Vegetable dyes and/or henna are ways to dye your hair without the use of chemicals. The ingredients in vegetable dyes, such as leaves, fruits, flowers, and bark, and the red/orange dye molecule lawsone concentrated in henna leaves are safe, non-toxic, condition and shine your hair, and even can be used during pregnancy. The color you will get when dyeing your hair with henna depends on your natural hair color.

Henna on natural dark hair doesn’t dye it red, but gives it red highlights, and over time also improves shine and helps repair damage from chemicals. The use of vegetable dye and/or henna will not produce a drastic change in your hair color, but they can be safely applied multiple times and the more they are applied the richer and deeper your color will become.

Founder and Editor of CurlyNikki.com shares her experiences and insight …
When asked what advice she would give to someone contemplating dyeing their hair Curly Nikki said, “I would tell her to research extensively before taking the plunge. Every head is totally different.”

Curly Nikki’s dyeing experience …
I had professional highlights done in 2005 and my hair revolted… it became weak, brittle, and generally angry! No matter what conditioning treatment I tried, it was simply a lost cause. On the other hand, I’ve seen many a Fotki album where the natural diva changes her hair color on a regular basis, and her curls thrive and flourish. Do what works for you, and if you decide on chemicals, I’d definitely seek out a trained professional.

Nikki’s thoughts on over-the-counter dyes or henna claiming to be natural…
I’ve heard many horror stories of naturals who used Bigen thinking it was similar to henna. My advice would be to use pure, body art quality henna from a reputable dealer (and indigo or cassia if you’re trying to achieve shades of brown or black), so that way you know exactly what’s in your mix. I’d be leery of any henna product that reads ‘Red Henna’, ‘Black Henna’, or ‘Brown Henna’. Henna is RED. Create your own mix and skip the guesswork.

On the use of henna changing hair texture …
I’ve never done a poll, but in all the threads I’ve read, it really depends on the head. I have, however, noticed a pattern — ladies with ‘s’ curls or waves are more likely to experience the weighing down or stretching effect, while ladies with ‘o’ curls or spirals/coils see less of this, and sometimes experience even more curl definition. The texture change is temporary and very subtle.

The extra weight and girth the henna adds to each individual strand (making for thicker and voluminous hair) weighs it down and makes the hair smoother, and hang longer. After using henna for several months (henna’s effect is cumulative), my shrinkage was halved. If the texture change is not a side effect you’re willing to risk, you can counteract the effects by mixing amla powder into your batch. It’ll help you keep your spring factor.

For those eager to take the plunge Curly Nikki suggests …
First, read through the ridiculously long and infamous 4a Board sticky on Henna on NaturallyCurly.com (see link below). It practically provides a detailed timeline on many naturals’ (including myself) experiences with henna. All of the textures and lengths are represented there, along with pictures and detailed explanations of their results.

Then I’d recommend moving to Henna For Hair.com’s forum. There is tons and tons of great information on this site! It’s where I started, plus they have an Ebook (free), which is a MUST read. I would also buy my henna from – Mehandi.com, Henna For Hair’s sister site. My favorite brands are Jamila and the Punjabi Prime. They both have a high dye content, and are highly sifted, making for an easy mix, application, and rinse.

Don’t expect much from your first henna session. Remember, this is not a box color treatment. Henna is cumulative, and you’ll begin to notice the effects (color saturation, shine, de-frizzing, smoothing) over several treatments. If you have naturally dark hair, the color may only be visible outdoors in direct sunlight, and even then, it will only look like an auburn rinse over your black curls.

Henna gives dark hair an untouchable shine… it can’t be replicated with any conditioner or styler. If your hair is brown or lighter in color (or even gray), it will dye your hair auburn. The more applications the darker the shade. The length of my grays are now a very rich, dark auburn. The roots of my grays are copper.

Henna, like any treatment, can be taxing. It mimics protein (strengthens the hair shafts and fills in holes) and can dry the hair if you’re not careful. You can henna as often as you like, but after every treatment, make sure you use an intense moisturizing conditioner (with heat). Obviously, if you have an adverse reaction, notice more shedding than usual, or chronic dryness, stop all treatments. Henna, like anything else, is not for everybody.

Nikki says, “Research, have fun, and please remember to condition!”

Curly Nikki’s Henna How-to Pictorial

More information:
CurlyNikki website : www.curlynikki.com
CurlTalk Experiences with Henna
Henna for Hair
Henna for Hair YouTube Channel
Mehandi website
Info on Vegetable Dyes

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  • Jami

    Does anyone know how to lighten hair naturally? Ive heard of stuff like lemon juice and chamomile, but not sure if that works of african american hair.

  • Dia

    im testing out “natural” dyes right now, but all i know is that henna is too messy for me. I might try it one day but ill stick to the chamomile tea which im actually seeing results from.

  • Tori

    I heard if you use lemon juice it can lighten your hair.