Hello! And welcome back. It’s me, Desiree’ Celeste!
I started box dying my hair in middle school and continued on until about 5 years ago. On average, I had dyed my hair about once a month for 14 years. One time, I used at least 10 boxes of bleach to get my long hair from black to blonde. I have had black, blonde, and all shades of red hair. I quit dying because my curls were so damaged that I wanted to shave my head. My natural color is very ambiguous, it’s generally medium brown but sometimes reds out, sometimes sun bleaches rather blonde, and I have a grey patch at the front of my head that I absolutely love. Since cutting off my hair, I have felt a little less like myself. I love the look of my short hair, I think it’s very flattering and love the ease of it, but I feel disconnected. I always see myself with black curls, and my hair is just finally long enough to complete a curl again, but now I want my color back and I don’t want to damage my curls to get it. Enter: Indigo.
Indigo isn’t as fleshed out of a topic on the interwebz as henna is, and some people feel that indigo and henna are the same and can be treated the same. Spoiler alert: They’re not. I researched indigo via blogs, wiki, youtube, and still ended up doing it wrong the first time around. Instead of allowing others to scramble for the pieces of the information puzzle, I decided to combine the information I gathered that has worked and have it offered in one location.
What is Indigo?
Indigo is a botanical that has been used in dyes for ages. Components of indigo have been isolated and are still used in fabric dyes today! When it comes to using indigo for dying on the body, it adheres very differently from henna. Henna adheres to the keratin of the body, which is why it is widely used for dying skin, nails, and hair. Indigo doesn’t adhere to keratin, which is why pure indigo isn’t used, nor would work, for skin dying. Indigo can, however, adhere to henna! I have some experiments to do still, but I suspect that I can go back to dying my nails with henna and then layering indigo on top of that for a permanent nail coloring solution. Henna and indigo are also strengthening to the hair, helping to repair damage, and are UV protective. Sun damage isn’t just for your skin, your hair also suffers sun damage (hence the term ‘sun bleaching’), and these botanicals are protective.
How to choose Indigo for hair:
There are a ton of ‘henna’ options that claim to dye hair black. ALWAYS check the ingredients. Some ‘henna’ options contain metals, and ammonia. If the ‘henna’ claims to color non botanically treated hair, it’s not true henna or indigo. Indigoferae tinctoria is the botanical name for indigo, if it claims any other ingredients, proceed with caution. I like to use an indigo combined with henna, whose botanical name is Lawsonia inermis, so the ingredient list on the one I use reads both botanicals and that it all. The only other ingredient I would be okay with finding in my dye mix would be Cassia auriculata, which is a non coloring, protective botanical.
To do the two step or combine?
It really depends on how deep of color you want and how many colorings you are willing to do. I like a deep black, but I also don’t have an entire day to color my hair multiple times. I use combined botanical dyes on my hair so that I can do 1 2-4 hour long treatment in a day, but if you have the time, a 2 step process will provide deeper, longer lasting color. Indigo can potentially become permanent in its color, but rarely does that happen at first application. Virgin hair tends to not accept the dye and will wash out, but doing the 2 step process, hair is more apt to accept the color. My first round of the combined coloring, my hair washed through to a deep purple in the first week, it was awesome. But I also made the commitment to dye my hair a few hours once a week until the color kept. My hair is very short, so dying now isn’t a problem whatsoever and I plan to make it as permanent as possible now so that when I do get length, I can just focus on my roots.
Prep your hair and work space:
Always start with clean hair, I clarify by using 1:1 ratio of lemon juice to water, but baking soda water is also a decent choice. If you use shampoo, then shampoo and do not condition or use any products after. I do this clarifying right before dying my hair to ensure my hair is clean and damp when I apply the mix. Having damp hair when dying helps the mix to be more manageable, keep in mind it’s essentially mud that you’re trying to work through your hair. Unlike non botanical dyes, there is no slip and it’s difficult to work from root to tip.
I make sure to have a black tshirt on hand for drying my hair after rinsing, and I get my gloves and plastic head covering ready. I reuse the same gloves and head covering until they rip. I also have a tight fitting beanie to put over the plastic head covering to trap heat and help the color develop better. I find that applying the dye isn’t all that messy, but still be careful and lay down old towels or shirts on the floor you’ll be standing on and the counter you’ll be working at. Optionally, wipe oil along your hair line, ears, and arms to reduce the dying of your skin. I don’t do this because the dying of my skin doesn’t last long and it doesn’t bother me.
How to do the combined botanical method:
I buy my botanicals premixed via Light Mountain, but if you buy them separately, mix at a 1:1 ratio for black hair, or more henna to less indigo for more of a chestnut color. I mix about a teaspoon of salt into hot water and mix the hot water slowly into the indigo and henna mix. Stirring in water until it is smooth, the consistency should be similar to yogurt. Allow the color to develop for 10-20 min, until you can see the black on top. The rest of the mix will appear deep green, which is normal. Mix well and start application. I wipe it all along my hairline first, then section my hair every inch or so to dye my roots, then massage as I go to make sure I hit all of my roots. As I am working on my hair, it is inevitable that the unused dye starts to dry out and thicken, so I add water little by little to keep it a muddy consistency. Once all of my hair is saturated, I put the head covering on, rinse my gloves for the next use, use a wet micro fiber cloth to clean up my edges, and put my beanie on. I try to relax for 2-4 hours, the closer to 4 hours the better, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between leaving it on 4 hours and leaving it on 6 hours.
Things not to do with combined method:
- add lemon juice: adding lemon juice to pure henna for highlights makes sense, adding it to indigo for black hair doesn’t
- allowing the mix to sit longer than 30 min before application: henna preparation requires allowing the mix to sit for up to 12 hours for dye release, but indigo dye degrades if left that long
How to do the 2 step method:
Mix the henna powder with hot water until it forms a paste, cover the bowl to reduce air flow (many people online say to use plastic wrap, but a silicone lid works just fine) and leave out for a few hours for the dye to release. The mix doesn’t need to be in the fridge, it can be left on a counter. Also, because you’re using this as a base for the indigo to deposit onto, you don’t need to leave the color to develop overnight like you would if you were to be dying your hair red. Once you see the orange/red color pooling on top, you’re ready for application. Now, application is the same as above, but just because this red isn’t your desired color doesn’t mean you get to skimp on the dye. The indigo needs that henna to adhere to, so slather that henna all over and leave on until you can see the red starting to dye at your hair line, about 30 min- 2 hours depending on your hair. Rinse you hair clean, don’t use conditioner or shampoo, just water.
Mix your indigo at this point, adding a teaspoon of salt to your hot water, then mixing with the indigo until a paste is formed. Once again, this paste should be similar to pudding. Yum, pudding. But don’t eat this. Apply as above, making sure to hit your hair line and roots. Cover your head, beanie up, wash your gloves, and leave on for 2-4 hours. I am literally dying my hair as I type and it’s been an hour so far, I have 3 more to go!
Try not to just hop directly into the shower with your muddy gross hair. That’s a sure fire way to dye everything in your shower! I rinse under the faucet until the majority of the dye is out, then hop into the shower and rinse through the rest. I saw one blog post where someone with long hair suggested doing a mermaid soak to loosen the remainder from your hair. A mermaid soak is when you hop in the tub and lay back with your hair in the water and let the hair fan out around you, this is a great method to do if you are willing to dye your skin and tub. I have very short hair right now and tried the mermaid soak after my rinse and I ended up dying my skin a pale blue for the day. Henna and indigo makes the hair feel dry at first, so I use a deep conditioning hair mask to help rinse out the dye. If the dye is being stubborn, massaging conditioner into the scalp is very helpful.
After care and post dying tips:
Avoid washing your hair with anything acidic or shampoo for at least 3 days, but I suggest a week, especially if your hair isn’t an old pro at botanical dye. I generally wash my hair with vinegar or lemon juice, but this is a great way to strip the color from your hair super fast! Also, oil is another thing that will strip the dyes, so no oiling up your hair. Going as long as you can without products in your hair, and just rinsing with water.
The color will develop on your hair for 2-3 days, so be patient with what’s to come. It will also bleed, so cover your pillows at night and dry your hair with black or expendable towels/shirts. If you are going to be sweaty during the day, wear dark colors and be ready to wipe away dark colored sweat. My hair bled blue for about a week!
Since dying my hair, it’s been the softest it has been in ages. A conditioner or hair treatment has never made my hair as persistently soft as the henna and indigo has made it. In the weeks since my final dying, I have not needed to wash my hair, barely used conditioner, and have not oiled my hair at all. My curls are frizz free, my hair is soft, and my scalp is yet to have any build up that rinsing with water couldn’t remedy. For those wanting to experience this feeling without changing their hair color, I strongly suggest looking in to cassia. I am excited to see how my hair progresses over time, considering I am growing my hair back out since chopping it all off. I keep seeing people say how subtle new hair growth looks against previously dyed hair, but I am suspicious. My natural color is considerably lighter than the shiny black it has been dyed. I have no set time frame as to how long it’ll be before I redye, but I do intend to check back in with how the indigo ages.
As always, thank you for joining me in an adventure!
Please let me know any additional questions you may have. I would also love to hear about your own experiences with henna, indigo, cassia, and other botanical dyes. If you like the content, please consider adding me on Instagram