My Two-Step Henna Indigo Process

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It’s finally here!! The highly anticipated (by, like, two people) tutorial for my two-step henna/indigo process!! LOL! I did a treatment this Sunday and photo-documented it for this post. I explained most of my process in my Henna and Me “interview.” So, a lot of this will be a repeat of that information. However, it’ll be bulleted and accompanied with pretty pictures and a little more detail ;). First though, here are a couple of notes about modifications I’ve made to my henna treatments due to my preferences and my hair’s needs:

  • I use henna alone on the front half of my head so that my grey hair becomes fiery red highlights.
  • I do a two-step henna/indigo on the back half of my head so that that hair is black (I don’t like “highlights” in the back as I think they look less intentional and also make my hair look finer, whereas the black makes it look denser in my opinion).
  • I don’t apply henna to my nape hair as that area is almost bone straight and very fine. Henna completely obliterates any wave/curl it might have.
  • I use what CurlyNikki dubbed a Conditioning Henna Treatment. That is, I mix a full batch of henna, allow full dye release and add conditioner to make it easier to apply and rinse. This differentiates my process from a “true” henna gloss since I mix a full batch of henna and allow dye release. It is also different from a full strength henna, because I add conditioner to “dilute” the thickness of the henna. However, I’ve done full strength treatments and see no appreciable difference in the results.
  • I only apply henna to my “roots” now (the first 3-6 inches of hair) as too many applications on the same hair loosens my hair significantly. I try to get about 3 applications on “new hair.”
  • I sometimes apply henna to wet hair and sometimes to dry. These are instructions to my “dry” henna routine. The only difference with my “wet” routine is that I’ll usually have pre-pooed and lightly finger detangled my hair with Vatika oil. Then, I’ll shampoo with either diluted Ion Curls Shampoo or Deva Care No Poo.

With that, here we go!

Ingredients and Supplies

Henna Mix
200g Henna (100g Jamila or Rajasthani Twilight; 100g Dulhan)
4 tea bags of green tea
3 cups filtered or distilled water
2 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 cups Sally’s GVP Matrix Biolage Conditioning Balm

Indigo Mix
50g Indigo
Salt (a pinch)

Supplies*
Plastic or glass liquids measuring cup
Large glass jar/container (large enough to hold 3 c. of water)
Plastic or wooden spoon
Medium to large plastic or glass bowl with top
Plastic gloves
4 medium-sized plastic jaw clips
Plastic wrap
Scissors
Plastic cap
Paper towels or cotton balls
Heat wrap, winter hat or bonnet dryer (hard or soft)
Old towels and/or newspaper (to protect bathroom floor/sink)
Old and/or black tee-shirt and pants/shorts
Herbal Essences Hello Hydration (HE HH) (for henna/indigo rinsing)
Slippery and Moisturizing Deep Conditioner (JessiCurl Weekly Deep Conditioner or Darcy Botanicals Pumpkin Seed Conditioner)

*no metal containers or utensils

My Process

The Henna Mix

  • Bring 3 cups of distilled or filtered water to a boil and then brew 3-4 green tea bags. Cool to warm/room temp.
  • Pour 2 boxes of henna powder into large glass bowl and gradually stir in cooled tea with a plastic or wood spoon until the texture of a thick batter (I usually need about 2, 2 1/2 cups. I brew 3 cups of tea to make certain that I have enough).
  • Cover bowl with top (I cover the henna with plastic wrap first, sealing out most of the air, then cover with the top).
  • Allow henna to sit in a cool, dry, dark place for 12 hours for dye release.
  • After dye release, I split the henna into half, and wrap one half in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, seal it in a freezer bag and then place it in the freezer (frozen then thawed henna has even better dye release).
  • After dye release, I mix in about 2 tbsp of honey and 3/4 c. of Sally’s GVP Matrix Biolage Conditioning Balm (I never measure these, I just eyeball it). This makes the “batter” thinner (but not drippy) and more like the consistency of Greek yogurt.

The Prep

  • Protect bathroom surfaces, including floors, sink and door, with old towels and/or newspaper.
  • Don old clothes.
  • Divide dry hair into four sections/quadrants and use round-teeth jaw clips (less snag prone) to secure the front two sections and one rear section to keep them out of the way (More sections may be necessary if you have thicker hair).
  • Don plastic gloves (unless you like orange hands and nails;).

The Henna Application

  • Finger part and apply henna thickly to first 6 inches or so of of dry* hair, section by section, starting with back sections first and then applying to front (Again, I don’t apply henna to my nape hair). Ensure hair is completely coated in henna.
  • Mix 2 tsp of remaining henna into another 3/4 c. of Sally’s GVP Conditioning Balm to make a henna gloss.
  • Apply to remaining “un-hennaed” hair (I do this as I don’t like the idea of my dry hair under heat, so I put conditioner on it to get a deep treatment. I add leftover henna if I have it).
  • Place hair on top of head, securing with round-tooth jaw clip.
  • Wrap head in plastic wrap, wrap cotton balls or paper towel around edges to catch drippies, don plastic cap.
  • Allow henna to sit for 4 hours (I apply a heat source [winter hat, heat wrap or bonnet dryer] for 2-4 hours to increase speed of dye release and enhance amount of dye uptake).
  • Fill tub with enough water to cover head, put gloves back on and dunk hair to loosen and remove majority of henna.
  • Gently rinse remaining henna from hair under faucet stream (do not try to detangle at this juncture).

The Indigo Mix**

  • Pour 50g of indigo into glass bowl and add a pinch of salt to enhance dye uptake and color retention (several shakes of the salt shaker).
  • Mix in enough lukewarm/room temp distilled/filtered water to make indigo into a thick paste (indigo is grittier than henna).
  • Put gloves back on and apply indigo to first 6 inches of back half of hair until fully covered.
  • Wrap head in plastic wrap, don plastic cap and apply heat for one hour.
  • Hop in shower and rinse henna and gently finger detangle hair with lots of HE HH (usually takes about three rinses).

**Indigo needs henna to “stick” to the hair. So, henna must be applied first and then indigo to dye hair black. The dye in indigo releases immediately and expires rapidly. So, it should only be mixed right before application and leftovers should be discarded as indigo can’t be stored once it’s been mixed. Indigo powder should be stored in a cool, dry place. Do not freeze indigo powder as it will kill the dye molecule.

The Finish

  • Apply moisturizing deep conditioner (Darcy’s Botanicals Pumpkin Seed Conditioner this time), don plastic cap and apply heat for at least one hour (I sometimes sleep in my DC overnight, but am trying to not do that as often anymore given my realization that my hair was over-conditioned).
  • Cool, seal, finger detangle and rinse (click here for my DC rinsing technique).
  • Apply leave-in and style as desired.

So, that is the very detailed blow-by-blow of my process!

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70 responses »

  1. Yeah thats usually how my process goes. Ive learned to be neater over time. I havent used indigo . But My henna process has gotten easier and easier.

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  2. LOVE It (does this mean I’m the number two, liking today’s blog lol) I am going to start only doing my roots too. I think the rest of my hair is red enough.

    I do the exact same thing, only i mix my indigo with my henna. I just dont want my red hair to be that brassy and the indigo tones it down and i add amla. I think you said amla made your scalp itch though.

    Great article Ms. S.

    Like

    • Tiffany, mine has too! Do you know, I didn’t drop any henna until I mixed that “gloss?” That’s when I dropped two dollops as I was slapping it on! LOL!! But, generally speaking, I don’t get henna on much of anything anymore. The roots only application definitely makes it less mess too though!

      Thanks Ty!! And yes, amla irritated my scalp horribly! I think it was responsible for my prolonged bout with excessive shedding!

      Like

  3. Shelli, I am one of the “like two people” that has been awaiting the arrival of this post! Yeah! And, thank you! I do plan to give indigo a try.

    Like

  4. Shelli, thank you for this post. I want to be a henna head, because everyone that I see who uses henna has such a smooth texture to there hair. I tried using henna twice but have not gotten that affect yet. Should I use henna every other week rather than every now and then?

    Like

    • Hey Katina!! It seems like it usually takes 3-5 applications to see appreciable changes and the effects (with the exception of the color) do fade with time and washes. So, if you are doing them months apart, you may want to try a bi-weekly schedule for 3-5 treatments and see what happens. This is the thing though, henna won’t change the inherent nature of your hair. So, it’s not going to completely change the appearance, just enhance shine and/or sheen. If you see pictures of my hair before henna, it was still relatively shiny. I have a few “Henna and Me” HairStories on the site under the HairStory tab. Maybe there is someone with hair similar to yours and you can get an idea of how a few successive applications might affect your hair? I hope that it works out for you and keep us updated!!

      Like

  5. OMG I want to do this to cover my crown grays but Im tooooo doggone lazy to go through the process. I wish there was a hairdresser to do this for me!!! I love the red highlights :)

    Like

    • Leah, do you have any Indian salons where you live … places that do threadding? If so, you might be able to find someone to do a henna for you!! There was a place about 15 minutes from my house that I went to when I first contemplated henna. They didn’t want to do it because of my prior black dye and grey hair, thought I wouldn’t like it. So, I ended up doing it myself. I wonder what they would think now;).

      Like

    • Rhonda, I think Michelle just hates the smell, the grit and the rinsing. But, I’ll let her confirm that ;).

      Thanks Mershauna!! You could always try adding indigo to your henna for a dark, chocolatey brown and go from there;).

      Like

  6. Shelli, gurl, your detailed process steps makes the engineering in me leap in the air. I have printed EVERY single step. I have a stash of henna from Mehandi.com. I do need to order indigo though. I dont know why I feel so intimidated by the indigo process???? I have heard mixed results – extreme drying effects even after a deep condish. I will give it a shot.

    Also, I believe I am ready to call it. Henna can loosen finer curls. The nape of my neck barely has any more “bends”. I used to have coils. I hardly needed any loosening in the nape area (now the crown is a totally different story). I wish I could send you before and after photos, but I dont have any.

    Point being, I may have to also adopt your practice of not henna’ing the nape area.

    Like

  7. ok, I’m chiming in!!! THANK YOU and yes I am proudly one of the two people that harassed Shelli to get on the good foot and post it. Just like Rhonda I am printing for my reference when I do mine. Henna’ing was daunting enough but now that I have down pat, I need to add a step by doing Indigo…lol. I think after the first two times, it should become easier especially now that we have directions. Thanks Shelli-there’s so many of us that appreciate the details you so lovingly share!!!

    Like

  8. Thank you soooo much for the step by step with pictures. I am on my 2nd henna treatment, and I was beginning to get frustrated because I experienced the color and could notice the shine effect on my hairline only. My roots have “puffed up” and my ends are rather loose, almost to the point where my curl pattern is non-existent. I noticed you use the exact same henna that I get from my grocer. I think my biggest mistake is not allowing the mixture to sit prior to applying it to my hair. I also see that I need to focus on my roots only.
    Thanks again for sharing your henna routine!!!!

    Like

  9. Thank you so much for this… It is similar to what I did to my daughter’s hair but without the Indigo. She loves the highlights it give her temples! We are going to do it again tonight and then again in two weeks and then again! LOL! I am going to do mine once I cut off my relaxed ends in about 6 months…

    Like

  10. One question – What does HE HH mean here?

    “Hop in shower and rinse henna and gently finger detangle hair with lots of HE HH (usually takes about three rinses)”

    Like

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  14. Hi,

    What a great post! I think this is the first time I’ve read something so detailed and well done. I have henna’d once before and almost loved it; didn’t know that the henna had to sit for a while before using so my uptake wasn’t worth the work. I was interested in trying again, which led me to your post. I have a question; what happens with the henna in the freezer? Is that for a future use and if so, what do you do to make it ‘use-ready’?

    Thanks, again!

    Like

    • Hi Tamarus!! Thank you soooo much:)!! Yes, you need to let henna sit so that the dye can release ….. however, if you leave it in overnight 8-12 hours, you can apply it immediately (that’s what CurlyNikki used to do). In regard to the frozen henna, what I do is mix a big batch that is enough for two applications. I freeze half of it (as pictured above: I wrap in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil and then put it in a freezer bag). When I’m ready for my next treatment, I throw the frozen henna in the fridge to thaw the day before I’m going to use it and I’m good to go. If I forget to put it in the fridge, I just put it on the countertop in a bowl to thaw more quickly or, if I need it really fast, I microwave some water in a bowl and then place the freezer bag into the bowl to thaw the henna. Then, I’m ready to rock and roll;)!

      Frozen/thawed henna deposits even more dye than fresh henna! So, it’s awesome!

      Like

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  16. This is great. I would like to do a hendigo using the same products as you. I am just lazy to hop in the shower twice, after henna and after indigo…and after deep conditioning. So I want to do the one step henndigo and I hope it comes out well. Have you tried it? How did it come out for you?

    Like

    • Thank you Tshego!! It’s funny you ask that … you must not have seen my post from Monday yet;). If you search hendigo … you can see that I didn’t get good results the two times I tried it. BUT, someone suggested that it may have been because I add conditioner to the hendigo. When I do the two step, I add conditioner to the henna, but not the indigo. So, perhaps I need to leave-out the conditioner in the hendigo to get it to stick? I may try it one more time. I may even do it this week … I may just do my temples and the patch right in the middle of the back of my head. Test run. I’ll let you know how it goes.

      Like

    • If you aren’t having any adverse effects (dry hair; loosened curls if you don’t want that), then nope!! You’re good:)! LOL!

      And, I can’t reply during the work day, but I’m usually pretty quick in the early hours or night, because I’m on this computer for hours!! So bad!! I need balance! Yea!! South Africa:)! I love learning about readers outside of the States!! One of my fellow GOCers from my first challenge on NaturallyCurly.com is from South Africa! Andrea, I know you are out there;). She may not see this, but just in case;).

      Like

    • Hi Polly. No, indigo doesn’t strengthen and yes, I just use it for the coloring effect. I didn’t do my two step last time and now I have this funky red patch at my roots! If I didn’t need it for the color, I’d just use henna:). But really, at this point, I use henna more for the color than the conditioning benefits!

      Like

  17. Thank you, again, for your step-by-step tutorial on mixing and applying henna! For the first time EVER, I had a trouble-free henna session! It mixed well…and I didn’t get any on the counters or sink. It went on easy and I didn’t spatter the bathroom! It rinsed out well…it was perfect!

    I can’t say that I loved the indigo process, though. The color turned out good, but it was a mess form start to finish! I think I’ll have little bluish flakes coming out of my hair for the next week! :)

    Like

  18. when i use henna, it makes my hair EXTREMELY dry and brittle. It has completely changed my hair from soft and curly to a brillo pad. It seems like no matter what conditioner or routine I have tried, nothing helps. I have done it all except puy a steamer and try that. Any suggestions….or is it just clipper time and back to chemical dyes?

    Like

    • Hi Lafia! Sorry for the delay! What conditioners have you tried? You’re not using anything with protein, are you? Have you tried a coconut oil or Vatika oil pre-poo, then shampooing, and DCing with the cool & seal technique with a protein free/silicone free DC? If you’ve done all of that, definitely seems like your hair doesn’t like henna. If you can’t restore the softness and curl, maybe a good trim will help? I’d avoid any permanent dye until you hair feels healthy again though.

      Sorry that it didn’t work out for you:(.

      Like

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  21. I am reading this with henna in my hair and i’m excited to see the results. lol this is my first time using henna,but i’m not using indigo because i’m looking for some red highlights on my previously lightened hair.

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  22. Hi Shelli. I wanted to know if you have to wash your hair with shampoo before doing the henna application? Does your hair have to be clean? The reason I am asking is because I usually use a lot of products in my hair and I wasn’t sure if there would be an interaction with my dirty hair. How do you prepare your hair before you henna? Thanks.

    Like

    • Hi Kendra, if I’m applying it to wet hair, yes. If I apply to dry, no. If I am worried about product build-up, I’ll wash first. Also, as I like to pre-poo with Vatika oil and conditioner, I usually shampoo (I use DevaCare No Poo usually), lightly finger detangle and then apply henna.

      Like

  23. Thank you so much! I have not Hennied yet, but I am both excited and cautious! What exactly should we look for when purchasing Henna? 100% Henna? I have 3 kinds: Nupur 100% Natural Mehendi (Rajasthani Mehendi), Herbal Henna (Karishma), and Reshma Femme 100% Natural Raven (Rich Luminous Hair Color)…. that’s what the boxes say. Which one should I use, if any?

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  25. Ok I have a few questions. I’m interested in trying henna, but I don’t want red hair. My hair is kinda brown in the light and I want it to be black. Is there any way to color my hair black using henna? Is that a color option? If that’s not a color option, can henna be used for conditioning effects only? Meaning, can I use henna without getting a color change?

    Like

    • Hi Zena. The two step henna indigo that I explain in this post is how you get black hair with henna. Indigo is a black dye. That’s why I do the two step process in the back of my hair. If you look at the slide show, there are pics of the back of my hair with henna only, then after I applied the indigo. You have to use henna first for it to stick to your hair. You can get some of the benefits of henna by just mixing a tablespoon or two into conditioner and then immediately applying it to your hair. Since henna needs time to release the dye, applying it immediately prevents the dye from releasing. However, the benefits of the henna aren’t as great without the dye release. Finally, cassia is a clear powder that has similar benefits to henna. However, the results don’t last as long, more like 2-4 weeks versus 6-8 with henna. Here is another post I did about color options with Ayurvedic powders.

      http://hairscapades.com/2011/12/28/color-options-with-baq-henna/

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  27. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for this post!!! I have always been curious about henna but was worried about all the work. Then, after reading yours and Nikki’s directions I put it into place. I already take care of my hair and I figured after doing the Aphogee treatment (sticky mess) I could handle this. I’m actually doing my deep condition as I type this! After washing out the indigo I could really see the color and my grays are gone (I’m 27 by the way). Can’t wait to do this wash and go tomorrow.

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  29. Does the inside of your Jamila henna box say ” Henna for hair”? I feel like I got lucky finding this henna for $3.00 and the store is right around the corner from me! But I thought that true BAQ henna is not suppose to say henna for hair anywhere on the box. Thanks..btw I love your blog, it has been so helpful.

    Like

    • The inside Muna? There is nothing inside the box, everything is outside. Hmmmm … does your box show a henna tattoo on the hands? If it can’t be used for body tattoos, then it’s not BAQ henna. So, you may want to return and see if they have the BAQ kind and if you can exchange it. And thank you!!!

      Like

  30. Question: Thanks to this blog I’m on my 3rd henna process, which I do 1x mthly. I noticed color changes on my 2nd process. I have henna in my head now, but just ordered the indigo. Do you have to do the indigo immediately after the henna or can I wait a week after the henna to do the indigo? (I’m cheap when it comes to shipping lol)

    Like

        • Once you’ve applied henna, indigo won’t give hair a green tint if your hair is black/dark brown. I don’t think it really does anything on dark hair. But, if you have grey hair like me and it gets really red/orange with henna (or your hair is light colored) and you are using the indigo to make it black, you can probably apply indigo within 3-4 days of your henna treatment and it will stick. But, it sticks better to freshly hennaed hair from what I understand. A week may be too long. I think you kind of want to get the indigo on it before the henna oxidizes.

          Like

          • Everyone’s hair is different. It DID turn my hair a green tint. I get my henna from hennasooq. You can call or email Khadija at hennasooq and ask her. She responds promptly – and she did confirm the green tint.

            Like

            • Just to clarify… The green tint occurs if you use indigo without henna or if you wait and use it much later, as you have suggested. However, my hair turned a green tint when I used indigo immediately after using henna – I may not covered that section of my hair well enough with the henna or maybe I left it on too long. Not sure – but it was green.

              Like

            • Thank you! I know indigo is supposed to be used with henna, but didn’t think it would make dark hair (like black/dark brown) green. Also, it was my understanding that indigo does not really stick without henna, so on dark hair, even if it did pick up some color, it would wash out with a few washes?

              Like

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