Is It Safe to Dye Natural Hair After Using Henna?

Before dye

Article also available on Black Girl with Long Hair!

When I began henna-ing my hair over two years ago, I did it for one reason: to help thicken and strengthen my severely heat damaged strands. Over time, henna proved to be effective at not only that, but at helping to ease the flaking caused by my scalp psoriasis. But as with all treatments that help with psoriasis, they lose effectiveness over time and require you to switch things up. So a few months ago, I began phasing out my monthly henna sessions, in favor for a DIY mix (glycerin + alcohol-free witch hazel + sea buckthorn oil) to help soothe my scalp.

I knew that while actively henna-ing my hair, I could not use permanent dye because henna deposits a red stain that resembles a red cellophane. But there were other dangers that lurked and lingered, that kept me from even remotely considering the possibility of coloring my hair permanently. But since I hadn't henna'd my hair in three months or more, could it be possible that enough of the deposits had washed away (I wash my hair twice a week) for me to be able to safely dye my hair? Let's find out!

The Dangers of Henna x Dye

I began searching ardently for an answer to my question about whether I could change my hair color with henna deposits remaining (even though I hadn't used henna in months, monthly use for two years had a cumulative effect and my hair held a beautiful red tint that was primarily visible in sunlight). For weeks I searched popular henna informational sites, lurked on forums where women posed the same question, talked with my Devachan salon stylist, and even consulted with the manager at my local Sally Beauty (who attended cosmetology school). All sources provided the same answer: NO.

The rationale was that the metallic salts in some henna (primarily "compound" henna that produces colors other than red) would react terribly with the ammonia from hair dye, and cause my hair to wither, die, wash down the drain, and even turn raw sewage green.

I readily understood all of the warnings, but I wasn't totally satisfied with the answers. For one, I've never used any compound henna EVER. I've been using Jamila Body Art Quality henna (which is 100% pure lawsonia inermis with NO additives, fillers, PPD, or other compounds) since March of 2012. And even when I first experimented with henna in January and February 2012, I was using Light Mountain Brand, in red (the only version that was 100% henna with nothing else in it). Any residual Light Mountain brand most certainly would be gone after more than 2 years, and well, Jamila is the pure stuff. Plus, I didn't intend to use any dyes containing ammonia. I'm a little adventurous, but not insane. So I set out to do what any good blogger or investigative reporter would do: experiment.

The Experiment

After looking over color options and the most popular ammonia-free dye brands, I settled on Garnier Olia. I wasn't looking for anything too drastic at first -- although my color goal was definitely Kelis-inspired:

 Kelis inspired

I would later learn that it was totally wishful thinking to expect this amount of color change with ammonia-free dye, but we'll discuss that a little further down. My color of choice was Light Natural Auburn, 6.43.
Garnier Olia kit

Instead of slapping the dye on my head and praying for the best, I gathered shed hairs to test. I followed the instructions to  a tee -- mixing together a 1:1 (drop) ratio of developer and color. I let the dye sit for the recommended 30 minutes, rinsed it from the test strands, and even conditioned it with the after color conditioner from the kit. Here were the initial color results:

Shed hair test

Not too drastic, but promising enough. But I wasn't satisfied with the color just taking. I wanted to make sure that my hair wasn't going to disintegrate, so I monitored it for the next few days. Satisfied that all was well 3 days later (yes, I kept a bundle of shed hair to observe it lol), I proceeded to move forward with coloring the front section of my hair.

The Dye Job

Dye in hair

I followed the instructions from the Garnier Olia box to a tee. At the 30 minute mark, I made a mad dash for the shower, rinsing completely and conditioning twice (once with the conditioner from the box which was wack, and the second time with Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask). Here were my results:

 After color-001

I mentioned earlier that my goal was Kelis-esque, but there were a few factors that kept me from that. One, ammonia-free dye will never make dark hair significantly lighter than it already is (and even if it could, I wouldn't want to risk anything super harsh such as blonde). Two, I believe the previously deposited henna played a huge role in not lifting my color too much. The roots of my hair (which are henna-free) are much closer to the color indicated on the box, as opposed to the length of my hair which still contains some henna deposits.

After a week of carefully observing my hair, I have detected no awkward color changes, breakage, or texture changes. I was so encouraged by my results (and the fact that they seemed to brighten as the week wore on), that I went ahead and did my entire head! Why not? It's summertime! I enlisted the help of two more boxes of Garnier Olia Light Natural Auburn, 6.43 to get the job done, carefully avoiding the section of my hair that was already colored. Want to see the results? Head on over to my Instagram (@maneobjective) for pics!

In Conclusion.....

My hair is still going strong! So can you color over henna with permanent dye? This blogger says YES! But with a few provisions:

  • Using permanent dye is only safe over henna that is pure, 100% lawsonia inermis. Body Art Quality is even better.
  • Ammonia-free dye is the safest bet for the health of your hair. The results won't be as dramatic, but nothing is more dramatic than waking up with all your hair on your pillow.
  • Do not exceed the maximum processing time indicated in the instructions. They exist for a reason.
  • Don't forget to deep condition! Colored hair requires extra moisture and TLC.
There you have it, ladies! Have you ever colored over henna, or would you consider it?


  1. Great. I myself often use henna. And not only me. I have many such acquaintances. But none of them decided to make his hair beautiful. Now I know it's not scary. Thanks you.