The Expert Guide to Henna Hair Dye

Thinking of using henna hair dye, or merely wondering what all the fuss is about? Here’s all you need to know about using henna for hair colour – should you be jumping on the henna hair trend train and, if so, how?

What exactly is henna?

Before we even start talking about henna for hair dye, let’s be clear on what henna actually is...

“Henna” is the word for a dye made from the plant lawsonia inermis, aka the henna or “hina” tree. This dye has also been used for centuries for body art and staining leather. Its use has been dated as far back as Ancient India (called “Mehndi”) and Egypt, when it is thought that Cleopatra wore henna body art.

The dye is made by harvesting the leaves, drying them, and grounding them into a fine powder. This powder is then made into a paste and, voila, henna hair dye.

That’s all there is to the process, and it’s why henna is such a popular choice for those looking to dye their hair using all-natural ingredients.

How does henna hair dye work?

Not only is henna natural, but it causes less damage than chemical hair dyes. As opposed to lifting the cuticles of the hair fibre in order for the colour to fix to the inner cortex, henna sits on top of the cuticles and sinks in, proving a layer of colour that gradually fades out over time. It’s an effective semi-permanent (around 2-4 months) way to naturally dye your hair and give it a red glow. The fact that henna gradually fades means you aren’t left with a “helmet effect” – visible roots.

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Henna hair colour: not quite so simple

The principal of henna for hair is simple, but the colour result isn’t always so. Most people think of henna hair colour as a reddish auburn shade. However, pure henna gives an orange-to-red shade depending on your base colour and the quality of your hair. “Neutral” henna also exists, but this does not colour the hair, it’s actually cassia, used for lightening and conditioning treatments.

That darker shade of auburn is achieved by mixing henna with another natural ingredient, indigo (the same dark blue used for most jeans). Used on its own, henna cannot make hair lighter, but adds orange to your natural hair colour.

Professional expertise is key

Important tip: it is not recommended to apply henna to hair that has been recently chemically dyed, as the result will be less predictable (especially if you have had highlights). In fact, whenever you use henna, your best bet is by going professional – or at least getting an expert diagnosis before using henna for hair.

If you’re facing the dilemma of wanting to use natural ingredients on your hair, but afraid about self-application (henna stains everything, bath and shower surfaces included), there is a new solution available. Botanea, by L’Oréal Professionnel, is an in-salon hair colour service that uses all-natural ingredients. And just three of them, plus pure coconut oil: indigo, cassia and...henna!

Your Botanea colourist mixes just the right amount of the required dyes together in order to achieve the perfect shade, whether you’re after a bright orange or subtle dark red. Added to water to form a paste, the dye is then applied to the hair and left for a prescribed period of time before rinsing.

Let’s sum it up...

Benefits of henna hair colour

  • You know exactly what you’re putting on your hair and skin
  • You’re not flushing chemicals down the drain
  • No visible roots thanks to subtle fade-out
  • Great grey hair coverage

What to watch out for

  • Henna stains – it’s a dye – so home colouring can get messy
  • Using henna over chemically-coloured hair can give unpredictable results
  • Pure henna isn’t dark red, it’s orange
  • Many DIY dyes aren’t pure henna for hair


Going natural when it comes to beauty is by far the most popular “trend” these days. And with good reason. We’re far more conscientious when it comes to what we’re putting on, and in, our bodies, as well as how our cosmetics affect the environment.

That said, while henna might be a simple natural ingredient, it can be unpredictable when applied to the hair. Many are surprised when they get a far more orange shade than they expected. Ask for professional help, especially if using henna for hair colour for the first time.

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