FAQ: How to Transition from Chemical Dyes to Herbal Dyes


One of the reasons that people are hesitant to switch from chemical dyes is that they are familiar and in common use–the devil you know. Dispelling some of the uncertainty about the transition changes jumping into herbal dyes from something full of trepidation to something exciting.


Can I henna and other herbal dyes over my chemically treated hair?

Yes, IF you make sure you are using 100% henna and other herbs. Pure plant matter will not react with any sort of chemical treatment. This applies to perms, relaxed hair, dyed hair, and keratin treatments. There are imposter “henna hair colors” or henna compounds, can react badly with previous or future chemical treatments, which could result in hair turning black, green, or melting it into a smoking mess. You can read how to tell pure plant matter from chemically altered plant powder here.

Always source your henna or herbal hair colors from a reputable supplier, and doubly safeguard yourself with a strand test on shed hair. While there’s no mandatory wait time after a chemical treatment to henna, it’s usually best to let your hair wait a week between any sort of major treatment. This waiting period is an excellent time to do additional research, gather supplies, and strand test!


The play of light

Chemical colors lift the cuticle of the hair, deposit dye, and attempt to lay the cuticle back down. This restoration process is not perfect, however, and the more times hair has been dyed, the lesser the degree to which the cuticle returns to its original form. The way in which hair shines is dependent on the way light reflects off the cuticle. A hair with a tight, closed cuticle will shine evenly because its surface is smooth and more mirror-like. A hair with a roughened cuticle will shimmer more than shine, as its surface is not as smooth. This means that if you switch to henna and your hair grows out, it might shine differently than the sections of your hair that have been chemically treated. The difference will fade over time as your hair grows out and the line of demarcation blurs.


This wonderful NightBlooming customer was kind enough to let me share her pictures of her hair journey. She started with chemical dyes years ago, then transitioned to henna and indigo and then lightened that up, wanting copper. This left her with coppery roots with red and light brown hair with indigo streaks. As you can see Fire Genasi unified her hair color to a rich, natural copper that looks great even in direct sunlight.


Herbal colors are a great unifier of color

Herbal colors apply their dye atop your hair, meaning that if there’s a line of demarcation between your natural color as your roots grow in and the chemical color on the length of your hair, natural dyes will help blend them together. Just remember that herbal dyes work with the color they are applied on top of, so they will blend, but not perfectly unify, two drastically different colors. If you don’t mind a bit of a line as you jump to herbal dyes, then onward you go. If, however, you’d like to make your transition as seamless as possible, use the following steps to blend the new growth will blend into the chemically treated length.


Evaluate your natural color

Permanent hair dyes, even ones for dark colors, often work by opening the cuticle of the hair, bleaching out the natural color, and replacing it with a chemical color. This is a way that chemical colors, gets the color that is on the box. Using herbal dyes atop your chemical color results in a blend of your current chemical color and the herbal dye. Once your roots grow in and you touch them up with herbal dyes, the color that results from your natural color and herbal dyes may differ from the length that was chemically colored. Accounting for this difference ahead of time, doing some prep work and a few adjustments can make the transition from chemical colors to herbal ones as seamless as possible.


If your natural color is about the same lightness / darkness as your current chemical color

You’re in luck! This is the best way to start your transition to herbal colors.

If your natural color is darker than your current chemical color

Hair naturally tends to be a little lighter at the ends than at the roots due to sun and weathering. If the difference isn’t that great, a few applications of herbal dye might even things out enough on their own. However, if you’d like to unify your color more before applying an herbal color, applying a semi, demi, or deposit-only close to your natural color is an easy way to accomplish this.

If your natural color is lighter than your current chemical color

The goal here is to get your chemical color somewhat close to your natural color by removing the darker chemical color and replacing it with a semi, demi, or deposit-only dye. I love Adore dyes for this purpose. Many times the first reaction to this situation is to reach for the bleach, but there’s no need to inflict more damage on your hair. If your natural color is lighter than your current chemical color, you can remove the darker chemical color with a color-removal product. Products like ColorOops and ColourB4 work by shrinking the chemical dye molecule, allowing it to be rinsed out of the hair. They can smell a bit, but the smell fades in a day or two. Once the darker chemical is gone, use a deposit-only dye that is close to your natural color. Once everything is blended, you’re ready to rock the herbal colors!


Why your Hairdresser thinks Henna is Bad


There’s been more than one hennahead who is more than happy to tell their hairdresser about the newfound benefits of this amazing herb, and are shocked to find that their hairdresser thinks henna is evil and will destroy their hair. If pure henna or other pure herbs are followed up with a chemical treatment, nothing happens, but when a henna compound (henna mixed with metallic salts) is chemically treated with other dyes, it can smoke, turn green, turn black, or melt entirely. Because many henna novices don’t know the difference between henna and a henna compound, or got a henna compound when they thought they were using pure henna, when something goes wrong and the hairdressers asks what was on their hair before, the answer is, “Henna!”

Some of this is also partially an error on the part of the person using herbal colors. If they are not aware that henna is almost impossible to remove, or that bleaching hair with indigo on it will cause it to turn green, they set themselves, and the hairdresser, up to fail. Because of this, and a general lack of knowledge about herbal hair care (even the textbooks used for salon training rarely differentiate henna from henna compounds)  hairdressers are taught from day one that henna is bad, never realizing the amazing benefits pure henna has for hair.

Just remember that as long as you are using pure plant matter, it is perfectly safe to use herbal colors over chemically treated hair, and to do chemical treatments after (the permanency of henna and indigo aside).


NightBlooming Herbal Hair Colors are always made with quality ingredients and are 100% plant matter

NightBlooming herbal hair colors are a great place to start if you’re either unsure of your ability to discern impurities in henna. The picture above is all of our red hair colors strand tested on donated human hair.  If you ever have any questions just ask!

This content is excerpted from Coloring Hair Naturally with Henna & Other Herbs, which has tons of information if you’re hungry for more! More than 300 pages of text, pictures, charts, diagrams, and recipes make Coloring Hair Naturally with Henna & Other Herbs the definitive resource for natural hair coloring. With it, you’ll be able to give yourself the hair you’ve always wanted, naturally.

4 thoughts on “FAQ: How to Transition from Chemical Dyes to Herbal Dyes”

    1. Mary, henna does cover gray! The important thing to remember is that henna overlays the lightness/darkness of the hair it is applied to. So if you have brown hair with gray/white streaks, the brown will turn auburn and the grays will be a lighter, brighter red. In my case, using Fire Genasi, my length is copper-orange, but my whites are golden-strawberry blonde and look like natural highlights 🙂

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