up since my late 20’s. First came a bit of mascara, then rinse with black tea and what have you, and, after 35, the full-on colouring bottle. Even though I really like my natural hair colour! I experimented with henna in my early 20’s because red was a bit hippie.

More recent shots – with more grey and in need of colour!

After I had my last salon hair colour (HongKong, winter 2011), I decided to either go for the salt-and-pepper look or use natural hair colourants. I bought henna and the results were instantly good. Not only did my hair colour well with the most standard henna, it also appeared thicker and was fuller and more easily manageable.

I am no allergy sufferer, but I get reactions to about 50% of commercially available moisturizers, including organic and natural ones. So. I cannot stress enough that with anything you try, you do a patch test on you skin for 48 hours before going full-on with any hair or skin treatment. Natural henna is not known to be allergenic, but many additives to henna-based cosmetic colours are.

How I colour hair naturally

I colour hair  quite frequently to cover up roots. With every application, the henna benefits my hair rather than damage it! But as someone who spends rather little time on beauty routines, I have tweaked my hair colouration a little to save time.

I colour in the shower. Beforehand, I pour boiling water onto a cup full of henna powder in a bowl and mix until I get a really thin runny paste – more like a thick soup. I let that stand while take a shower and wash my hair.

colour hair naturally
A day post henna. I omitted the indigo this time because I was in a bit of a hurry. A lustrous tone but too red for me

Henna powder is easy to use in the shower (and surprisingly mess free)

Then I mix it into wet hair while still in the shower. I used to wear gloves and use a hair colouring brush, but found it splashed everywhere onto my shelves and mirror.   Now I just I massage the henna into my hair and scalp and gently pin up any loose lengths. I then re-use one of my old scrub caps (they last a few washes) and put on two scrub caps. Then I get rid of any henna that might have gone into my face and rinse off any henna in the shower. I still use the brush to cover my roots every few weeks, its much faster and mess free.

After this I wash my hands carefully with hand soap – most of the henna will come off. If it doesn’t, it will come off on subsequent hand washing. And then I leave it in – at least three hours. Often I leave it in overnight.

Because my henna paste is quite runny, it easily penetrates to the root area where I need it most, and the high water content helps the colour develop. Then I rinse it out with lukewarm water but do not shampoo again, and comb it through very gently. Done!


On my wedding day, hair disaster free. Cut and styling by the salon, colour by me 2 weeks previously (photo credit: Henry Mundt Photography)

I even coloured my hair for my wedding.  At this point, I had coloured it so often I really wasn’t expecting any disasters. After discussing it it with my hairstylist, had a haircut a week or two before the big day and coloured my hair after the cut, then just had it styled at the salon the day of the wedding. I made the dress too but stayed off the DIY for the food and entertainment.

Last not least! Getting my natural hair colour back (almost)!

After years of reddish hues, I grew a little tired of them. While most of my lengths had a nice dark-brown-red hue, the gray bits around my forehead were becoming more, making this part of my hair really red. And it started to look a little too… undone. It looked borderline okay on my wedding hair.  But one year on… it was time to either get the gray our, re-style or find a colouring solution with more coverage. Bring on the indigo!

I bought a packet of “Black Henna” from Besser-Natur. When buying black henna, it is really important to ensure the “black” comes from indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) not some chemicals. Indigo alone will not cover gray hair, so it is important to mix it with red henna or do a two-step procedure where you colour with red henna first then two days later colour with indigo.

I did the two-step process. I suspect my black henna contained a part Lawsonia rather than just indigo, going by consistency and smell. But both were… much worse than red henna alone! The black henna was a pain to get on hair, it dripped, it stank but… once it was on, I covered my hair and used an old towel to mop up spills, and it was fine. I left it on overnight and rinsed it out the next morning. And then… da-da! I now have dark chestnut brown shiny hair with a natural curl! Like when I was 20! I am deeply impressed and will definitely re-use indigo. I will try yo get some pure indigo leaf and mix it with red henna to have even more control of the colour and to boil it down to a single step.

Things to consider when colouring hair with natural henna

Natural henna is no humectant and at first, hair may appear somewhat stiff and dry after colouring. If you have curly hair or a dry scalp this might make things a little worse. A standard conditioner or some coconut oil pre-shampoo will help. I just don’t have to wash my hair for 4-5 days after colouring –  a pleasant side effect. If it becomes too dry I use some virgin coconut oil or Dr Hauschka Strengthening Hair Treatment before washing.

Some of the henna might still wash out for the first couple of washes, and colour clothes and bed linen. I try not to wash my hair for three days after colouring it, and either use coloured bed linen/clothes that might come into contact with wet hair. The stains will wash out in the next wash.

Allergic reactions to natural henna are extremely rare while additives to henna frequently cause allergic reactions. In any case, do a patch/strand test for 48 hours before applying a whole lot to your scalp.

If you do not get the results the packet claims try to let the henna paste stand for at least an hour to allow for colour to release.  Or keep the henna in your hair for 3+ hours.

If you decide to return to salon colours after the lockdown, discuss with your hairstylist which salon colours are suitable after colouring with henna. Or switch to hair colour wholly derived from plants. You hair may get much healthier over time!

Plant-based natural hair colouring alternatives


Admittedly, because I just buy the henna powder, Khadi is the only brand I have used of all the alternatives. I’ve used their pure indigo to make my hair darker, and it’s great although a bit pricey. I have also used their henna powder and Amla powder. They are great, but are more expensive internationally.  Khadi Natural is an Indian brand established in the 1960’s which uses 100% Ayurvedic formulations.  Their parent company is Gramodaya Ashram which is basically a herbal products and handmade cloth manufacturer. As is common with Indian brands, they carry all sorts of certifications. I am not sure whether any of them are organic or cruelty-free, so this is a somewhat restrained recommendation.

They also produce fully plant-based hair colourants, shampoo and hair conditioning products, but I have tested none of these.

Henne Colour

Is a small French brand of henna-based based hair colourants.  They have some henna in different shades, henna-based hair colours and hair care products. They declare the products are not tested on animals although they do not bear any of the official cruelty-free certifications. You will often find them in health shops, for example Holland and Barrett in the UK. You can also buy them online.

Hemani Organic Henna

Normally has a good reputations but get some really mixed reviews on Amazon.

The Small Print


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Legal notice

Any commissions on purchases will go to El Gato Andaluz, a cat shelter in La Linea, Andalucia.   I will match any commission with a donation from my own funds. La Linea is a  city in one of the poorest regions of Spain. What’s worse, many cats got abandoned because their owner wrongly thought the pets can give them COVID-19. The shelter is closed to visitors, adoptions cannot go ahead.  And lots of stray cats cannot be trapped and sterilized and will have their kittens now, with no one there to take care of them! Should there unexpectedly be tons of commissions, I may divide the funds to support other animal shelters in Spain. As per usual, purchasing through an affiliate link will not cost you extra. More details are in my Terms and Conditions.

Update 23.5.2020: I  stopped using Amazon as a customer and as a consequence, for affiliate marketing, too. I have made several donations to cat shelters during COVID-19 which were much higher than any income from this blog. I don’t care about income from this blog as much as I care about supporting companies that pay a fair wage, pay taxes and provide good customer service. 

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