[ Natural Hair Dye ~ Henna and Other Helpers ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company

[ Natural Hair Dye ~ Henna and Other Helpers ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
There are a lot of myths out there about what causes hair to “turn” gray. For example, there’s the 50-50-50 rule that predicts that 50% of the population will have 50% gray hair by age 50. But there are plenty of baby boomers walking around with their natural hair color intact and just as many 20-year-olds with premature gray. So, here’s the long and short of it: While it’s true that poor nutrition (especially B12 deficiency) and chronic stress can compromise hair and skin health, the loss of hair color has more to do with melanin and your mama.

If your crowning glory has or is beginning to look like snow-on-the-roof before the 50-50-50 rule even applies, you can thank genetics and your ethnicity. Heads up, Caucasians and natural redheads — you can expect to go gray sooner than your Asian, African-American and other darker-haired friends. Then there’s the buildup of hydrogen peroxide in hair follicles that occurs as we age. How ironic that the same substance used to go blonde bleaches hair from the inside out by blocking the production of melanin in follicle pigment cells, the same material that gives skin and hair its color. Fortunately, Mother Nature holds the key to preserving bold and beautiful locks.

[ Natural Hair Dye ~ Henna and Other Helpers: Hair Dye to Die For? ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

hair dye to die for?

One of the earliest synthetic dyes was produced by accident in 1856 by William Henry Perkin, an 18-year old English chemist. While young William was attempting to synthetically manufacture quinine for use in treating malaria, his failed experiment yielded a dark purple liquid which came to be known as mauveine, or mauve. The “recipe” for this mistake was based on aniline, a derivative of a waste product of the coal industry known as coal tar. Although hair coloring agents are largely produced from petroleum today, they are still referred to as coal tar dyes and are found in most temporary semi-permanent and permanent hair dyes.

Coal tar dyes are made by combining aromatic hydrocarbons, so-called due to their electron configuration, although having one or more benzene rings does make them smell sweet. Also known as arenes, the most well-studied are benzene, toluene, and xylene. Decades of research demonstrates that aromatic arenes are known carcinogens readily absorbed through the skin and scalp and are associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. And here’s the root of the problem: According to the Environmental Working Group and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, roughly 33 million hair-coloring women are exposed to these toxins, but due to exemptions afforded by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA is powerless to ban or restrict coal tar hair dyes or to hold a manufacturer responsible for harm as long as the standard “may cause blindness or skin irritation unless used as directed” appears on the label without any mention of cancer risk. In fact, coal tar hair dyes don’t even require pre-market FDA approval. 1, 2, 3

[ Natural Hair Dye ~ Henna and Other Helpers: Fit For A Queen ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

fit for a queen

Remarkably, natural pigments classified as color additives in hair dyes are FDA-regulated and require pre-market approval. 3, 4 Among those approved for use as an alternative to chemical hair dyes is sourced from henna (Lawsonia inermis), a shrubby evergreen native to Australia, Asia, Africa and other arid, tropical and sub-tropical regions. Also known as Egyptian privet, the henna tree has provided natural dye for textiles, body art and hair for thousands of years. In addition to cosmetic expression, henna is important in ceremonial rituals in Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. In ancient Egypt, Cleopatra reputedly used henna to color her hair and to stain her fingernails.

The leaves of the plant contain a reddish-orange pigment called lawsone that binds to keratin, a protein building block of hair. Because this agent undergoes a complex organic reaction known as the Micheal Addition, it forms a very strong and stable bond to keratin, so the color deposited is permanent and, although it will fade over time, it will not wash out. In addition to adding volume and luster, henna is suitable for all hair types and will enhance the natural color of hair while helping to minimize the appearance of gray. By itself, and depending on your natural color at the time of application, henna will produce a finished shade that will range from bright copper to spicy auburn.

"It is not by the gray of the hair that one knows the age of the heart."

— Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

[ Natural Hair Dye ~ Henna and Other Helpers: Henna Helpers ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

henna helpers

Various bright-to-warm shades are achieved by combing henna with other botanicals. For instance, the pairing of henna with Indigo will produce medium to dark brunette, depending on the ratio of henna to Indigo and your natural color. Naturally dark shades may take on a very dark, almost black color with a higher concentration of Indigo. To achieve jet black, the process usually involves a two-step method of applying henna first followed by a treatment with Indigo.

Fiery shades of red are created by mixing henna with senna (Cassia obovate). The more Cassia, the brighter the color and if starting out with fairly light hair a cassia and henna combination may be used to produce strawberry blonde. Deeper shades of red call for rhubarb root. Other botanicals used with henna to enhance lighter shades of hair include lichen (Usnea barbata) and Centaurea.

To take graying hair to a light brown or auburn go with a Chestnut Henna formulation (henna, Indigo, Centaurea, rhubarb, lichen and litmus), or to a coppery tone with Red Henna (henna, rhubarb, Centaurea, lichen and litmus). See all five of our henna offerings to help you make the color selection that’s right for you.

[ Natural Hair Dye ~ Henna and Other Helpers: Dress Your Tresses ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

how to dress your tresses with henna

consider adding diluted acid
The first step to natural hair coloring with henna is to prepare the mix ahead of time to ensure the material releases a sufficient amount of dye. There are two schools of thought on mixing henna – one asserts that mixing with plain water of any temperature will work just fine, the other dictates that the active component in henna, hennatannic acid, will lose its hydrogen molecules and the Micheal Addition bonding reaction will not easily occur unless mixed with a diluted acid, like water and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Your call, but the latter sounds pretty convincing.

make paste ahead of time
In any case, your goal is to make a thick paste. Plan on spending several minutes mixing (no metal bowls or utensils!) and be sure to cover tightly with plastic wrap afterward to prevent oxidation. Let the paste rest overnight or up to 24 hours to fully “develop.” How much paste you’ll need depends on hair length. For medium-length hair (i.e., just to the shoulder) plan on:
½ cup powdered henna to scant ¼ cup water plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Use more or less, as needed.

protect, apply, wait, rinse thoroughly
The next day, section your freshly shampooed but dry hair into four quadrants. Protect your hands and nails from taking on color with rubber gloves and use towels to cover the nape of your neck. Apply a layer of petroleum jelly or barrier cream to your forehead and the sides of your face at the hairline. Don a plastic cape to protect your clothing, or wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting stained. Then using a large tint brush, apply the paste onto hair, using a long-handled comb to lift and separate 1-inch sections of hair in each quadrant. (Tip: If you can entice a friend or spouse to help, this will go faster and smoother. If not, you’ll be fine going solo. Just take your time.) Be sure to saturate each section of hair. The task is complete when your entire head is covered with paste and you resemble Michelangelo's David from the neck up.

Leave the paste on hair for at least two hours (longer is better) before rinsing thoroughly.

[ Natural Hair Dye ~ Henna and Other Helpers: Infusions for Hair Rinses ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

take your hair to tea

If you’re not quite ready to plunge into altering the color of your hair with henna, you can infuse your hair with an herbal rinse using botanicals that will enhance your existing color or help to cover (less than 20%) gray. Don’t expect to go from black to blonde with this route! The end result will be subtle and depend on your existing natural shade, and will only last between shampoos. To use this method, brew an infusion (strong tea) of your chosen herbs (½ cup of dried herbs to 2 cups water), and steep for 30 minutes. After shampooing, pour the strained infusion over hair, ideally by catching the liquid in a container and repeating several times. Gently squeeze hair just enough to wrap in a towel. Wait 30 minutes, then briefly rinse with cool water. Use a light, leave-in conditioner, if needed, and style as usual.

Common garden sage has long been used to darken graying hair. Start by using a sage infusion on hair daily for 5-7 days, then maintain the effect with a weekly rinse.


Like sage, rosemary helps to darken graying hair. As an added bonus it is reputed to stimulate air growth and its properties will help to resolve dandruff and restore the pH mantle to the scalp.


This is your go-to herb if you have light hair mixed with gray or white, or light brown hair that could stand lighter highlights.


Light brown to darker blonde shades will take on golden honey highlights with an infusion of powdered rhubarb root, and red shades will be enhanced. Thanks to the presence of oxalic acid, the effects of this herbal rinse tend to last longer than most others.


The vibrantly colored flowers of this tropical plant will add rich, reddish-burgundy tones to medium-to-dark shades and sassy highlights in blonde-to-light red shades.


black tea
Black tea is ideal for darker shades that have become dull with the appearance of gray. For extra pizazz, add 1-2 tablespoons chicory root powder to the infusion for dark red highlights, or black currant tea for burgundy highlights.



1. Environmental Working Group: Coal tar hair dyes: bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. June 2004

2. U.S. Government Accountability Office: Cancer and Coal Tar Hair Dyes: An Unregulated Hazard to Consumers. Dec 1977

3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Hair Dyes. Last update: Nov 2017

4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Color Additive Inventories, Hair Dyes. Last update: Nov 2017