How To Use Henna Dye On Locs: A Step By Step Guide

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We’re all for celebrating natural hair, but sometimes, it’s fun to mix it up a little. If you have locs, you may think that using a dye – henna or otherwise – is either inadvisable or difficult to do – but the good news is that it’s perfectly manageable. 

henna dye on dreadlocks

Written by Alice Carlill

Henna is a great alternative for dying locs. Its natural properties ensure that hair doesn’t become damaged from chemical ingredients and can even improve overall hair health.

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This article is going to talk you through the benefits of using henna dye on locs, as well as outlining the dos and don’ts. We’re going to show you how to apply henna dye to ensure that your locs get the love they need.

Which Dye To Use On Locs?

There are two main types of dye you can use on locs – chemical or henna. 

Chemical Dyes

These are the type of hair dye that you’ll find in the supermarket. Typically, the packet of hair dye contains two sachets – one of hydrogen peroxide, the other of the dye itself.

Mix them together and apply to each strand of hair. The dye penetrates the hair shaft and colors the hair, usually lasting for a few months before fading. 

However, chemical dyes contain a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide and can seriously damage your hair.

There are therefore many natural alternatives that have become increasingly popular as a more holistic solution that won’t strip your hair of its moisture.

Henna Dye

This is where henna dye comes in. Henna contains Lawsone which  is a natural tannin dye and so that hair strands are stained rather than coated.

You can also use chamomile or reng. Chamomile will dye locs a blonder, more yellow tone, whereas henna tends to give hair a browner color. 

Also Read: The Best DIY Pre-Poo Recipes For Damaged Hair

What Is Henna?

At this point, you may be wondering what henna is, and why it works so well at dyeing hair.
Henna is made from the leaves of the plant Lawsonia Inermis. Once it has been dried and turned into a powder, it can be mixed with water to dye fabric, skin or hair.

The reason why henna works so well on hair is that henna has a high natural affinity for keratin.

This is due to the fact that lawsone binds itself to keratin, which is a protein, and as you may know, your hair is predominantly made of protein.

Why Use Henna Dye On Locs?

There are many benefits to using henna over store bought chemical dyes. These include:

Henna Is A Natural Dye

Because henna is a natural dye, it doesn’t contain the chemicals you’d normally find in regular hair dye. Henna also doesn’t contain preservatives which are normally used to stop hair dye from expiring.

You are, therefore, more unlikely to suffer allergic reactions from henna, however, you should always do a patch test before using.

The Color Isn’t Permanent

Unlike chemical hair dyes, henna dye doesn’t penetrate the hair shaft of your locs. It coats the hair strands and therefore fades in time.

This also means that you may not always get as bright a color as you may want, but thankfully you won’t need to wait for your hair to grow out.

Henna Strengthens Your Hair

Henna is naturally more gentle on your locs than regular dye and can actually condition and strengthen your hair follicles.

As the dye coats your hair, it has the ability to smoothen the strands and thus, leave your loss feeling much softer.

Suitable For Those With Thin Hair

Henna is great for thickening and strengthening hair, as it plumps up the hair’s cuticle. This minimizes breakage and helps hair to maintain its natural moisture levels.

Henna is therefore very suitable for those whose locs are thinning at the root or who may be experiencing hair loss due to their dreads.

Also Read: Can Betaine Help With Hair Loss? (4 Proven Ways)

Dos And Don’ts Of Using Henna Dye On Locs

Now that you know what henna dye is and why we recommend it over chemical dye for locs, these are the key takeaways before you start the process.

Do’s

1. Mix Henna With Acidics 

Be aware that you need to be mixing your henna dye with something acidic before you add the dye to your locs.

Typically, lemon juice or tea is good. If you’re prone to sensitive or itchy scalps, we’d suggest using tea, as it’s less acidic than citrus, and therefore more gentle.

Follow the instructions on the packet in order to make up a mixture that will work with your hair type – for example, longer and thicker locs will need more henna.

When you’re making up the henna dye, mix the henna and acid together and leave overnight at room temperature.

This enables the release of the lawsone in the henna. The dye will then be ready for use around 8 – 12 hours after the first mix.

Some people also like to add powdered indigo leaves to their henna mix – particularly if locs are looking a little gray.

This is totally up to you but is an effective natural dye that can transform graying hair to black.

2. Maximize your moisture

Whether you add an oil like extra virgin olive oil to the henna dye mix or use a conditioner after the treatment, be sure that you take care to moisturize those locs.

Henna is drying, and locs are more vulnerable to this. Adding oil to the dye mixture also means it slides onto the hair shaft better.

3. Use natural henna

Stick to natural, pure henna that’s free of chemicals. Check out the ingredients before purchasing, because some henna dyes have added PPD, which intensifies the color and reduces application time.

This is typically called ‘black’ henna, and it can cause serious reactions in people, including burns. Henna powder from the packet should look muddy green in color.

4. Patch test

This is an especially important step for those of you prone to sensitivities. Doing a patch test is a good way of establishing whether your skin interacts well with the henna dye.

Apply the henna to a small patch of skin, and if after 24 hours there are no issues, you’re good to go. Don’t use it if you experience itchiness or pain.

Also Read: Can You Use Oil As A Detangler? A Helpful Guide

Don’ts

1. Mix chemical and henna dye

Chemical and henna dye do not mix well! If you do combine them, you’re more likely to cause breakage with your locs, which no one wants.

If you’ve used chemical dye before on locs, it’s best to grow them out before using henna dye.

2. Allow the henna to dry out

Henna can be drying, and if you have locs, this is a greater risk.

Heat and moisture are your friends when using henna dye on locs, so be sure to wrap your hair up after applying the dye, and you can even use a hairdryer.

See below for more on this. If you let the henna dye dry on your locs, it will become one hardened mass and is very challenging to wash out.

If your locs do become dry, you can try a hot oil treatment to help restore strength and softness. Don’t mix oil with henna dye though as it will minimize the effect of the color.

3. Use metal

Henna tarnishes metal, so stick to glass, plastic, ceramic, or wood when preparing your dye. Don’t use metal spoons or bowls either – no henna-metal contact.

How To Dye Your Locs With Henna

You will need:

  • Henna dye
  • Acid component (tea, lemon, or lime juice)
  • Shirt and towel that you don’t mind staining
  • Hair wrap – saran wrap is good or a scarf
  • Rubber gloves if you don’t want stained hands
  • Hairdryer if you want to maximize heat exposure

Instructions: 

You want the mix to be similar to a paste – think something like thick yogurt.

Just how regular hair dye can stain, so can henna.

If you want to avoid staining, you can use something like Vaseline on your hairline and eyebrows before applying the henna dye to your locs. Also, make sure to protect surfaces like carpets against hair dye.

Be aware the treatment might stain your scalp orange for a few days – so plan around big events or anything of the kind!

Step 1

Work thick clumps of the henna dye mixture into your locs. Spread it evenly and minimize any clumps.

You can massage it in, but not too deeply, as this will make washing it out more of a challenge.

If you have a good friend who’s willing to help, this will make the process much quicker and easier, as you can section the hair and tackle different parts.

Step 2

Once all of your locs are covered in the henna dye, wrap your head using a shower cap, saran wrap, or a scarf.

Adding two layers is also a good idea because you want to trap as much heat and moisture as possible. Leave the henna dye on your locs for anywhere between 3 – 12 hours.

Overnight is great, but be sure your locs are wrapped up, so they don’t stain sheets. You can even use a hairdryer on your locs if you’re keen to boost the heat exposure and absorption of the dye.

Step 3

After having left the dye in for as long as suits, you need to rinse the henna dye out of your locs.

Use a residue-free shampoo – don’t use anything as acidic as apple cider vinegar when first rinsing. Squeeze each loc under warm running water until it runs clear. This may require some patience, but it’s important in order to minimize build-up.

We’d also suggest that you leave at least a week’s space between dyeing your hair and any root treatment you might have planned.

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