My own journey started that way. I’d destroyed my hair with chemical dyes and had a red, peeling scalp and thought “there has to be a better way to get the color I want,” and it turns out, there was! Fire Genasi was my first blend, and still the one I use myself. In this guide I’m going to hit all the high notes of what you’ll need to get started with henna hair dyes and herbal hair dyes and then also give you the resources you need to dig deeper. I’ve been working with herbal hair colors for over 15 years and researched herbal hair dyes from Ancient Japan all the way to Victorian-Era Auburn. You’re always welcome to reach out to me directly ask any questions you have.

Can I use herbal hair colors over my chemically colored hair, and will they cover gray?

Yes to both of these questions! You can read specifically about How to Transition from Chemical Dyes to Herbal Dyes here, and covering grays can sometimes take a few applications, but is entirely possible! Just remember that when you look at the color charts below, if you have dark hair with whites / grays you will have check both those on the color chart to see how the various hues in your hair will change with the application of herbal dye.

3 Key Things to Understand About Herbal Hair Colors

  1. Henna, indigo, and many other herbal hair colors are permanent, much more so than chemical dyes. Strand test before committing to a whole head treatment. If you “don’t have time” to strand test you “don’t have time” to slog through days or weeks of trying to fix a color you hate. You cannot bleach (or dye lighter) henna and indigo–there’s no “going henna-red just for the summer / pandemic” and then back to bottle blonde after.
  2. You cannot lighten your hair with herbal hair colors. Herbal hair colors can only deposit color. You can apply all the yellow dye you want to black hair and it is not going to make your hair blonde.
  3. Herbal colors, especially henna, vary a lot depending on the lighting. It’s very tempting to say, “I want this color in this photo. What mix do I need?” That same head of hair might look very different in another photo taken just a few seconds later because a cloud passed overhead. That’s why when I photograph the strand tests of my hair colors, I shoot them all indoors, outdoors, and in various types of light.
The pictures above illustrate how henna shifts in the light. All of these pictures are of the my hair, taken on the same day; the only thing that’s changed is the lighting. For some people this is an exciting and unique property of henna, but for others the variable color can be a nuisance.


Identifying Quality Henna & Herbal Hair Colors

One of the biggest hurdles for many first time henna users is just that there seems to be so much variation out there. From different types of henna (Jamila vs. Rajasthani vs. Moroccan vs. Yemini) to misnomers (yellow henna, neutral henna, black henna–hint, none of these things are henna!) to people quibbling over various recipes, it’s overwhelming.

Just know that all quality hennas stain more or less the same color (despite the claims henna-sellers make otherwise), and that the best way to get variation in color is by blending henna with other herbs. You’ll want to be on the lookout for henna compounds (herbal hair colors with metallic salts or other disclosed chemicals in them), but can also take heart that there are three easy to spot red flags:

  • They’ll use incorrect monikers like “black henna” or “neutral henna” rather than terms like indigo or senna/cassia.
  • They’ll promise you a hair color that you cannot get with herbs (so lightening black hair to blonde, or an unnatural color like purple or blue).
  • They’ll smell wrong. Every time I’ve encountered one of these henna compounds they had a telltale chemical, acrid edge to their aroma.

Still, it’s a lot to take in, and can feel overwhelming. It’s a big part of why I preblend herbal hair colors at NightBlooming–it is totally okay to opt out of all of that and go with something made by someone who knows what they’re doing.

A lot of “common knowledge” about herbs and dyeing is wrong. Adding chamomile and calendula to your blend will not make your hair more golden. Ground coffee mixed in with your henna will not make your hair more brown. You’ll find many of these claims when a non-expert is doing a one-off post for their natural living blog. The idea makes sense, but in practice it doesn’t work that way.

Most herbs can’t stain protein (which is what your hair is made of), and the ones that can, stain it weakly and will be overpowered by cassia, henna, and indigo. In the end, all these other herbs do is dilute the percentage of the herbs that are actually doing the coloring. You can see this in the strand tests of some common herbs, they’re so much weaker than the strand tests I posted earlier.

If you want to make your own blend, there’s a lot of recipes out there, but know that simple is best–start with ratios like those in the chart before you worry about adding in fifty herbs, strange liquids, and the kitchen sink. You can always add nuance later, but getting the big blocks of henna, senna, and indigo in place is 95% of the battle. You’ll find dozens of recipes in Coloring Hair Naturally with Henna & Other Herbs, for every color from silver-white to raven’s wing black.

Your herbal color will change depending on what color you are applying it to. So if you think of drawing a line across two pieces of paper with an orange marker, the first paper white, the second paper light brown, the orange is going to show up much more vividly on the white paper–that’s also the case with herbal dyes, the lighter the hair they’re applied to, the brighter and more vibrant they are. In my case, my hair is copper-orange, and my whites are brighter, new-penny copper and look like natural highlights.



Liquids are another thing to keep simple. Water is just fine, but consider using distilled or bottled water if you know you have either very hard water, or water with heavy minerals.

Just like how most herbs will not meaningfully contribute to the color of your herbal hair color blend, the same goes for liquids. Using chamomile tea will not make your color more golden, using coffee will not make your color more brown, and using red wine will not make your color more red (though it will dry out your hair and scalp and make you smell like fermented grapes.) All of these liquids are just too weak to impart color, or in the case of red wine, just aren’t able to bind to protein.

Feel free to use an herbal tea for its conditioning benefits, like Sunlit Meadow Rinse for Light Hair, or Forest Glade Rinse for Dark Hair, or coconut milk. Better yet, add Selkie Herbal Detangler to your henna for extra hydration and slip without impacting dye uptake. There’s a whole article here on how amazing adding Selkie to henna is!


A lot of sources will say you must use an acid with henna, and that is simply not true. One of the chief complaints about herbal hair colors are how drying they are and the insistence of including large amounts of acid contributes to this. Acids are a carry over piece of ‘common knowledge’ from skin art where the acidic nature of the henna helped the stain penetrate deeper into the skin, but henna doesn’t need this additional help to stain hair. If you feel you must use an acid, use only 1TB of an acidic liquids per 100g of powder.

Essential Oils

Feel free to add essential oils to your blend for the aroma or for benefits (such as hinoki for hair growth), using 12 drops of combined essential oils per 100g of powder you mix up. Avoid ‘hot’ oils, such as cinnamon or ginger as these can irritate the scalp. I have a huge variety of essential oil blends so you can pick and choose your scents!

Oils, Eggs, Sugar, and everything else

None of these are needed and all of them can inhibit dye uptake if included in your herbal hair dye. Often, you’ll see these things recommended to counter dryness, but it’s simply not needed if you forego an acid and use a conditioning liquid instead. If you add no more than 1TB of oil to a mix using 100 g of powder, you’ll get the a little extra slip without impacting dye.

How much?

Generally you can follow the recommendations in the chart, but if your hair is very thick, you’ll need more, if it’s very thin, you’ll need less.

If you have to guess, always over-estimate how much powder you need. So long as your blend doesn’t contain indigo, you can freeze the leftover mud and save it for your next treatment, and it’s much better to have leftovers than it is to run out mid-application.

Don’t make a mess!

Henna will stain your hands, your towels, your floor, the ceiling (don’t ask, it’s possible.) Make sure you’re wearing gloves when applying henna and that you put anything you love dearly out of the splatter zone. The good news is that the skin on your scalp and face is thin and therefore won’t stain badly–you can put lotion along your hairline to protect it, but even if it stains a little it will fade in a day or two.

Mixing Instructions

Different colors require slightly different processes. You can click on each of the thumbnail instructions to see a full-sized version.

Single Step Pt. 1

For colorless conditioning, blonde, and reds.

Single Step Pt. 2

For colorless conditioning, blonde, and reds.

Staggered Step

For browns and dark reds using indigo.

Two Step

For black hair using henna and indigo.


Add your liquid to your powder, going slowly. You’ll want to stop when the consistency of the mud is like pancake batter and all the lumps are broken up (I love a final pass with a hand mixer or an immersion blender to make sure all the lumps are gone).

Then, set your henna someplace warm. Henna is native to hot, arid climates, so we’re trying to simulate a desert environment, and about 100F/37C is perfect to aim for. You can use an crock pot or Instant Pot for dye releasing, but other options include setting the bowl inside of a warm oven, on a warming plate, or in a sunbeam on a hot day. Dye release generally takes a few hours and you can test if your henna-containing blend is ready by dotting your palm with the mud, letting it sit for two minutes, then rinsing the mud off. If you see a pale orange dot, you’re ready to go.

You may not see orange puddles of dye if your blend contains little to no henna. Blends that are mostly cassia / senna and sedr don’t need to dye release as long, and can even be applied right after mixing.

Application, Waiting & Rinsing

You can apply your herbal hair color to damp or dry hair. Neither changes the results dramatically, but applying to dry hair can give superior color saturation. If you’re applying to dry hair you’ll want to make the mud a little runnier as your hair is going to wick up the moisture, if applying to damp hair (which is easier), you’ll want to make the mud a little thicker so it’s less drippy while you’re waiting.

Make sure all of your hair is totally covered with the mud, then use a shower cap, plastic wrap, or a plastic bag to keep the herbal hair color from drying out while you wait. Cover with a warm hat or towel as the added heat will also help both release dye and open the cuticle of your hair to absorb more color.

Rinsing, like most things pertaining to herbal hair colors, is going to take time. Don’t rush the process, and be sure to get as much of the mud out as possible as improper rinsing is another leading cause of dryness.  Some people prefer to lead off their rinsing adventures with a mermaid soak. A mermaid soak means that you fill a tub or bucket with warm water, dunk your hair in it and gently swish/massage the hair in the water.


If your mix contained henna, expect your color to change, specifically, to get a little darker and less orange. The oxidation process takes about 3 days and then you will know your final color. So if your hair is a little shocking, take a deep breath and give the color time to settle. During oxidization, hair may feel a little strange to the touch. This is a combination of the rinsing process of the mud stripping any oils or product from the hair, and also the moisture-permeable plant wax coating of henna taking time to settle down. If your mix had indigo in it, there may be a greenish cast to hair just after rinsing. This is because of the unoxidized molecules that form the final color of indigo. Until they have bound to either oxygen or hair, they may have a greenish cast. Between the indigo oxidizing and any henna in the mix deepening in color, the greenish cast disappears within a day or two in the vast majority of cases.


Generally speaking, herbal hair colors do not require any substantial changes to your
routine to maintain, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind.

  •  Weaker dyes like the golden tones produced by senna may disappear over the
    course of several weeks and require another whole-head treatment to refresh
    the color and conditioning. To prolong the color, use diluted shampoos or try
    conditioner-only washing.
  • Stronger dyes, such as henna, do not fade easily or at all and repeat whole-head
    applications will darken it. If you have your ideal color, switch to doing only the
    roots as they grow in.
  • Very hard water or heat like a flat iron or curling iron, has been reported to turn
    henna brownish or greenish. For hard water, try a chelating rinse such as Alluvial.

Some final considerations…

  1. Does your complexion work with the color you’re seeking? Consider test driving your color with Photoshop or a wig first because even if you like the color, you want to make sure you like it on you.
  2. Henna can reduce your curl pattern or waves. This is not a universal effect, but in a survey I did found that 63% of curlies and 68% of wavies saw a reduction in their hair pattern after using henna. Despite claims to the contrary, amla does not prevent or cure this effect; it’s permanent.
  3. Herbal colors will darken with each application. That means if you hit your perfect hair color you’ll want to swap to roots-only applications (I love my foolproof braided root touchup method), but it also means that if your first application isn’t dark enough that you may need another layer or two of color to get to your perfect hue.
  4. Herbal colors are often more expensive up front than boxed dyes, cheaper than salon treatments, and almost always cheaper in the long run (to say nothing of having healthier hair!) I do a full cost analysis here of herbal hair colors vs. hair dye, both boxed and salon treatments. The short version, though was to dye my hair ginger at a salon would have cost me $250, but only $28 at home, for a red that never fades and makes my hair healthier.
  5. You can dye eyebrows or beards with herbal hair colors, too!
  6. It’s always better to start lighter and go darker with herbal colors since they layer up with each application. It is much, much easier to do another application than it is to try to lighten your henna up after the fact.



Everything in this post is excerpted from Coloring Hair Naturally with Henna & Other Herbs. Using tried-and-true holistic methods, this e-book will introduce you to the world of natural hair dyes and make you an expert in no time. You will be able custom blend your own organic hair dye colors and confidently select the best ingredients for them—using everything from herbs, like henna and cassia, to essential oils.

More than 130 pages (300 pages in ebook) of text, pictures, charts, diagrams, and recipes make Coloring Hair Naturally with Henna & Other Herbs: A Guide is the definitive resource for natural hair coloring. With it, you’ll be able to give yourself the hair you’ve always wanted, naturally.

You’re also always welcome to reach out to me directly; I’m always happy to help!