About five years ago I decided to start coloring my hair. It wasn’t because the gray creeping into my straight shoulder-length dark brown hair bothered me (see photo at left), but because I could no longer get through a job interview and land the job. I was working in the Silicon Valley tech industry as a technical writer with a long history of successful, technical, and complex projects, but suddenly something had changed. I found myself being asked a bevy of bizarre questions in interviews to make a case to pass me by for someone else, someone who didn’t have gray hair.
So after doing some research I decided to use pure, natural organic henna from Rajasthan to cover my gray and become a redhead. I loved the color and it worked very well with my coloring. The henna hair developed into a burgundy dark red after many henna applications over several months, and even better, I was back to my old ways of acing interviews and landing the job, despite being in my mid to late 60’s. The secret seemed to be that I just wasn’t gray anymore.
Now, 4 years later, retired, and approaching 70, I’ve decided to go back to my natural gray. I have several friends who have gone back to natural gray, and I think they look fantastic. Gray hair is beautiful.
If you have henna hair and want to get back to gray naturally, you can follow this blog, which I will update as I progress through the steps outlined below.
Henna is a permanent color that fades very slowly. I couldn’t just let it all grow out over time because I would have two-tone hair: gray and black on top, and orange on the bottom. When burgundy henna fades, it fades to orange as you use less of it.
At first I considered using a chemical-based, non-permanent color over my hair as it grew out, but Darcy Vasudev owner of Henna Guru in San Francisco encouraged me to stay away from the chemicals. That wasn’t a hard sell for me because I try to live as cleanly as I can. Also, my hair is very fine and chemicals tend to be very hard on it – drying it out and making it break and frizz.
Important note: You cannot use chemical-based anything (permanent colors, permanent waves, hair bleach, etc.) on henna hair when the henna you use contains metallic salts. The metallic salts interact with the chemicals in horrible ways and ruin your hair. Always use pure henna with no metallic salts. Herbs are fine; just no metallic salts. For more information see Henna for Hair.
This blog chronicles my journey from the first step, which I took on August 8, 2018, to when I reach my final natural gray at some point in the future. I will update this blog every 2 to 3 weeks as I take each step, and describe any modifications I make to the process along the way.
Before I started, I was using 75 grams of henna mixed in about 1 cup of hot chamomile tea. The herbal tea activates the henna and turns it into a paste, which I applied thickly to my hair and washed out 1 to 2 hours later.
Note: Henna that contains herbs can be mixed with hot water instead of chamomile tea. Henna needs to be mixed with something acidic like black tea, herbal, tea or herbs to activate.
I worked with Darcy at Henna Guru to map out a way to get me from burgundy to natural gray using sliding proportions of henna, cassia, and indigo. The cassia and indigo activate the henna, so no need to use herbal tea.
We decided to do it like this:
- Lighten the burgundy/orange tones of the henna by gradually decreasing the amount of henna from 75 gms to 5 gms.
- Darken the orange tones in the henna by adding a small amount of indigo that I gradually increase as I progress through the steps. As Darcy explains on her site, hair that has a lot of gray, needs some henna to bind the indigo to the hair.
- Add enough neutral colored conditioning cassia to bulk up the mix so it covers all of the hair without adding color.
I also use Triphala shampoo by SoulTree, as a second wash to my hair after washing out the herbs with my regular shampoo. Triphala shampoo contains shikakai, which is an herb that darkens henna hair. Interestingly, this shampoo also contains some henna in a lesser amount. Anyway, if you want to tone down the brightness of the henna, I find that this shampoo, and probably any shampoo that contains enough shikakai, helps to do that.
The goal is to get to where my hair grows out dark from the indigo, with some red highlights from the henna, and beautifully conditioned from the cassia. When I get to the last step, I will maintain that mix until all of the dark red underneath has been cut off. Then, I will stop using the mix and let the indigo and henna fade to gray little by little every time I wash my hair.
Even though henna is a permanent color, it should fade with the the semi-permanent indigo because I use so little henna with more indigo in Step 6. The goal is to have the indigo and henna fade together. We’ll find out how well that works when I get there.
To go from henna hair to natural gray, I changed the mix in the following steps:
1. 50 gms henna, 20 gms, cassia, 5 gms indigo – Completed 8/8/2018
2. 40 gms henna, 25 gms cassia, 10 gms indigo – Completed 8/25/2018
3. 30 gms henna, 30 gms cassia, 15 gms indigo – Completed 9/9/2018
4. 20 gms henna, 40 gms cassia + 15 gms indigo – Completed 9/25/2018
5. 10 gms henna, 50 gms cassia + 15 gms indigo – Completed 10/9/2018
6. 5 gms henna, 55 gms cassia + 15 gms indigo – tbd
7. Continue Step 6 until all dark henna hair grows out and has been cut off – tbd
8. Fade to gray – tbd
50 gms henna, 20 gms, cassia, 5 gms indigo
Before doing Step 1, I went to my hair stylist, William Hopper at Custom Hair Styling in San Jose CA, and had him cut off 2 inches from the bottom.
The next day, after completing step 1 (see photo at left), my hair is about the same color, but the roots are a lighter orange/brown (not shown in the photo) that blend nicely with the rest of my hair. It is slightly more brown than burgundy from the addition of the indigo.
After washing my hair a couple of times over the next week, it is easier to see how my hair is starting to turn brown (see photo at left). At this point it still has some burgundy highlighting, which you can see in the middle of the photo.
The brown color comes from mixing henna with indigo. You get a nice brown with red highlights. Also, henna is brightest right after you apply it and gradually fades as you wash your hair. The indigo also slowly fades, which is where I want to end up with light brown hair with the burgundy color grown out and cut off, at which point I can fade to gray.
40 gms henna, 25 gms cassia, 10 gms indigo
Looking a little darker, especially compared to the first picture in Step 1, after applying the Step 2 herbs (less henna and more indigo) to my hair.
Here is how it looks after two hair washings:
30 gms henna, 30 gms cassia, 15 gms indigo
Getting lighter with a more even color.
After one washing it is slightly less red (more brown) and a more even color:
20 gms henna, 40 gms cassia + 15 gms indigo
Looking underneath you can see that the hair is getting darker with the henna to indigo ratio changing. Light coming in through a window makes the henna red seem stronger than it actually is.
10 gms henna, 50 gms cassia + 15 gms indigo – Completed 10/9/2018