Should You Be Using Lemon Juice In Your Henna Mix?

Lemon juice is very commonly used as the acidic liquid for dye-releasing henna. It is cheap, easy to find, and definitely acidic enough for a good dye release. Many people swear by it, but just as many say that they can’t use it. This is because lemon juice can be drying and irritating for many.

In fact, whenever someone asks why their scalp is itching after a henna application, my first question automatically is, “What did you mix it with?” and 90% of the time, the answer is lemon juice. Later, the customer is thrilled to find that, after switching to another acid, they never experience that problem again.

Lemon juice is also often the culprit behind hennaed hair that became darker than desired. A lemon juice mix yields bright orange tones at first, but the stain oxidizes very dark over time.

This is not to say that lemon juice is unsuitable for henna mixes, or that it should be avoided at all costs; for many people, it is just fine. In fact, I use it most of the time in my own mixes. I am not particularly sensitive to it, and the results work for my needs. For others, however, some discomfort or unwanted results can be avoided by choosing a different acid

If you use lemon juice in your henna mix, or are considering trying it, this article will cover a few things you may want to be aware of. You can then decide whether you would rather use a different acidic liquid or powder.

Note on Lime Juice: All of the following applies the same, and more so, to limes and lime juice. Limes are much harsher, and more likely to cause irritation and photo-sensitivity than lemons. Honestly, just don’t use lime juice. If your heart is set on limes, dilute it generously.

Lemon Juice May Lead to Irritated Skin and Dry-Feeling Hair

As mentioned earlier, lemon juice is a very common cause of itchy scalps post-hennaing. Some people are initially alarmed, and misinterpret this as an allergic reaction to the henna product. While henna allergies do happen, they are extremely rare. Citrus sensitivity, on the other hand, is much more common. To learn more about allergies in relation to plant dye powders, click here.

The low pH of undiluted lemon juice can bother the skin, especially for those with sensitive skin, and especially when henna paste is left on for several hours. The result is dry, irritated skin and rough-feeling hair. The crunchy texture in the hair is temporary, as the cuticles on the hair shaft are raised after a henna treatment, and will settle down in the following days. Cold water and conditioner can help the hair become smooth more quickly.

A henna mix does not need to be extremely acidic in order to achieve dye release. A pH of 4.5 is sufficient. Lemon juice has a pH of 2.3. Consider diluting lemon juice with three or four parts distilled water. Milder juices like apple and cranberry work just as well without needing to be diluted. Ancient Sunrise® offers several fruit acid powders to suit a variety of hair types and needs. Know that each fruit juice or acid powder may yield different effects on the resulting color. Click here for more information on henna and acidic mixes.

Hair may feel rough after henna because dye molecules are settling into place. A very acidic mixture, such as one with undiluted lemon juice, may make this feeling more noticeable.

Lemon Juice Will Make Hennaed Hair Darker, Not Lighter

Lemon juice is a popular way subtly bleach the hair. For those with lighter hair colors, spritzing the hair with lemon juice prior to going out into the sun can bring out highlights. One can also find endless DIY hair treatments involving lemon juice and claiming to lighten hair.

However, using lemon juice in a henna mix has the opposite effect. Lemon juice mixes result in vivid, fiery results at first, but the color is known to oxidize to darker and darker shades over time. I’ve spoken to many people who loved their hennaed hair color at first, but found that it got much too dark over time. The most common mistakes, often used in conjunction, were a) using lemon juice; b) reapplying henna to the entire length of the hair; c) reapplying too often, and d) using heated styling tools. To learn about other causes of darkening and how to prevent it, read this article.

Highly acidic mixes will continue to oxidize after the initial couple of weeks, leading to increasingly dark results after several months or years.

As a rule of thumb, very low pH liquids will all do a similar thing with henna: Initial stains will be noticeably bright, and then the color will deepen continually over time. The more acidic the mix, the greater the difference between first rinse and final oxidation. Many people who use lemon juice may only be aware of the first part, and then later become upset that their hair no longer has that vivid brightness that it once did when they just began using henna. Additionally, the only effective way to lighten hennaed hair is to bleach it.

For a brighter, lighter result that does not oxidize, Ancient Sunrise® Copperberry fruit acid powder works really well. It is high in antioxidants that keep darkening at bay. Ancient Sunrise® Kristalovino fruit acid powder also causes brighter results, and is very gentle on sensitive skin.

Some people (including me), are fully aware that lemon juice causes darker results over time, and use it for that purpose. But to be honest, there are much faster ways to push henna to a deep red without having to wait through the bright orange period. Ancient Sunrise® Malluma Kristalovino fruit acid powder creates deep auburn results and is very gentle on the skin. Ancient Sunrise® Nightfall Rose powder is high in anthocyanins, which gives a cooler tone to henna.

Henna does not fade over time. It darkens. Highly acidic mixes will darken more over time. Mixes that are high in antioxidants can prevent darkening.

Citrus Can Cause Photo-sensitivity

Citrus oils are phototoxic. They make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. This can result in sunburns in situations when one would not normally expect to be burned. Especially in the case of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, you may inadvertently cause photo-sensitivity to your scalp by using a henna mix with lemon juice. This is definitely the case with lime juice. You may have heard of people suffering reactions after getting a bit of margarita on themselves while enjoying the sun. This does happen.

On the other hand, henna has some great natural UV protective qualities, and your hair will provide some barrier between your scalp and the sun. In any case, if you have particularly photosensitive skin, or are sensitive to citrus juices and oils, you may want to consider using a different fruit acid.

What To Use Instead

Lemon juice will always be a staple in the henna world, but it’s always good to have options. As I mentioned before, there are numerous other fruit juices and fruit acid powders which will work just as well, or better, than lemon juice.

If you’re set on using lemon, consider diluting it. Full-strength lemon juice is more acidic than what is necessary to dye-release henna. As long as the liquid tastes mildly tart, it will work. Diluting also makes your bottle of lemon juice last longer, or saves you from having to squeeze several pounds of lemons.

If you are experiencing an irritated scalp, try one of the Kristalovino fruit acids, or apple juice. Ancient Sunrise® Malluma Kristalovino is the gentlest of all of the Ancient Sunrise® fruit acid powders, and makes henna shades darker for rich auburn and brunette shades. Ancient Sunrise® Kristalovino is the second gentlest, and leaves results light and bright. Apple juice is mild, and will result in a tone that is neither too light nor dark, but can be sticky and make your mix smell boozy.

If you are looking for bright, coppery or fiery tones that stay bright over time, try Ancient Sunrise® Copperberry fruit acid powder, or pure cranberry juice. Both are high in antioxidants that prevent the henna color from darkening over time. If you opt for cranberry juice, make sure to get the real thing—many are a mixture of other juices, water, sugar, and some cranberry juice. 100% pure cranberry juice can be expensive, though.

Final Notes

Lemon juice is a great mixing liquid for some people; for others, it can cause issues. Be aware of this if you are new to mixing henna, or if you are mixing henna for someone else. If you are experiencing an itchy, irritated scalp, or if you notice that your hair color is getting too dark over time, consider using a different dye-release acid. You will very likely find that lemon juice is the culprit. Again, the same goes for lime, which is even more acidic and phototoxic than lemon. Lemon juice at full strength can be tolerated by some. Lime juice should always be diluted, and better yet, avoided.

If you have any questions about what acidic medium to use in your henna mix, feel free to comment below or contact Customer Service at

Author Rebecca Chou May 2018
Edited Maria Moore November 2022

Plant Dye Powders and Seasonal Allergies

Fall is upon us. For many, this means sniffling, sneezing, headaches, and itchy eyes. Some people who are sensitive to hay fever and seasonal allergies may notice that they are affected when mixing their henna for hair, while it is on their head, or after it is rinsed out. This is far from serious, and easy to fix.  If this sounds like you, keep reading to learn what may be happening and how to avoid experiencing discomfort in the future. 


In cases of itching, sneezing, headache and other mild allergy symptoms, henna itself is rarely the primary culprit. Allergies to henna itself are extremely rare. Rather, during times when histamine levels in the body are already high (spring, fall, or whenever you normally get seasonal allergies), the body can confuse plant dye powders with pollen or other actual allergens. As a result, some may notice an itchy scalp, headache, or other discomfort while dyeing their hair with henna, indigo, and/or cassia. Most of the time, this is easily ameliorated with an over-the-counter oral antihistamine.

              For those who have a genetic G6PD deficiency, exposure to lawsone and a number of other things such as fava beans can set off oxidative haemolysis. This is particularly dangerous for male infants with homozygous G6PD deficiency. This is not an allergic reaction, but important to keep in mind.


Sensitivity to indigo powder is more common than to henna, and can cause dizziness or headaches for people who are allergic to mold spore. The presence of spore in indigo powder varies from batch to batch; if there is spore, the amount is minuscule and harmless except to a person with severe mold allergies.  Indigo leaves must be partially fermented to release the precursor, indoxyl, which will dye hair.  This partially fermented and dried indigo leaves are called vashma, the indigo used to dye hair. This change through microbial action is not unlike the process that changes wheat paste into bread dough; microbial action is necessary to make the base material useful. If your body is severely allergic to mold spore, you may have an allergic reaction to the remaining spore in fermented hair dye indigo through cross-sensitization.

A magnified image of mold spores.


              To avoid indigo headaches, try not to inhale any particulates when mixing the paste, then apply and wrap quickly. Some people find that the smell of indigo is the main cause for their headaches. Mixing a spoonful of instant vanilla pudding powder can neutralize the smell. For others, switching from one type of indigo to the other (from Ancient Sunrise® Zekhara indigo to Ancient Sunrise® Sudina indigo or vice versa) or decreasing the amount of indigo used can minimize symptoms.

If I’m allergic to hair dye, is Ancient Sunrise® henna for hair safe to use?

Yes. You can feel safe in knowing that any reactions from Ancient Sunrise® plant dye powders are in no way related to para-phenylenediamine (PPD) sensitivity. Those who have allergies to conventional hair dyes can safely use Ancient Sunrise® products. Unless you have a G6PD deficiency, as mentioned above, any reaction to henna or other plant dye powders will be mild and far from life-threatening.

If it’s not seasonal allergies, then what’s happening?

Besides seasonal allergies, there are other explanations for the discomfort some can experience while using henna for hair, and they all have easy solutions.

Headache: If you experience a feeling of tension and pressure while the paste is on your head, it may be due to the weight of the paste. This is especially common for those who have thick and long hair. This weight can put pressure or strain on the neck, causing headaches. Make sure to apply and wrap in a way that makes your head and neck feel comfortably balanced. If you are able to, spend most of the processing time sitting or lying down in a position where your head is supported. Some prefer to apply their mix at night, and leave it in as they sleep.

              Headaches can also come from the altered direction of the hair follicles. Our hair tends to grow in a certain direction. When we apply a henna paste, it pulls and holds it in a different direction than it is used to, causing some minor discomfort. Play around with the way you apply your paste. Some prefer to arrange their hennaed hair in several twisted sections. Others try to keep their hair in its natural direction, twisting the length into a bun at the base of their neck.

Apply and wrap in a way that is comfortable for you.

              It is also helpful to note that applying henna to the full length of the hair is not necessary if you have previously hennaed your hair. Unless you would like to deepen the color further, a root application will suffice. Henna will not fade from the hair. Root applications will cut down on the amount of paste used, and therefore the amount of weight on your head. It’s also more cost effective!

Itchy scalp: Some notice that their scalp feels dry and itchy after dyeing their hair with plant dye powders. Seasonal allergies can definitely cause this. Other reasons include the acidity of the paste, and residue left over after rinsing.

              Henna is not drying nor damaging. However, some people are sensitive to certain fruit acids. Undiluted lemon juice can be too harsh for sensitive scalps, as can full-strength apple cider vinegar. If you use either in your mix and notice that your scalp feels dry or itchy afterward, dilute with distilled water, or consider using another fruit acid. Some find that they do better avoiding any citrus juice. Apple juice is quite gentle, but still acidic enough for an effective dye release. Ancient Sunrise® Malluma Kristalovino and Ancient Sunrise® Kristalovino fruit acid powders are the gentlest of the fruit acid powders offered by Ancient Sunrise®. They are derived from grapes.

              An itchy scalp and hair that feels dry can come from not fully rinsing out the paste. Plant powder residue, as it dries, can make the scalp itch the same way some dirt or sand might. It increases friction between hair strands, causing it to tangle. Be sure that your hair is fully rinsed by submerging and swishing it in warm water, then pulling a handful of conditioner through it to allow any excess plant particulates to slip out. If you prefer not to use conditioner, a vinegar rinse can help give the hair more slip as well. Follow with a good shampoo. Don’t be afraid to rinse and wash the hair multiple times.

              Because an effective henna treatment requires a person to shampoo their hair both before and after, the scalp can be pretty stripped of its natural oils. It may help to rub some oil or serum into the scalp after rinsing and drying the hair. Please do not put oils into your henna mix!

If you have any additional concerns about Ancient Sunrise® henna for hair and plant dye powders, feel free to call, email, or chat with Customer Service. Please note that they cannot diagnose, prescribe, or offer medical advice.