02 03 Gallimaufry Grove: Henna for Gray Hair 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Henna for Gray Hair

A close-up of my hair after henna.

Once a month I smear my head with green mud.  And my hair thanks me for it.  Yup.  I am a henna advocate.  When I first started using henna, my hair was dull, lifeless and chemically damaged.  After only a few months of henna, my hair was transformed.  Now, several years later, I am in my mid-forties and my hair is thick, shiny and nearly waist length.  Who knew mud could be so great?

Only one problem.  I'm in my mid-forties.  That means I'm a leetle bit gray.  Okay.  I'm a lot gray.  When I first started using henna, I only had a little gray.  The henna just made my gray look like lovely red highlights.  But the more gray you have, the more red your hair will look after henna.  I'm getting a lot of gray hair, so I was starting to look like this:

Now, if Lucille Ball is the look you're going for, then great.  Hop over to my How To Henna Your Hair post and I'll tell you all about it.  But if you want a more auburn look, and you have a lot of gray, keep reading.

In my research about henna, everything pretty much said that you can use henna as long as you only have 10% gray or less.  Great.  So I guess that means you can live a natural lifestyle until you turn gray, and then you either need to use chemicals or embrace the silver sheen.  Or look like Lucille Ball.  Thanks anyway.

I started experimenting with Indigo (more on that in a minute) and longer wait times.  My results were mixed.  Then one day Rula, one of my lovely readers, commented on this blog and sorted out my dilemma for me.  You guys really should comment more.  I learn so much from your comments.  Just saying.

Before I tell you Rula's ingenious solution to the henna for gray hair dilemma, let me give you a little back round information.

Before you can make any changes to the way you henna your gray hair, you need to know how to use henna in the first place.  I tell you how I do my hair and give links for supplies and information here.

Once you know how henna works, there are a few special things you need to know about henna for gray hair:

Lawsone Content:  The lawsone content of henna affects how rich and deep the dye will be.  Less lawsone means less gray coverage.  More lawsone means more gray coverage.  Mehandi.com will tell you if you are getting a high lawsone content.  The henna I purchase has a higher than 2% lawsone content.  (If you are standing in the local health food store looking at the back of a henna box, put it down and slowly back away.  If you are really careful, it probably won't bite you, but you should leave the area immediately to protect yourself.  I only use body art quality henna that comes in little pouches and has nothing in it but very finely ground henna leaf.  I have only found it online.  I have had so many people read my posts, rush out and buy some sort of pre-mixed boxed stuff at the store and then tell me they didn't get my results.  I can't vouch for what they put in that stuff.  Go ahead and spring for the good stuff!)

Longer Wait Times:  If you don't have gray hair, you can rinse the henna off in a couple hours, but if you want good coverage on stubborn gray hair, you need to be more patient.  I usually leave the henna on for 6 hours -- sometimes I will even leave it on overnight, but I never rinse it off in under 4 hours.

Indigo:  Indigo is just what it sounds like.  It is the plant used to make indigo (denim blue) colored dye.  Indigo can be your friend if you use it properly.  But if you just slap it on haphazardly, you will end up looking like this:

You don't want that.  

The indigo for hair is very finely powdered indigo leaf -- nothing else.  There is an art to using indigo.  In some ways it is easier.  Henna needs an acidic element to release the dye and a long sit time for the dye release to occur.  Indigo is just mixed with water and used immediately.  That part is easier.  But you don't want to apply it by itself unless you like blue hair.

If you want jet black hair, apply henna first, and alone.  Then when your henna is all done and your hair is dry, mix and apply indigo.  You can learn more about it in the free Henna for Hair ebook.

If you want brown hair, mix your henna first.  When you are all ready to color, mix your indigo.  Then you will need to stir the two together.  You need to stir, stir and stir some more, or you could end up with blue streaks.  The more indigo you add to your henna, the darker brown you will be.  When I have done this, I used half henna/half indigo or 3/4 henna/ 1/4 indigo.  Again, you can find lots more information about how to use indigo and how to mix it to get the color you want in the Henna for Hair ebook.

My problem with using an indigo/henna mix on my entire head:  I always like the results the first time I use it.  The second time, I think it's a little darker than I wanted, but still okay.  By the third time, I think it is way too dark.  Once I experimented with just a little indigo in my henna.  It took longer to get to the way too dark stage, but I still did.  Indigo seems to build up over time.  Sigh...  What's a gray headed girl to do?

This is the point that Rula stepped in with an ingenious idea that totally revolutionized my hairy world.  This is what she said:

"....What I did this time was I put the henna for 6 hours and washed it. That was 2 days ago. I kept about 3 tbs of the mix. Today I mixed 50 gr. of the indigo then added the 3tbs of mixed henna to it and applied to my roots. I left it for 20 min only and washed my hair. It did not become dark. [It's a] lovely auburn, What I used to do before was I used to put hibiscus tea in my henna mix. It made it go dark and more purplish which I did not like. This time I did not. I found it much better. I never tried mixing both in one application. It is a hassle I'm sure you know, but henna is very good. This kind is by far the best I have ever tried..."

After reading her comments, I decided to try her method, or something very similar to it -- it worked wonderfully.  Did you get what she said?  Here's what I did:

1.  I colored my hair using henna and my regular method (here) and saving a out few tablespoons.  I left it on for 6 full hours.  Then I rinsed and washed as usual.
2.  When my hair was dry (the same day for me, Rula waited 2 days), I mixed enough indigo with water to make a few tablespoons.  Then I made a mix of half henna/half indigo.
3.  I applied the henna/indigo mix to the roots only and set a timer for 20 minutes (I might try 30 minutes next time for a slightly deeper, richer color), then I rinsed and washed my hair again.  Ta Da!  Blended auburn roots without going too dark over the rest of my hair.  Thank you Rula!!!

Here is why it works:

First:  By just using straight henna on the bulk of your hair, you get the lovely effects of henna without the gradual darkening effects of the indigo over the bulk of your hair. But your gray roots are left looking like this:
This is me after rinsing the henna out.
My hair is still wet, but the gray roots are really red and very noticeable.
We need to fix that.  Time for stage two.

Second:  By applying a henna/indigo mix just to the new gray growth, you are able to darken the part that needs to be darkened without over-darkening the rest of your hair.  Because that new growth will be part of "the rest of your hair" next time, it will only get one indigo application.  This blends the roots into the rest of the hair without making anything too dark or too red.

Excuse the terrible picture, but this is after the the second stage application.  I was using an all-over henna/indigo application for the last few color jobs, so my hair is a little brown right now (The indigo I put all over my head last time will fade out eventually).  Also, this is immediately after the second application, so the colors haven't had time to oxidize and mellow yet (that takes 2-3 days).  I like Rula's way much, much better than the way I had been doing it lately (henna/indigo mix all over).  The roots are blending in nicely with the rest of my hair. 

Third:  By leaving the henna/indigo mix on the gray roots only 20 minutes (I might try 30 minutes next time for a slightly richer color), you avoid ending up with black roots (remember, indigo applied after henna will give you black hair).  You just deepen the color of your roots and blend them into the rest of your hair.  Perfect.  Now I have auburn hair again, and I can keep it that way.

Thank you Rula!  You're idea deserves to be shared with the henna world!  We really can keep using henna when we are more than 10% gray!

Have a great day!


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