Indigo henna hair dye

The quest for natural hair dye

To dye, or not to dye. Most people have to deal with this question sooner or later. Although I am quite comfortable with my greying hair, it can sometimes get awkward when everyone around you colors their hair. It probably depends on your culture, but honestly, hanging out with friends who are your age or older but who look younger than you with respect to hair color is a bit difficult -especially if you are still single. Your friends too wouldn’t like to look like they are hanging out with the uncle.

The Henna mixture ready for application. Note that there is not much dye release in 15 minutes, however since this stays on in the hair overnight, it doesn't require much waiting during preparation.
The Henna mixture ready for application. Note that there is not much dye release in 15 minutes, however since this stays on in the hair overnight, it doesn’t require much waiting during preparation.

I’ve refused to dye my hair all my life partly due to the dangerous nature of chemical hair dyes often leading to eye problems. The skin being such a large organ and porous, it is difficult to imagine that you can regularly coat it with chemicals/cosmetics and not suffer the consequences. Even the so called black Mehndi and other so called “natural hair dyes” suggested by my cousin sisters (In good faith) were all the same (Thanks Google). However, as I was about to give up the quest, I accidentally stumbled upon a natural hair coloring solution. Surprisingly, some of my friends knew about it or had vaguely heard about it (especially those from remote villages), but no one mentioned it because it was a messy and ancient solution compared to the super convenient chemical based alternatives.

The solution is composed of two herbs, -Indigo ( Indigofera tinctoria ) and Henna ( Lawsonia inermis ) . Indigo has long been used for dyeing  clothes. Using Indigo by itself would dye your white or grey hair blue like that of a Punk rocker, so to offset that, the hair has to be first dyed with Henna to create a darker background which makes your hair look anywhere from dark brown to black. Henna is also said to enable Indigo to adhere better to the hair as it is not as fast as chemical dyes. I also found out in practice, that when combined with hard water, it makes the hair quite coarse, straw like and unmanageable. Using a conditioner soon after dyeing  stops the dyeing process as the indigo on the dyed hair needs to come into contact with oxygen in the air to oxidize the generated compound indoxyl in the Indigo which then turns blue.

It was pretty easy to get organic Indigo online in India, the henna, I bought a commercial mix sold as a cosmetic containing several different Ayurvedic herbs and fruit. I hope to try with organic un-supplemented henna if it is available. Here is how it is prepared and applied.

Always wash your hair thoroughly with a non conditioning soap and water prior to dyeing. Don’t forget to do a thorough rinse of your hair so that no soap residue remains on the hair.

To dye your hair brown/auburn: (I haven’t tried this)

I’ve read that for brown hair, henna is left to release its dye by combining it with water and left for 24 hours  covered with cling film (or till the dye releases) after which the required amount of indigo (Try starting with a 2:1, henna to Indigo ratio and on subsequent applications adjust as required) is added to the mix. Add (if required)  water to get a consistency of thick yogurt. Apply to the hair thoroughly working through it (literally forcing it through your hair). If possible, wrap/cover your hair tightly with cling film. Leave it on for half an hour and wash off. Do not use any conditioner for the next couple of days as the Indigo continues to oxidize. Conditioners coat the hair with a thin film of plastic or whatever which stops the hair from coming into contact with air.

To dye your hair black or dark brown:

Both Henna and Indigo smell quite sweet during application! I don't know whether any fragrance had been added to the henna. This is Indigo. Don't make it too runny as you don't want it running down your face and neck!
Both Henna and Indigo smell quite sweet during application! I don’t know whether any fragrance had been added to the henna. This is Indigo. Don’t make it too runny as you don’t want it running down your face and neck!

I followed the instructions on the packet of henna and soaked the henna for about 15 minutes (again thick yogurt consistency). I then applied it to my hair working just as thoroughly as described above. The instructions on the pack said to leave it on overnight for best results. So I went to bed wearing a shower cap. Clingfilm should be more effectively as it will force the henna into the hair and into any leftover pockets of air between your hair follicles. In the morning, I wash out my caked hair. If I’m in a hurry, I move on to the next step in an hour or so, if I’m not, I do the Indigo application on the next day. (Weekends work very well for this)

For Indigo application, add water to get the same thick yogurt like consistency and leave for about 15 minutes or till you can see a visible color change in the solution from dried pea green to bluish-black. Apply just like the henna only leave it on for about half an hour or so and rinse. Remember not to use any harsh soaps or shampoos on your hair at least for the first couple of days.

It is said that adding vinegar, lime or orange juice and warm water to the henna when mixing makes it better. For Indigo, salt is added usually along with warm water. The approximate amount is 1 tablespoon of salt for 100 grams of Indigo powder. This helps in fixing the Indigo better.

Hair immediately after washing after an overnight application of henna. Henna color builds up by regular application. This was my first time, hence it is so light.
Hair immediately after washing after an overnight application of henna. Henna color builds up by regular application. This was my first time, hence it is so light.

My hair is relatively short, however when I cut it very short with a trimmer, I had problems with the dye adhering properly as individual hair would stand up separately. Probably I should have used more Indigo. People with long hair (esp. women ) would need assistance to dye their hair with Indigo. Guys could get away -depending on the length of their hair, by doing it themselves.

Although the Indigo doesn’t seem to stain the skin in 30 minutes, it is still a good idea to wear gloves during application of both henna and Indigo. If the dye gets into hard to clean places like in and around the fingernails, it will definitely look very unsightly.

Do let me know how it worked out for you, or your experiences or advise if any. I will add it to the end of the post from your comments below so that others can make use of the information too!

I will add more information here and more photos as I get more proficient at using Henna and Indigo 🙂

Notes:

  • I have stopped adding salt to Indigo as I had a bad experience using Himalayan rock salt in which case my hair did not get dyed at all!

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2 thoughts on “The quest for natural hair dye”

  1. thanks for your note about using Himalayn rock salt and your hair not dying – Id searched the internet to find out about this; I recently dyed sheets & they didnt seem to pick up the colour at all, Id impatiently supplemented the missing amount of salt required with Himalayan, and suspected this must be the cause of it not working. Somehow the trace minerals interrupt it attaching I guess..

    1. Thanks Lauren!

      That is interesting research on your part! It could very well be the reason. I have stopped buying iodized salt and sea salt is not easily available here 🙁

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