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My Cosmetics Quest, Hair Colouring, and Henna

Box of henna by colora

So far, my “cosmetics quest” (an effort to minimize the number of toxins I willingly apply onto my hair and skin each morning) has been a combination of hits and misses. The two most challenging items I’ve been trying to source to date are deodorant and hair dye.

As you can see in my blog photo, I like to keep my hair red. But not long ago, I liked to keep my hair blonde. And before that … well, you get the picture. I’ve liked changing up my hair colour since I was a teenager. I’ve had pretty much every colour under the sun. Twice. What can I say? I just find my natural hair colour boring and want to add a little oompf to it.

For most women my age, colouring hair becomes a “must do” because they don’t like the look of their grey hair. So it’s a topic worth digging into a bit. The first time I had ever heard of hair dye as a health concern was when one of my book club friends said that research was starting to tie brown hair dye to cancer, so she was going to bite the bullet and go “au naturel.” Personally, I think it’s a great choice — grey hair has a real flair to it, I think.

But for those who insist on “needing” to colour our hair, Gillian Deacon, author of There’s Lead in Your Lipstick has some bad news for us:

“Permanent dyes last the longest and contain the most serious toxins. The semi- and demi-permanent colour rinses often avoid some of the troublesome chemicals, though not all. No matter what, if you’re going to hide your age with hair dye, you’re signing on for a chemical bath.”

However, there is an alternative if you want to go red. Henna can add a red tint to light brown or brown hair and, according to Deacon, the American Cancer Society recommends it as a viable safe alternative to conventional hair dyes.

I decided to try it. I have a very, very bad record of failed home hair colouring attempts, and I had long ago vowed to always go to a salon, so I didn’t take the decision lightly. But the combination of potential health consequences with the cost savings I could get from doing an at-home job were too much to resist. (I bought a brand called “colora” from Terra20).

So here’s the real deal on henna …


  • The $9 price tag saves me a ton of money (most women can attest that they generally end up forking out around $100 for a salon hair colour job).
  • It is all-natural and organic so I don’t have to get nervous like I do at the salon when I can feel the dye stinging my scalp.
  • It takes less time to do than a salon appointment does (I always find it hard to schedule the time for hair appointments but this is easier when you’re at home).
  • The end result was very good (not mind-blowing, and not exactly like the hair salon, but very good).

Here is a photo of the end result (this is 3 washes later). Like I said, I’m happy with it but next time I will focus more on the roots before an all-over application, leave the colour in longer (I was nervous, so only did 30 minutes instead of the recommended 1 hour), and go for a darker shade (there is a range of shade to pick from). Stella said the shade looked “Brave-ish.”

Movie Poster: Brave


Hair after Henna


  • It’s not an exact science … you mix water with powder and just hope your hair takes to the henna in a way that you like. 
  • It’s messy to apply and messy to rinse.
  • It’s all-natural, so it smells all natural. Think mud with a touch of grass.

Would I do it again?

  • Yes, I’m definitely going to do it again. Would I recommend it to others? Well, I don’t think it’s for everyone — that’s where the pros and cons can help you decide.

My Tips:

  • You’ll need plastic gloves, a container, an application brush, and a plastic cap to cover your hair. For this, I used dishwashing gloves that could be rinsed off afterwards and used again, a large yogurt container that I recycled afterwards, a BBQ brush from the dollar store that can be rinsed and used again, and a disposable plastic shower cap from a recent hotel stay. 
  • Take Vaseline and dab it around the edge of your hairline to avoid getting henna colour stains on your forehead or around your ears.
  • Use the BBQ brush mentioned above to apply the henna mixture really well along your hair part.
  • Use an old towel for your shoulders and your hair to avoid accidentally getting henna colour on a good towel.
  • If you’re not sure about how deep you want the colour to be, opt for 30 minutes instead of the full hour before you rinse it off.

What are your thoughts on hair dye … does it worry you at all? Are you religious about getting your hair appointments into your schedule? Have you tried henna before and do you have any other tips to share for my next time using it?


  1. I’m so with you on this one! I was a bit of a hairexperimenter in high school, taking the lead from my “punk” sister. We even used henna! I stopped when I became more of an environmental activist. The stray greys started to creep in and someone made a comment so I started down the highlight road about three years ago. I wasn’t very good at keeping the highlights up so they weren’t always that flattering. Then I saw the documentary Pink Ribbons and said no more, no way. Most of the enhanced colour has now been cut off. I’ve thought of the henna and you’ve spurred me on to try it again. Maybe it’ll be me and my sister back in the bathroom, making a complete mess!

    • I really want to see Pink Ribbons … I need to get on that. The good thing about henna is that is fades gradually. No need to cut it off. I want to see pics if you try it! :)

  2. Daniela Duriavig says:

    Interesting! I have always wanted to try henna but felt a little nervous. I just might give it a go. Thanks for sharing!

  3. ChickyMara says:

    Someone told me to try henna for my hair colour. I don’t have a lot of grey, but I do like to colour it. This may inspire me, although I’m probably going to end up with a brown face.

    • Nah, don’t worry about staining your face. I hadn’t thought to do the Vaseline trick when I did mine. If you wash it off, it’s fine … henna “stains” only over some time. So after you apply it, put the shower cap one, then wash off any bits of henna you’ve accidentally put on your face. (That’s what I did, and didn’t end up with any marks.) For dark brown hair like yours, I think the henna would add a nice highlight to the colour, but wouldn’t radically change it.

  4. I honestly had no idea that you could dye your hair with henna! I love the colour that your hair is now though – it is quite brave like, but it in a totally grown up and sophisticated way. i’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for this and give it a whirl as the gray is coming much faster than I’d like to admit.

    • I’m glad you found how about henna colouring here then! It’s a pretty great alternative if you like red hues. You can find it online at Terra20, natural health/food stores, and the Body Shop.

  5. Karen@NourishWithKaren says:

    Your hair looks great! I fooled around with henna for awhile after quitting hair dye. I was using a product from Lush but is was so messy and didn’t turn out quite as well as yours. In the end I decided to let nature have its way with my hair… it is slowly going grey, but with the blonde highlights my hair gets especially in summer, it’s not too bad. Thanks for posting an alternative to dye, as I do believe that hair dye is toxic. As women, we often pay with our health, not even knowing it when it comes to beauty

    • I think the transition to grey is much easier if you have lighter colour hair naturally … more drastic when you are a dark brown naturally and then the grey is such a contrast. Sounds like your plan will work perfectly!

  6. Your hair looks great! I love the colour. Confession: I haven’t had my hair cut or dyed since I was pregnant with Baby A (18 months ago). Isn’t that horrible?! I have streaks of grey and split ends, but I can get it looking pretty decent with my straightener and some hairspray. That being said – no, I’m not religious about my hair appointments. It’s really low on the priority list right now in my life. That’s why my hair’s long and au naturel. 😉

  7. I’ve never coloured my hair, but I’ve always wanted more red in it. Hmmmm, this seems a relatively painless thing to try… those pesky grey strands are more and more obvious these days!!

    • I think you and my grandmother are the only women I know who’ve never coloured their hair!! If you are going to take the leap, I think you might want to opt for highlights rather than a full colour. Otherwise you might just feel like it’s too much change all at once.

  8. i love the colour that your hair turned out… I hate all the chemicals too but I am not happy with all the natural highlights (grey hair) i have.
    My hair dresser told me that if you use Henna, then try to fix it with hair colour (toxic variety) you could have all kinds of problems to your hair. She had one client who had her hair break near the roots from the chemical reaction.
    if you don’t like it go to a hair dresser, tell them you have used Henna and get them to help.

    • Hi Penny! I just did my third round with henna today (a new round every 5 weeks or so). I’m really happy with the results and the price. If I ever decide to go back to the “toxic” variety, I will definitely use a hair dresser. I’ve had really bad results from boxed hair dye in the past!

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