I’m one of those who would rather give up bananas than inhale the fumes of ammonia, peroxide, and the other nasty chemicals in hair dye while letting it slowly seep into my scalp. Still, at the risk of sounding shallow, I feel more confident with a rich hair color that reflects my vibrant personality. While I’m all for inner beauty, I know that outer looks have a great affect on how the world interacts with you – and you with the world.
So, how do I merge my boycott of chemicals with my girly-girl desires?
Henna. Yep, that’s right. I’ve been dying my hair with henna for at least 6 years now. When I first told my mother this, she was taken back to her own twenty-something years in the ’70s. I explained to her that henna products have come a long way since then – both in simplicity and results.
For those that aren’t convinced, henna actually conditions your hair, leaving it healthier. That’s a far cry from the brittle, chemically damaged hair that can result after years spent in the hair salon.
What is henna?
Henna proper refers to the leaf powder of the plant Lawsonia inermis. This herb can only give you red pigment, but henna companies mix in indigo (Indigoferae tinctoria) or cassia (Cassia obovata) leaf powders to their product for a wider range of colors, including the medium brown that I favor. When I refer to henna, I’m talking about this mix. If you get your henna from a good company, the only ingredients will be these leaf powders. The brand I use is Light Mountain Natural – you can get a one-time-use package for about $7.
Check the ingredients list
Make sure to use only powdered henna. Pre-mixed pastes are most likely going to have additives like heavy metals, oils, waxes, or synthetic chemicals that can be just as dangerous as those in traditional dyes. You want the ingredients list to only include dried leaf powders. If you’ve recently chemically colored your hair, you might want to let it grow out for a few months before using henna. That’s what I did though from what I’ve read, reactions from metal additives in paste versions of henna and not the actual henna powder are at the root of henna horror stories.
Also, don’t expect drastic results.
I see this as a positive – no matter what, your hair color will always look natural (unless you have pale blond hair and dye it red). Henna can only be used to make your hair color a darker shade (e.g. brown can’t become blond but light brown can become auburn). You can easily go a few shades darker or add an auburn tint to your existing color. The only highlights in henna are the natural sun streaks you might already have in your hair. There are henna products on the market specifically for dying grey hair, but I don’t have any experience with those results.
You can “personalize” your henna by mixing in extra household ingredients before it cures. I usually add white vinegar for highlights and some allspice for a richer brown. The jury is out on whether this actually does anything, but it doesn’t take much added time.
If you’ve ever dyed your hair at home, you know it can be messy, and it’s useful to have a friend help you out. But once you have your process down, it’s actually easier than you think. Just remember that you’re using dye and cover your surfaces.
You need a glass mixing bowl (stain-resistant is good), plastic stirring spoon (to only be used for Henna), plastic hair clips, plastic gloves and shower cap. Metal will react with Henna so it’s a no-no. Wear a button-down shirt you don’t care about (painting clothes are good as they are already ruined) plus crappy towels to cover the floor below you (and the chair you are sitting on if you have a helper).
How to do it
Your Henna kit will come with detailed directions. Basically, you mix your Henna with hot water in advance and let it cure. I start it when I wake up and come back in a few hours. This may be overkill, but leaving it longer reduces the time it needs to be on your head. Then, spread the Henna evenly onto your freshly shampooed hair – depending on hair length, this could take 20 minutes up to an hour. Use the clips to secure all your hair on top of your head, then put your shower cap on and wait for the color to set – I usually try to last an hour.
By that time, I’m fidgeting and ready to get on with my day. It helps to park yourself in one spot and have something interesting to read. I sometimes sit on the floor with a bathroom heater positioned on a chair to blow on my hair – it’s supposed to help the color set and make it more vivid. Next, you wash all the Henna off in the shower, condition, and voila, you’ve got color.
How long does it last?
The color will morph and change over time – I call it ripening. The first few washes, your color may bleed a little when it’s wet – so don’t wear white unless you’ve already blow-dried. The color fades gradually, depending on how often you wash it. I wash my hair every other day, and I usually go a couple of months before I remember to redo my henna.
For more information the Henna For Hair website is a great resource.
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