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The Deal On Dye Release: Testing Your Henna Paste For A More Effective Stain

14 comments

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!

  1. Just a suggestion. With regard to the colour after dye release. Whenever I see pumpkin orange I think it’s ready which could be minutes after. With time I figured it meant a dark pumpkin orange or a stronge pumpkin orange that we should wait for. Maybe we could clarify or change the wording.it might be just me since there’s a difference between orange and pumpkin orange
    Thank you

  2. Hi there, Hiba!
    Thank you for the suggestion! That’s a good idea- ‘dark pumpkin orange’ it is! There is a testing stain comparison photograph on it’s way.

  3. Hi, You said Red Raj thrives after freezing and defrosting twice. I just want to make sure I understand what you’re saying. I interpreted this to mean… mix my paste, put it in baggies freeze. defrost, then freeze again. Defrost when ready to apply. Is this correct?

  4. Hi Sharon,
    Basically, I was trying to point out that the Red Raj can in fact survive being frozen and defrosted twice (as someone accidentally found out when they defrosted their Red Raj and ran out of time to apply), but RR doesn’t actually need to be prepared as such. It can be mixed released then applied, or mixed release frozen defrosted and applied. It’s entirely up to you- Your henna, your way! :)

  5. Are there any tips are tricks to perfecting dye release for Jamilla? I’ll be adding hibiscus to increase the red potency and using pomegranate juice or red tea for my liquid. Not sure yet. Any advice?

  6. Hello Marie. Thank you for posting. Everything you’re doing sonds great. Just let it sit for 3-4 hours for dye release and then apply/use it on your hair. Enjoy!

  7. Tasnim says:

    Is it possible to achieve near instant dye release when using warm – hot liquids? I’ve mixed up henna twice now, and while I’m mixing, I notice a dark pumpkin-orange stain on my fingers within 10 minutes or so after adding liquid (plain water, no lemon juice or acidic liquids). Is this classified as maximum dye release?

  8. Tasnim yes it’s possible especially with henna with a very high dye content or fast dye release time. Usually that tone is yes considered a fast dye release and it should be ready as long as it wasn’t pushed too quickly with a too hot liquid or else it won’t last long.

  9. I didn’t know that about freezing. I was wondering why the paste seemed to do better after I froze it.

    Thanks for the info!

  10. Thanks for the info on what dye release means, Vanessa! I kept seeing it mentioned in coments under Red Raj, but wasn’t sure.

    It’s also good to know that if liquid added is too hot it may push the dye release too fast and the colour may not last long. At least that’s what I read into your comment, Khadija. I was using cheaper hennas for many years, which instructed to use hot water. Now I know better! I did get an amazingly gorgeous deep red on my first use last night. I’ll see how long it lasts because I did use hot water, before I read this blog post. Henna Sooq rocks! The only sooq I’ll be using for my hair needs from now on!

  11. Elisabeth says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about dye release as I’m doing my first henna, and yesterday I tried the testing as described in your very informative article :) I made a mistake leaving one of the tests on my palm for 7 min (others left on for 5 min), and that spot is much darker than the others. My problem now is that I don’t know if it’s darker due to perfect dye release or because I left it on a little bit longer than the others. I tried the paste every 30 min or so for about 5 hours, and none was dark like the one left on for 7 min. Also wondering if I can freeze the paste (Jamila for hair) right after I’ve mixed it, and take it out and defrost it the next day and have perfect dye release once it has defrosted?

  12. It’s probably darker because you left it on longer. The longer you leave henna on the skin, the darker the stain. Yes you can freeze and defrost and then check for dye release again to be sure

  13. Chelsea Bridson says:

    Most recipes and websites I’ve seen say to leave the paste out at room temperature for at least 12 hours, and to use pure lemon juice as the mixer.

    I’ve had good results with this method, and I’m curious as to why the paste is tested so soon after mixing.

  14. Thank you for your post Chelsea. This is tested so early on for mainly hair coloring recipes. Sorry for the confusion. For body art we mostly test for color at about 6-8 hours. I’m not sure about “most” websites or information out there, but I’d recommend you check the dates of when those information, and recipes have been posted. Some information is out dated. But some are just a matter of personal preference. It’s completely up to the artist to decide on what recipe works best for them. I personally am always tweaking my recipe here and there, especially since we carry so many henna powders, I’m always playing :) Have fun!

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  1. Quick and Simple Herbal Hair Glosses | Henna Blog Spot - [...] test henna before making the full commitment For a stronger colour:  Release your henna paste, then add conditioner/etc. …

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