Henna is known for its ability to dye hair rich, vibrant shades that bring forth thoughts of copper pennies, autumn leaves, and crackling fires. However, not everyone wants to be a red-head. Those familiar with using natural plants dyes might know that combinations of henna and indigo will result in brown-reds and medium to deep brunettes. A two-step process will leave hair raven black.
A common concern voiced by new henna users is that even a henna/indigo mixture will result in a brunette shade that is too warm for their liking. Many prefer neutral to cool tones in their hair, as they believe it better suits their complexions. While somewhat tricky, neutral and cool toned hair colors are possible using the right combination of henna and indigo (and sometimes cassia), and the right fruit acid. Because each person’s hair varies on undertone, porosity, and dye-resistance, getting the perfect color may take some patience and strand-testing. Remember that are available to talk you through the process, and help you troubleshoot if needed, until you achieve your perfect color.
A Quick Return to the Basics
If you have clicked around on this blog, in the Ancient Sunrise® Henna for Hair Free E-book, or in another of our many resources, you should be familiar with the processes of mixing and dye-releasing henna, cassia, and indigo. If not, feel free to pause here and glance over , and .
Ratios for henna and indigo are easy to remember: Equal parts henna and indigo will result in a medium brunette. More henna will add more warm tones, and more indigo will darken the shade. Cassia makes henna and henna/indigo mixtures lighter, but does not lighten hair.
It may be logical to believe that the more indigo you add into the mix, the cooler the resulting shade will be. Yes… and no. Indigo on its own dyes hair a blue tone, and it neutralizes warm tones created by henna. However, adding more indigo to a medium brunette mix will create a dark brunette mix. That dark brunette result may still be a warm dark brunette due to henna’s red dye.
While using indigo is one part of achieving a neutral or cool hair color, the correct choice in fruit acid is equally important. Fruit acids can bring out bright, warm tones, or mute them. With an effective indigo component and the right fruit acid, you’ll be on your way to lovely neutral brunettes. If you’d like a lighter neutral color, such as those in the blonde family, a little extra tinkering will get you there.
It is not uncommon for henna/indigo users to report that their roots are coming out too red, or hair appears redder over time. This is due to indigo’s higher tendency toward fading. Achieving an effective bind of indoxyl molecules to the hair will be particularly necessary for those who wish to avoid warm tones. This means understanding the chemistry behind the indoxyl/indigo molecules, and the most effective ways to ensure a permanent stain.
plant powder contains an indigo precursor molecule, indoxyl, which is immediately released when the powder is mixed with water. Indoxyl is a tricky, picky molecule. As soon as the indigo mixed into a paste, indoxyls look to bind with oxygen to transform into a stable indigo molecule. The indigo molecule will not bind to the hair. This process is similar to henna demise, but occurs much more rapidly.
It is important to mix indigo paste only right when you are ready to dye your hair, and work quickly once the paste is mixed. Preventing unnecessary exposure to air will keep the molecules in their indoxyl state longer, allowing them to bind to keratin rather than oxygen.
In the presence of oxygen, two indoxyl molecules bind with each other to form indigo, which is a stable molecule.
Once the dye is in the hair, the extent to which it binds to and stays in the hair is dependent on several factors including hair texture and the presence of dirt, oils, and mineral build-up. It is not uncommon to see a henna/indigo mixture begin as a nice, neutral brunette, and become more auburn as the indigo fades and the henna stays put. If you desire a cool or neutral shade, this is something you’d obviously like to avoid. Doing the following will ensure a successful and permanent indigo stain.
Black, gray, and white wool is dyed with indigo only, revealing shades of blue.
Clarify, clarify, clarify
Indigo binds best to squeaky clean hair. This means no oils, conditioners, hair products, dirt, grime, mineral build-up, leftover snacks, or fuzzy animal friends. At the very least, wash your hair thoroughly with a shampoo specially made for clarifying buildup. Clarifying shampoos are easily found at salons and beauty supply stores, and they are showing up more and more frequently now at regular drugstores as well.
Do yourself one better and start with , and then follow that up with a good rinse with a clarifying shampoo. Wash your hair immediately before applying your henna/indigo mixture, and remember to skip the conditioner. Anything left on the hair creates an obstacle for the indoxyl molecules and increases the chances of a weak bond that will fade over time.