Tuesday Beauty Talks; How to Actually Get Henna to Cover Gray Roots

So awhile back I told you guys about my forced pixie cut and a quest to revitalize my chemically damaged hair (and possibly scalp?) by quitting chemical hair-dye cold turkey.

The plan was to either grow out my gray and be a little more “authentic” or switch to something more natural to cover the silver that (to me) is such a problem up against my remaining dark hair, simply because it makes me feel as though my gray gives the illusion of baldness and also because the difference is so striking that when my new growth gets long enough it is all I see when I look in the mirror.

I opted to forego growing out my gray for the time being- I’m not ready for the big gray grow-out, which left me to consider my options when choosing a less toxic type of hair-color to get the job done.

There are a few chemicals- resorcinol and ammonia in particular that I was trying to avoid and in my research I found a few really good products that are free of those 2 chemicals- they are free of parabens as well.

There are a few options when it comes to more natural hair color- some I have tried and some I have not.


Naturtint. Sold online and at Whole Foods (at least it was when I shopped there last which, admittedly, has been awhile) Naturtint touts less harsh chemicals overall (no resorcinol which is linked to a host of cancers) and more health friendly ingredients. It does, however, contain propylene glycol which is one of the ingredients in traditional perfumes that made me stop using them and peroxide- which is common even in the most “natural” of home hair-color options as it helps develop the color. I have personally not used Naturtint but I do know people who have and have been happy with the results- if you’re a Naturtint user please tell us about your experiences or offer any advice below!


Herbatint. Also ammonia free and very low in harsh chemicals, Herbatint is another great, cost effective, option for home hair-coloring. It also (like Naturtint) has a whole host of colors to choose from and very high customer satisfaction ratings. The one thing that stands out for me about Herbatint over Naturtint is the range of colors- Herbatint has a level 2 color, which is close to my natural where Naturtint skips straight from a 3 or 4 to a 1. So you other dark haired mamas, there you go- otherwise, there are plenty of options available between these 2 more traditional hair color options.


Henna. In the world of henna hair color you would be amazed at the options you have available to you; there are a lot more colors available than in the past (although if you’re looking for the traditional gingery/orange typically associated with henna, it is definitely still around) and plenty of formulas as well. Powdered from Henna Color Lab, a solid block form that is mixed with cocoa butter from Lush and even some pre-mixed liquid formulas that I have found on Amazon (but not tried) there is bound to be something for you, even if it’s your first time using henna. There are a few things to know about henna should you choose this route, however;

  1. It is messy. Really messy. Even if you manage to keep it on your head, it looks a little like mud so pick up your bathroom rugs use a t-shirt you don’t mind getting stained (as you would with traditional hair-dye).
  2.  The smell is unusual. It smells like tea and Earth and cooked spinach; it takes some getting used to, however, I think it smells better than chemical hair-dye ever will. The smell of henna will never make your eyes or throat burn even if your husband and toddler will tell you your henna smells bad. Whatev.
  3. It is a real commitment. There is no removing henna from your hair. It coats the hair strand instead of being deposited in your broken hair cuticle so removing it is almost impossible. If you don’t like it you will have to either wait it out while it fades or cut it out or do a different, darker shade of henna. And if you do go to your hairstylist after you henna please be honest with them- you might get an answer you don’t like but it’s better than sending them in blind and then being upset with them when something bad happens, like a bad reaction that leaves your hair fragile and slightly melted. Take responsibility and be honest so they can assess their next step in the most educated way possible.

So the method I chose was powdered henna from Henna Color Lab, a mix of Natural Black and Dark Brown using what’s referred to as a 2 step process. If this is what you decide to do, here is what you will need;


An empty clean non-reactive bowl (so nothing metal). I use a clean cool whip container.


A hair color application brush like the one pictured above; I got mine from Sally’s for only a few dollars and have had it for like 6 years. No lie. If you rinse it well with hot water and let it dry completely before putting it away these suckers last forever. Best investment in hair care, ever- I have also used this to apply deep conditioner all over my noggin.


An old towel that you care nothing about. In my experience the watercolor style of stains that transfer to the towel after you rinse the henna out of your hair do wash out of the towels, however, why take the chance? Use a dark or old towel to wrap around your shoulders and to towel dry after you rinse out the henna. But we’re not there yet.


Hot water- not to boiling, but hot enough to mix the powdered henna into a paste with a whipped cream or spreadable frosting consistency. It will cool down considerably by the time you go to apply it.


An old t-shirt you aren’t worried about getting stained.

So once you have everything you need assembled;

  1. Wash your hair with a shampoo that is either all-natural shampoo (I love the lavender geranium one from Henna Color Lab; bonus? They have a very inexpensive trial size of all their liquid shampoos) or at least a shampoo that isn’t oil based- oil based shampoos will keep you from getting the most out of your development time with the henna. After you rinse your shampoo you will skip conditioner for now. Towel dry gently and carefully comb your hair out.
  2. Gather your non-reactive bowl, hair color application brush and get fire under your water. Work quickly so your hair won’t dry- henna is meant to be applied to wet hair.
  3. Once your water is hot enough (about 150 degrees Fahrenheit- use a kitchen thermometer to determine or just wing it this is really not hinging on your water being exactly the right temp) begin to add a little water to the henna you have shaken out into your container. For the first application of the 2 part process you won’t need a whole lot of henna- you are only applying to the roots of your hair. Once you have reached that frosting-like consistency you’re ready to go.
  4. Take your bowl, gloves and cap (the gloves and cap are included in the package if you buy from Henna Color Lab) and apply it all over your roots. When you have an even application leave your gloves on and scruff the henna down into your scalp the way you do when your shampooing. This will get the henna down into your scalp and ensure that good root and gray coverage you’re looking for.
  5. Cover your head with the included plastic cap.
  6.  Set your timer for 1 hour.

When the hour is up you are going to rinse your hair in hot water- and nothing else. The henna should break up easily under your hands and the hot water and rinse right out. Rinse until water runs clear.

Next, repeat steps 2-5 using an adequate amount of henna according to your hair length- you are going to reapply to roots and coat your hair from scalp to tip on this application. Even when my hair was past my shoulders one package was enough.

Set your timer for 2 hours this time.

Now when you go to rinse out you are going to use conditioner or, my favorite, conditioning balm like this one from L’Oreal; massage your scalp until you can feel the grit breaking up and the water runs clear- at this point your hair should feel clean and back to normal (or better!).

When you step out of the shower and towel dry you should then blow dry your hair (when I henna is now the only time I ever blow dry my hair). Whatever color your hair is will continue to morph as it dries and over the next few days achieve the color you wish.

Do not wash again for 72 hours and no oil based shampoos for 2 weeks.

My hair is a whole different animal now than it was 2 months ago when I started this journey- it is healthy and growing quickly and not thin and breaking. My hairstylist is shocked at the kind of shape it’s in now as opposed to the Kentucky Fried Mess it was when I asked her to cut it all off.

As a bonus the 2 step process covers my gray way more effectively than traditional chemical hair dye ever did and doesn’t leave my hair thin or my scalp burning- it may not be for everyone but henna has definitely been a lifesaver for me.

So there you have it! The 2 step process it takes to successfully cover gray hair with henna!

Let me know your favorite hair colors and home dyeing tips in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Until next time!


The Chick and her Chickadee