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Can I bleach henna out of my hair?

The answer is, it depends. And are you sure you really want to?

I discovered henna for hair when I lived in San Francisco. If you read my earlier blog entries, you’ll discover my love affair firsthand.

This is the color and state of my hair before I went the henna route. It’s mostly my natural color; I intermittently got a highlight here or there, but they mostly all faded and grew out and got bleached by the sun. It’s pretty dry, especially at the ends.

My mostly natural hair color before henna

My mostly natural hair color before henna

And this is what my hair looked like after doing henna on it for two years (full-head applications each time — so the ends have probably been treated with henna a dozen or more times). I didn’t maintain that length the whole time, by the way; it was collarbone length for a while. Nice and shiny, eh?

This is the result of two years of consistent, full-head henna coloration over blonde hair.

This is the result of two years of consistent, full-head henna coloration over blonde hair.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was in love with my henna head. I loved the color, the conditioning, taking time to do something nice for myself every six weeks or so.

But moving back from San Francisco to Reno, I was in for a surprise. In the Bay Area, henna made my hair silky soft and shiny. In Reno, time and time again, it would dry out my hair for days afterwards. Olga, a HennaTribe friend from Germany, has said multiple times that henna gave her hair the texture of straw. I had no idea what she was talking about until I started hennaing my hair here in the Nevada high desert.

I modified my mix, but to no avail. My hair was inconsolable.

The only theory I could come up with was humidity. What if henna absorbs moisture? In San Francisco, it would absorb it from the air and transfer it to my hair. In Reno, though, the air is bone dry. Perhaps the henna drew moisture from my hair and transferred it to the air? Or, perhaps the henna residue that coats your hair for a few days post-coloring wasn’t able to remain very supple without that ambient moisture to support it. I should note here that my hair softened up after a few days, and it was still incredibly shiny. But that first week or so, I was not liking it at all.

Anyway, henna wasn’t doing my hair any favors here in the desert, so I decided to make an experiment out of it and see if I could get it bleached back to blonde.

Very important note: If you don’t know exactly what is in your henna for hair paste, DO NOT BLEACH OVER HENNA. Lower quality or mass-produced henna sold for hair often contains metallic salts. Metallic salts plus bleach will melt your hair. You will leave the salon bald. My stylist described it like using a hot curling iron on a synthetic wig. Not pretty.

Anyway, I’m not good with chemicals at home, so I went to my stylist to see if she could help me out. She was extremely reluctant to try it because she didn’t want to melt my hair. I told her that I would take all responsibility for any negative results, so ahead we forged. I always bought my henna from Darcy at the Henna Lounge, using body-art quality henna for my hair, so I knew I didn’t have to worry about additives.

It took us three major bleach applications in a row to get the henna out. This was not a very pleasant experience, because I have a pretty sensitive scalp. I left the salon with chemical blistering on my scalp and hairline (ouch!). Also, if you’ve ever used bleach on your hair, you probably have an idea of what it did to the texture of my hair. My notes from that day:

So it is possible to bleach years and years of henna back to blonde. However, I wouldn’t recommend it. The morning I took this photo I was crying because of how much my hair was breaking. :( However, I’m fixing that with hardcore deep reconstructing and conditioning treatments!

Long story short, here’s the result of bleaching out my henna:

After the henna was bleached out

After the henna was bleached out

It was damaged enough that I ended up cutting it, but lots of deep conditioning treatments helped while I let the damaged parts grow out.

It’s been about two years now since I bleached out my henna, and I’m just now growing my hair back out. I missed the color a lot, though, so I recently went to an Aveda salon and got demi-permanent red. Leaving the salon, I looked in a mirror and got so incredibly nostalgic! The Aveda red is like a naturally toned-down shade of henna red, and the Aveda products did make my hair noticeably softer. I’ll have to post a photo for comparison’s sake soon. :)

Thus ends the frightening tale of a head of henna, a move to the high desert, and three industrial applications of bleach.

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40 Comments

  1. Amber says:

    Amazing color! What brand of henna did you use?

  2. elaine! says:

    It’s henna from Darcy at http://www.hennalounge.com. Her henna is top quality and always fresh, I looooove it. :)

  3. Candice says:

    i do need to ask, what recipe did you used to use to get that shade of red or did it just darken over time? i used to use permanent dye of that similar colour till it was discontinued on me and theres so many reds you can get from what you add to henna that i dont know which will get the the result i want. my hair is also naturally blond and very light.

  4. elaine! says:

    Hi Candice! My recipe was pretty basic. I mixed pure henna powder with chamomile tea and my favorite conditioner and let it sit for about 4 hours. I applied it like this about once a month over my whole head. I noticed that adding either coffee or essential oils like lavender or tea tree oil will make it very slightly browner, which in my case I didn’t want. The chamomile gave it a little more golden undertone. Keep in mind that henna hair color is sort of translucent — it’s like nail polish in that you get that really rich henna color after you’ve done two coats. It also darkens a bit a few days after you apply it, so expect that very first coat to be a little bit orangeish for a day or two.

    Good luck, and have fun!

  5. Candice says:

    thank you very much! :)

  6. Delia says:

    did you go to the salon for the bleaching or did you do it yourself?
    i put henna in my hair months ago and it is no where near as bright as what yours was… but i tried bleaching my hair last night and it did not turn out the way i expected.
    i dont know if i should dye it again or just wait for it to grow out….

    pls help

  7. elaine! says:

    I went to the salon. Bleach is pretty finicky under good circumstances, and bleach over henna (or any red hair coloring, I’ve discovered) is pretty tricky. I also have sensitive skin and wanted to avoid frying my scalp as much as possible.

    You could always go to a salon to see if they could help you out. A possible solution would be to get demi-permanent hair color while it’s growing out to even the tone. Then when the last bits of henna/bleach have grown out, you can let the demi-permanent color fade.

  8. Shawna says:

    Hey! I love your hair! Ive been dying mine with henna about two months now and its kinda orangey and I love that deep crimson red you had, now i just use straight henna with lemon juice nothing else added, just curious as to what i should be adding to get that awesome colour.

  9. elaine! says:

    Thanks Shawna! How long are you leaving it in before washing it out? I got that color after 2-3 treatments (each about 2-3 weeks apart) where I left it on my head for 4+ hours. If you can’t leave it on that long, it might simply take more applications.

    Regarding my recipe, I didn’t use lemon. My favorite results were using henna + chamomile tea + conditioner.

    You might want to make sure you’ve got good quality henna too! My favorite supplier is HennaLounge.com.

  10. Shawna says:

    I usually have been leaving it on about 2 hours. I will definitely start leaving it on longer and try your recipe Thank you so much!

  11. Shawna says:

    Ok another question, I read that the tea makes the dye release faster so I may not have to leave it overnight, how long after mixing it should I wait before applying?

  12. Mikal says:

    Hey Elaine! I know this is a pretty late post, but a few a question:). I went to the henna lounge website and clicked on their hair hennas. There are a few different types, so could yu specify what henna it was? A direct link would be great. That red was so beautiful I wanted to make sure I was buying the same product as you!
    Thanks so much!
    Mikal

  13. elaine! says:

    Hi Mikal! I actually used body art quality henna. Here’s a link for Henna Lounge’s Rajasthani henna powder. The Body Art Quality product in the hair section, here, should be the exact same thing. Henna Lounge has awesome henna powder, so you’re in good hands ordering there.

  14. Meg says:

    Did you use 100% henna or a mix of henna and cassia? I’m a fan of henna but I’d like to try and get a colour that firey I’m just not sure if I should mix my henna with something else or not. (I really don’t understand what the difference between copper and red hair is when people describe how they mix). Love the red though.

  15. elaine! says:

    I used 100% body art quality henna mixed with warm chamomile tea. The chamomile gave it golden undertones on my hair. Cassia is colorless, so it would probably dilute the red a little and you’d end up with your hair color plus a translucent red (so strawberry blonde if you’re blonde; auburn if you’re brunette). Also, keep in mind that my final red color was achieved after three full applications. The first application I did on my dark blonde hair was orange for the first day, then a pretty coppery blonde after the henna oxidized. I’d classify copper as a less saturated red with yellow or orange undertones. You can see what I mean if you check out my henna for hair archives.

  16. Nash says:

    I have dyed my hair with pure henna for about a year now and I’ve become so busy in my work I have little time to get around to dying with henna. I want to go darker and so I was wondering that if instead of bleaching could I dye a synthetic black over it? Or is it necessary to bleach it first? Just wondering!
    -Nyaida

  17. rowan says:

    Aveda /henna question: I used henna for years and loved it, then with three kids to attend decided to try Aveda. Now its gotten so expensive… My last full head color was six weks ago. Anyone tried henna so soon after Aveda color? Ive heard (from whom I not sure.!) that the results may be disastrous…?

  18. elaine! says:

    Nope, going darker is easy — just color right over it. Keep in mind that the color might turn out slightly differently on the hennaed hair than on your roots, though.

  19. elaine! says:

    I haven’t, but using henna over an existing hair dye wouldn’t necessarily be disastrous — the color just might be a little different than what you’d expect, as it’s blending with both your natural color (on the undyed roots) and the colored length. Just remember that henna is a trial-and-error process, so be patient with it. If you get good quality henna, it won’t harm your hair, it’s just that the actual end color can be difficult to predict.

  20. nadia says:

    i already hennaed my hair once over my natural hair color which is a light brown or dark dark blond. the result was a nice dark copper color. but now its getting darker and i want bright red. like paramore Haley williams red. can i add anything to my henna to make it bright red??? or should i bleach my hair then use henna for a bright red head or will it turn bright orange?? i would bleach it and then the next day henna it and leave it over night.my henna has nothing added to it its just 100% pure henna !! also if i add food coloring cool aid will it make it redder

  21. elaine! says:

    The best way to get Paramore red is probably a combination of bleach and normal, chemical hair color. :) The closest you could get with henna would be to bleach your hair and then henna over it twice. Your first application will start out orange. Also — it’s totally not worth it to bleach henna out of your hair if you’ve done it more than once. It’s so hard on your poor head!

  22. nimmi jayasundara says:

    before 7 months iwas put on the my hair black henna now i want chenge it mattblondi. how can i do it?

  23. Sasha says:

    Hey Elaine! That red in the after photo is exactly what I’ve been going for for the past two years or dying my hair with traditional color. SO GORGEOUS!!!! Sorry I’m a little behind everyone else here, but I was just wondering if you could tell me exactly what product you used so that I can order it…. I clicked the link you left in the above comments but got a “site under construction” page.

  24. elaine! says:

    Oops! Try this link instead. And have fun!

  25. elaine! says:

    It depends on what was in the henna. If you don’t know whether it really was 100% all natural ingredients (you can’t always trust the box), there’s a good chance that using chemical coloring on your hair will melt it.

  26. Taysa Mohler says:

    ok, this is just to perfect.
    I have naturally blond hair- a little bit darker than yours was in the first picture- and I have never done ABYTHING to it. Besides cutting of course. I live in Truckee, CA, a small mountain town about an hour away from Reno, in the Tahoe area. (im sure that you have heard of it) I have been wanting to dye my hair henna red for a long time. I have a friend in santa cruz who did it and loved it. My aunt is a hairdresser and is willing to do it for me. However, I am a sophomore in high school and, needless to say, would never grow ok with the concept of showing up at school one day bald. I am not so attached to the idea of hennaing my golden locks that I would be willing to go to such extremes. Also, my hair is VERY healthy- I have never been able to find a split end. I would like to keep it this way. Any ideas or advice? Should I henna it at all? Would it dry it out to much? Thanks!

  27. Lily says:

    i have a question for Elaine!
    if you have brown hair but then bleached and dyed your hair purple, what do you think the outcome is
    ps
    where did you get the henna you used?

  28. Juliana Prado says:

    Hi, I just moved into San Jose, CA. I have been dyeing my hair with henna for a couple of years and love the result. Unfortunately I had I shoulder sprain and can’t manage to do it on myself right now. Does anyone know of any hair salon in the area that works with henna (in the bay area) ?

  29. cungs says:

    Hey Elanie. I wonder if I could get the same quality of the red hair if my previous color is black? And, If I just already made my hair red, can I return it into black with black henna? Thank you and great red hair!

  30. yasmine says:

    you have to oil your hair a whole day after using henna :) and mix it with oil when you prepare it !!!!

  31. elizy88 says:

    my hair is a curly and short with straight across bangs, and i put henna in my hair over blonde streaks about 3 or more months ago. it still is semi visable, but now i want to bleach my bangs and either my bottom layer or do tips of blue. I used expensive body qupure henna, i dont think it has metallic salts in it, and i would get it done at a salon, but do you think i should wait more, is there something i can do to get the last of it out?

  32. anna says:

    not even sure if anyone reads this thread anymore… i have only done 2 whole head treatments of henna and my skin tone doesnt agree so im wanting to bleach it out. only used 100% baq henna but was wondering, did your hairdresser do all 3 bleachings in one sitting? was this over a course of days or weeks? i just bleached me henna hair yesterday and its like the 5th element neon orange. i realize i need more bleaching, but was curious how far apart you did yours? thanx!

  33. Stephanie says:

    I Know it’s been awhile since you have posted.. but I am thinking of doing a few back-to back full head treatments of henna over my (bleached) very light blonde hair.. do you think after a few treatments the results will be similar? That red is gorgeous and I would love to have my hair that color and drop the bleaching.. let me know what you think!

  34. elaine! says:

    Hi guys! Sorry I didn’t see your replies before now.

    Taysa, I know where Truckee is! I live in Reno. :) Anyway, henna is actually very good for most people’s hair. I’m not quite sure why mine started to get that weird texture to it after hennaing it when I moved back to Reno. I never had split ends, though, and it got nice and soft again usually after a few days. So if you really want to do it, you can give it a try! If you use high-quality, unadulterated henna you won’t lose your hair even if you bleach over it. And it’s usually protective against split ends.

  35. elaine! says:

    Lily, I get my henna from Henna Lounge. Henna is semi transluscent, so if you’re dying over purple, it might end up a muddy brown color, as if you mixed red-orange and purple watercolors. Also, it won’t necessarily mix your roots very well when it starts to grow out, since you bleached then dyed it purple.

  36. elaine! says:

    Hi cungs! To get super red hair, you’d probably have to lighten your hair and then henna it. Henna over black hair gives it red highlights; I’ve heard that it’s rather stunning in sunlight. If you want to go back to black, it’s really easy; just dye back over your hair. You can cover the henna color fairly easily; it’s removing it that’s the pain!

  37. elaine! says:

    Yasmine, I did always mix my henna-for-hair mix with either a lot of conditioner and/or oil, but maybe I should have oiled it more afterwards too. :) If I start hennaing my hair again, I’ll give it a try!

  38. elaine! says:

    Elizy88, that is an excellent question — I’m not sure. If in doubt you can try a little color over a previously hennaed lock and see what happens before doing the rest of your hair. Good luck!

  39. elaine! says:

    Anna, sorry for the late reply! I believe I spaced the bleachings out over a couple weeks, maybe even longer, and I did a lot of restorative treatments in-between. In retrospect it might have been kinder to my hair to have gone brunette for a while rather than straight back to blonde. You might be able to find a shade that you like better with your skin tone without having to bleach the heck out of your hair.

  40. elaine! says:

    Hi Stephanie! Yes, if you’re starting with blonde hair, three back-to-back treatments will most likely get you a similar color. My hair seemed to reach full color saturation after three treatments, and doing them in a short span of time would probably work just as well as doing it once a month, like I did.

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