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Calling All Brunettes

As of a few year ago, I realized I could no longer put chemical dyes on my hair, as even the most “natural” ones made my scalp blister horribly. The last time I used a drugstore box of color (Clairol?) the burning and blistering was so bad and lasted so long that I swore off chemical dyes forever. I suspect Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is the culprit, as it is a very common ingredient and allergen. Google “PPD death” just for fun. The hair color was pretty, but the oozing sores all over my head? No so much. And so the search began . . .

Now I’m going to put this right up front; my hairdresser and I were traumatized in order to spare you. You’re welcome. DO NOT use indigo on your hair if you want to put highlights in within a year!!! 2 years ago waited a few months after doing the henna/indigo and wanted to put some highlights in. They turned pale green. :'( I spent over 3 hours with my poor hairdresser trying to dye it back brown. Bleach will lift the henna and your hair color but NOT indigo, it stays with you permanently. It is also hard to dye OVER henna as henna coats the hair shaft so if you plan to return to conventional dye, it can take a few months for the henna to wash out enough to do so.

The first time I used just the Nupur powder and loved the shine and softness, but I had wanted my hair a little darker brown, not as coppery. (My hair is normally medium brown – the copper was lovely, I just wanted it darker and richer looking and not so red.) So I added indigo powder and a few other things and WOW! My hair is so shiny, soft, pretty, rich looking and feeling now. I am 44 and have done everything to my hair imaginable and I have NEVER been happier with the color or texture of my hair than I am after using this recipe. [Yes it covers grays too.]

This is the formula and process that worked very well for me after different experiments and attempts and lots of research – if you have brown hair and want it softer, shinier, richer, deeper, with coppery shine in the sun.

What you will need to begin (and I usually don’t recommend specific products but I have tried several brands and prefer these, and I do like the henna blend better than pure henna (too orange for me):

  • Nupur henna mix (green bag)
  • Indigo powder (silver bag) Natural Indigo Powder 100 Grams Bag
  • Conditioning hair oil and/or pre-shampoo hair treatment – I have used Dabur Vatika Coconut Hair Oil, Burt’s Bees Avacado Butter Pre-Shampoo Hair Treatment, deep conditioning masques, all with good results. These conditioners make your hair softer and (almost as important) cut the strong horse poop smell of the henna/indigo mixture. I am sure a few tablespoons of coconut oil (and if you read this blog you have plenty on hand!) and about 20 drops of your favorite essential oil would also do the trick if you don’t want to buy more products.
  • Plastic or glass mixing bowl and spoon (NO metal)
  • Rubber or latex gloves
  • Shower cap (or plastic grocery bag in a pinch)

Here’s the process – I start the night before I have nothing to do the next morning – so like a Friday night where I am just going to hang around and clean the house, watch TV etc. for 4-6 hours on Saturday. And you don’t really want to have a hot date planned Saturday night, also due to the straw smell and oily texture that first night:

  1. The night before – in a glass or plastic bowl, using a plastic or wooden spoon, mix up all of the Nupur (green bag) with enough boiling hot water to make a pudding-like paste. Around 2 cups, but slowly add until pudding consistency, a little more watery is better than too dry. I also add a healthy squirt each of the coconut oil and the Burt’s Bees pre-shampoo treatment and mix it all up. Leave it to sit overnight on the counter, covered by plastic wrap.
  2. The next morning – freeze in a ziplock bag the portion you are not planning you use (I have thick medium-long hair, past my shoulders and I freeze half of it) Henna does well in the freezer, and it will be all ready to thaw and use the next time, which is nice. (Indigo does NOT do well in the freezer, so just freeze the unused portion of henna/conditioner mix before adding the indigo.)
  3. Add to the henna/conditioner bowl about 1/2 of the indigo powder mix and enough boiling water to make it pudding-like again. (Some people do the henna, then the indigo after the henna is washed out – that seems even more time consuming but I haven’t tried that process, I just mix it all together and it works great.) It will be greenish. Do not be alarmed.

    It should look like this
    It should look like this
  4. After about 10 minutes, when the indigo has set with the Nupur/conditioner mixture (or however long the indigo powder package says) – make sure you have an old t-shirt on – put on the gloves and carefully apply all over your hair, rubbing it in to make sure it is reaching all the hair. This can get messy, especially the first time . . .
  5. Pile your hair on top of your head and put on a shower cap or tie a plastic grocery bag over your hair. Clean off any henna mixture that has dripped on your neck, ears, sink, floor, etc. – damp paper towels work well. It will stain cloth and skin if left on too long.

    Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful
    Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful
  6. Hang out with that mixture on your head for 5-6 hours. 4 is not enough, sorry, I tried.
  7. When the time’s up, rinse it out until the water runs clear – this can take a WHILE. Rinse with conditioner. Be astounded at the mess in your shower and then rinse off the walls.
  8. The next day, shampoo and deep condition. Don’t be discouraged if your hair feels dry, coarse, and straw-like for a few days if you didn’t add the conditioner. It will soon be soft and shiny!
  9. Bonus – recommended by my hairdresser – Rub a little oil in your hair, combing it through (especially the ends) before styling, which has also helped with the insane softness and shininess. I am obsessed with Moroccan hair oil and Alterna Bamboo oil treatment is nice too (I prefer the dropper to the spray). I put these products on our store page if you want to buy them from Amazon. (I think we get a few cents for each referral haha)
Before – kinda drab, but still warm color
Before – kinda drab, but still warm color
After – SHINY! And soft. And I am trying not to cry staring into the sun
After – SHINY! And soft. And I am trying not to cry staring into the sun

I know it seems like a lot but once you get the hang of it, I think it’s worth it in terms of saving money and having fewer harsh chemicals on your head. Not to mention, the whole point of the endeavor – having gorgeous hair!

Here are before and after pictures. Your hair will look more coppery/red in the sun, and darker/richer in the shade. And it will feel amazingly soft. Good luck! I repeat every 2 months or so.

I might put together some kits if people are interested, let me know. It’s kind of a hassle to track down everything individually.



I first read your review on amazon and it’s awesome! I was looking for natural ways to color my hair last January after highlight left the tips of my hair or burnt and ugly looking. I was also looking for something that’s cheap. Score! Since my hair is only about shoulder length and rather thin the henna bag lasts me 4 colorings. I bought the coconut oil but the burts bee treatment seemed too expensive for the size so I experiment. Last time I poured in some avocado oil we bought for cooking. Worked fine too 🙂 Thanks again for the very descriptive process – I’m never going to chemically dye my hair again!

Stephanie Dolan

Yay! Avocado oil sounds genius 🙂


Hello Stephanie,

Ahhh, all of the things you wrote here about dyeing hair with henna and indigo is what I have been looking for!! Thank you SO much!!!
I knew henna is a great way to dye hair but I was hesitant if my dark Asian hair doesn’t look good matching to bright orangish red so I couldn’t try but I happened to see your comment of the reviews on Amazon that you mentioned mixing with indigo! This IS going to be the perfect way for my dark hair!
The information of the products you used is absolutely useful and kind to me so that I can go back to Amazon to pick up items quickly!
I have hated to look at myself with gray hair at the mirror in the bathroom but the photo of your beautiful shiny hair blew all of stresses about my gray hair away!
Thank you so much! 🙂

Stephanie Dolan

I am so glad my preparation is helpful!! Please let me know how it turns out! This took many many years of (failed haha) experimentation.

Renae Neely

Hi Stephanie,

Just to clarify, does the indigo give your hair that lovely dark undershade hue that can be seen in the sun or does it make your hair dark brown with red highlights. Thanks for laying out the prep work in your blog I’m new to this and appreciate any tips I can get. Btw, I found your blog thru your amazon review 🙂


Hi Stephanie, thank you for such detail information. I’m going to try it out tonight (got all the ingredients from amazon). I have one question, do you add the salt or lemon juice to any mixture?


Hello, and what a lovely website and wonderful advices for henna. Thank you very much for sharing. Please could you just clarify how many grams there is Nupur henna mix big? I am worried I will use too little…

Thank you.