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Henna Dye (highlight)

beet roots

Owing to the fragile nature of my hair and also because achieving my maximum growth potential is important to me, I am extremely cautious about anything that might create permanent chemical change within my hair strands. The chemical change simply means affecting the bonds in the hair strands in any way – that could be via products, heat, relaxing and dye jobs. We make structural changes to our hair all the time – styling (braids, bands, twists), processes (shampoo, condition, drying) and heat & chemical (relaxers, heat styling). Keratin is a strong resilient protein but it’s not invincible so every one of these processes affects it.

red raj henna and hibiscus powder

Over time some of these processes along with natural wear and tear on the hair either damages the strands or completely destroys them if we are not careful. Dyeing is one of those notoriously risky processes but luckily, like relaxers, it’s a process I feel I can comfortably live without. And that’s where henna comes in. Let’s be clear: henna is permanent and it will make a chemical change in the hair strands. Instead of completely replacing melanin (color pigment) henna combines with natural hair color. Since the chemical change brought about by henna is an enhancement and not replacement, there are far less pitfalls when using it as dye.

red raj henna on 4c natural hair

And because none of us have identical hair color (yes, even shades of black/brown vary) the beauty of henna is each result will look different and unique. Finally, the ability to use other natural plants (amla, indigo, black walnuts, coffee, hibiscus, beetroot) to tone or enhance color gives henna a huge advantage over commercial dye. The only draw back of henna (not really a drawback in my case) is that it’s a weak dye so if you are looking to dramatically alter the natural color of your hair it will not work. Henna can only enhance lighter shades, it cannot completely change the set up of black or brown melanin, which are the pigments that determine hair color. It makes dramatic changes for people who do not have black pigment and with very little brown, usually blondes.


  1. Chop 2 medium size beetroots and cover with water. Beet roots contain a red glycosidic (sugar-based) dye
  2. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat
  3. Add 2/3 cup of hibiscus (whole) flower and let them steep as long as you like (longer = darker red). The red natural color of hibiscus is a dye that stains. (It’s also a great phytonutrient, which is why you should drink copious amounts of hibiscus tea). I am using hibiscus sabdariffa (see profile here) but hibiscus rosa sinesis is another favorite one for hair
  4. Take appropriate amount (depends on your length) of red raj henna (3.29%) lawsone (dye) or any henna of your choice. Always go with more than you need especially if you are heavy handed like yours truly
  5. Add ¼ cup hibiscus flower powder
  6. Mix well and use beetroot and hibiscus tea to mix into a paste
  7. Add any citrus fruit juice (acidity will help henna release the dye molecule) or you can use essential oils as I did
  8. Let mixture sit overnight in a warm place for at least 6 hours
  9. Apply mixture to hair in sections, cover in saran wrap and let it sit on strands as long as possible before rinsing out
  10. Use a gentle shampoo if you must but preferably avoid shampooing for at least two days so the henna can settle in. Conditioning is fine if you feel the need to.

SIDENOTES: My goal was to obtain red highlights so don’t use this recipe if your expectation is elsewhere.  If unhappy with the results, amla will darken the highlights over time or you just apply indigo powder immediately after to darken the hair.

You can still use henna even if you do not want to highlight.  Skip the citrus liquid, mix it right before use (the longer it sits the more it releases dye) and keep it in the hair for 30 minutes to an hour max.  Optionally, you can mix it with your deep conditioner. Henna is a great conditioner that is not only affordable but highly effective.  My texture is 4c and I have not noticed any changes in my curls as a result of these powders.  I have seen some reviews claim that the powders sort of relaxed their curl patterns, no such thing has happened with my hair despite continued use. Each head of hair is unique in it’s characteristics so the only way to know how yours will react is to test a small patch before using the powders on all the hair.

The resulting highlights in my hair are a subtle red. I post roll, tuck and pin styles almost daily (see here) so depending on your screen resolution (and weather conditions under which the photos are shot) you might see them on some styles and not others.