Have you ever prepared henna, let it sit out for dye release only to have a paste that doesn’t stain? As all henna powders have their own dye release timings, you’d think that all will go well– until the paste does not stain.  There are a few variables involved that can skew the henna dye release times. Here’s a mini guide to testing your henna paste for readiness for both body art and hair use.

All henna powders have a dye release time; some have shorter release times, while others require much more time to release. Dye release is the amount of time a henna powder needs, when mixed into a paste, to become ready to use, meaning the dye is ready and at the perfect height in color.

It’s  best to remember that dye release times are simply a guideline for the specific henna. Fresher henna powders typically can release much faster than older powders as well.  As well as freshness, other variables that can speed up and slow henna’s dye release down such as the ambient air temperature, liquid temperature and use of acids in the mix.  Heat can speed up henna’s dye release while acids and cold air/water have a habit of slowing the dye release down.  There have been a few reports where hard water can slow down and even prevent henna from releasing.  If you live in an area that has hard water, or have not been successful with dye release, try to mix your henna with an herbal tea made from distilled water which lacks the minerals that can interfere.  Another option for hard water areas is to add 1-2 TBS of lemon juice to the liquid before mixing the henna paste. Irritation and dryness have been reported by those who have used lemon juice as their sole mixer due to the very low pH of the lemon juice (pH of 2) which is far too low.  Henna happily releases at a pH of around 5.5, which is the pH our skin and hair prefers.

freshly mixed henna paste

Adding thick substances like honey, heavy oils, yoghurt, and butters before dye release can interfere with dye release itself.  Try to add these ingredients right before application.  Hard butters and oils (except coconut) should always be melted and blended with a more liquid oil, and honey is best dissolved into water then added to the henna paste.

Testing Henna Paste for Readiness

Testing henna paste is very easy. Once you’ve become used to testing henna this way, it’ll become second nature.  It’s best to test every batch of henna you make, as mentioned above, ambient air temperatures and water temperatures can change the readiness time of your henna. To test your henna paste:

  1. Dab a little paste on your clean palm 30 minutes after you have mixed it.
  2. Let the paste sit on your skin for up to 5 minutes
  3. Wipe off and assess.
If there is no stain, or very little stain, re-cover the paste, set it in a warm spot and re-test every 30 minutes until you see a pumpkin orange stain. Make sure to test in a  different spot on your palm to previous tests, otherwise you’ll be building up the colour on the palm and skewing the results.  If dye release is taking too long, spoon the henna into zip lock baggies and freeze.  Freezing bursts the dye molecule- in a way that forces dye release. Moroccan henna is the only henna to do poorly after freezing, while Red Raj thrives even after freezing and defrosting twice.  Defrost the frozen henna paste in a warm spot or at room temperature.

This method assures that you will get optimal dye release from your henna.  Happy hennaing!