Covering Gray Roots with Henna

Like all hair color, even the most permanent, your roots will start to show between 2 ½ to 4 weeks after coloring. If you've been using a gentle, color-safe shampoo and conditioner, the roots show because your hair has grown. Not because the color has been stripped.

The myth has been that gray hair can't hold on to henna. But the truth is, you can successfully color your gray with henna, get a fabulous color, and have it last as long as any other color.

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How Henna Application Differs from Commercial Hair Color

Covering Gray Roots with Henna

When covering gray hair with henna, you've got to be strict about following the rules.

  • Mix the powdered henna with strong, hot coffee instead of hot water. (I find hot coffee tones down the strident red tones typical of many hennas.)

  • Mixing in pre-beaten eggs to give the mixture a pudding-like texture makes it easier to apply. Unlike commercial hair color, with henna you must make sure you've covered every strand of your hair.

  • And finally - the clincher - I've tested this a few times and each time I've had to leave the henna in my gray hair for 6 hours. Covered with a plastic cap, mind you. Not the most comfortable 6 hours, I'll admit. But it works.

Just Coloring the Roots

When you can see the gray or white where you part your hair, or along the temples - or when your hair has simply grown to where the gray is just too obvious - then it's time to do your roots.

Remember, you're coloring the roots that you had previously colored with henna. You cannot use henna on hair that has recently been exposed to commercial hair color.

I always have at least 2 boxes of my favorite brand and color of henna on hand. It doesn't keep well once it's been opened, and if I only use half a bag to do my roots, I'll usually throw the unused henna away.

To color your roots, mix the half bag of powdered henna with enough strong coffee to form a paste-like texture. Then add 1 pre-beaten egg and mix it all together. If needed, add more hot coffee or hot water to bring the paste to a smooth, pudding texture. Be careful - you don't want it soupy!

Then just part your hair and apply the mixture to the gray - and perhaps a little farther out just to blend it. You can be fairly heavy-handed, unlike commercial hair colors, where you just squeeze on a thin line. Part the hair every ¼ to ½ inch and apply more henna.

When you're done, cover your hair with an elasticized plastic cap, and perhaps a towel on top of that. I take the cap off once or twice during the 6 hours and spritz some hot water on my head, to keep the henna moist. I also use a heat bonnet for 10 minutes each hour.

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The Beautiful Finale

After the time is up (you should do a strand test to see what your best timing is - you may not need to do the whole six hours), rinse your hair under warm water. It will take a while to get all the henna out, but don't be tempted to use shampoo. That will ruin your root job. I'd also skip conditioner this time around, although a DROP of Citré Shine or Frizz-Ease (both cruelty-free) will help get tangles out and protect your hair when blow-drying.

And there you have it. A nice root cover-up. And now you can wait an extra few weeks before having to color your hair again. In fact, some women only cover their entire head with henna once or twice a year - and they use the root touch-up technique as their major hair coloring.

Coloring your roots with henna - just like coloring your whole head with henna - is a more involved and time-consuming process than using commercial hair color. But a trustworthy henna, like Light Mountain, has no harmful chemicals in it at all. To me, that's worth 6 hours with a cap on my head!

Covering Gray Roots with Henna

Suzann is a technical writer and copy editor, with many pieces published both for the web and in hard copy. A graduate of Northwestern University, she runs the website My Makeup Mirror. []