Natural Gray Hair Dyes: Henna, Indigo & Others

There are natural solutions for coloring gray hair permanently without the use of chemicals. These natural gray hair dyes are so good for your hair that you can use them without fear of damaging your hair over time. Here are the options:


Henna is a plant; it grows into a small tree or shrub. This plant has been used for centuries to dye hair and skin because of the coloring properties that are due to lawsone,  also known as hennotannic acid, which is a red-orange dye present in the leaves of the henna. Fortunately, for us humans, henna has an affinity for bonding with protein. Which makes it a very good dye for hair and skin.

The lawsone in henna is primarily concentrated in the leaves and when mixed as a dry powder with lemon juice or other mildly acidic liquids serves as a permanent dye for hair. Henna will penetrate and dye your hair’s keratin, which means it is a permanent solution. The resulting color will be a combination of your natural color and the red-orange henna color.

The Best Henna To Buy

The best henna hair dye to get is body art quality henna. This type of henna is usually the best quality henna, it has a higher dye content and it is sifted finer as producers usually sift the dried henna leaves carefully to remove berries, twigs and dirt. The resulting powder is then sifted several times to a fine high quality powder. This makes it perfect for body art and even better for gray hair because the powder is fine and easy to mix and handle.

Body art quality henna is a permanent dye, the result of your dye treatment will not fade but will darken hair over time. Henna will give hair a red to auburn tone only. There is no such natural product known as black henna. Body art quality henna is not supposed to contain any additives, chemical dyes or metallic salts.

So what is compound henna then?

In the hair dye industry there are some products that are called compound henna, which may not even be henna at all. Some manufacturers mix the henna with metallic salts, synthetic dyes and other products, usually these products will fade leaving the hair a very brassy reddish looking color on gray hair. Unfortunately the products added to compound henna are most times not listed on the package. This makes any henna, other than body art quality henna really suspect, so ladies shop for your natural gray hair dyes with care.


Like the henna plant there is a plant called Indigofera tinctoria, from which comes the oldest dye in the world-indigo. The powdered leaves have a natural dark blue dye. For centuries people have used indigo to dye their gray hair black and because of its resemblance to henna it has been called “black henna”.

Real indigo is a greenish looking powder, which smells a bit like, frozen peas. To get jet-black hair you can apply indigo to your gray hair immediately after a henna treatment and you will get a permanent jet black result.

If you open a box of “black henna” and the powder is brownish black or black, it probably has PPD (para-phenylenediamine, a hazardous aniline (coal tar) dye in it.  If you mix it with water, blackish brown liquid will leak out. That stuff is not henna.  It’s not indigo.  It’s chemicals and it may hurt you.


Cassia Obovata is a shrub-like plant and is also called Senna. That same herb that is used as a laxative. Now many persons know senna/cassia as ‘neutral henna’ which is an excellent conditioner for hair that will make your hair glossy but will not color it red.

There is no such thing as ‘neutral henna’ or ‘black henna’. Henna is colored reddish orange— anything else is not henna. Cassia may not be henna but it can do some really good things to your hair. It can stain hair yellow because of its high yellow content. The blossoms are yellow. While this yellow may not show up in darker  hair it can be mixed with other hair dyes to achieve the desired colors.


Dry powdered walnut hulls make a very rich brown dye. The powdered hulls can be added to a henna or indigo mixture to form various hair colors. Walnut by itself is not known as a very effective dye but it works very well in conjunction with other hair dyes.




  • Nomsa said:

    Hi, I was wanting to Henna my hair using a 100% natural one from Lush ( I was going to do it, two weeks after my relaxer. I remember reading somewhere that henna makes the next relaxer less efficient, I was wondering if you could clarify the relationship between regular henna use and retouching please :).

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Nomsa, I heard that too, the reason is that henna coats the hair shaft. Relaxers need to penetrate the shaft to break down the hair cuticle. I am not sure how to answer the last part of your question.

  • jacqueline said:

    very interesting:) my question is…does henna dyes last as long as your over the counter hair dyes???

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Jacqueline, no it does not. It fades quicker but the upside is, it is much healthier for your tresses so a little henna treatment more frequently won’t hurt.

      • Melina said:

        I’m sorry but this is misleading information – henna is actually PERMANENT – literally, much more so than the so-called ‘permanent’ chemical dyes! Once you henna your hair, it stays there no matter what. The brightness may fade very slightly over time, but that’s it.

        • Brenda Barrett said:

          Hi Melina,

          The opening statement: There are natural solutions for coloring gray hair permanently without the use of chemicals… Where is the misleading information?

  • Mary Newman said:

    I am very interested in using the Henna indigo and my question is how and where can it be bought or does it have to be ordered.

  • Katherine said:

    hi im a teen who has practically no money and loves natural stuff, my hair is thin dark brown and shoulder length but i want to put some black streaks into it so how would i go about that?

  • MelKell said:

    Your website is the best! I have been falling all your advice and happy to report I am five months relaxer free.But I need to color my hair as my greys sre showing. What do you think of Vatika black henna dye or Narturtint? Which one can I use?

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