Are you ready for a new look this summer? Want to avoid the harsh chemicals and cost associated with salon hair dyeing? It may be time for you to try out henna!
Henna is the common name for the Lawsonia inermis plant. This plant, when dried, ground into a powder and properly prepared, stains organic materials with a reddish color ranging from copper to dark auburn. Henna has been commonly used over the centuries to dye leather, fabric, skin, and of course, hair!
Treating hair with henna provides multiple benefits in addition to color, depending on how you prepare and apply the mixture. Henna treatments condition the hair, lend it shine and strength, help control split ends, and can help to loosen or straighten natural curls and waves.
So why doesn’t everyone do this? Henna has a few traits you may want to be aware of before starting. When prepared for dyeing, it is a natural, chunky, pudding-like mixture that does not apply like store-bought hair dye. As a result, it can be difficult to apply and rinse out without patience. It has a natural, earthy smell that some find difficult to tolerate. It must sit in your hair for at least four hours in order for the dye to fully take permanent hold. The color will not always be a drastic change; Henna is moreso a transparent red over whatever color you already have. For blondes, henna will turn hair a fiery, ginger red. For darker colors, it may only lend a red shine in high-lighting situations. Lastly, while henna is permanent, it oxidizes over time. What starts out as a bright copper may age to a deep auburn over time. Monthly applications will build on the depth of the color in your hair, and keep it’s effects visible.
Think you’re ready to get started? Great! First, and most importantly:
What henna should I buy, and where should I buy it?
There are many products on the market sold as “henna.” You may find products claiming to sell henna in a variety of colors, ranging from colorless to red to brown to black. These products are often sold in beauty supply shops, and are not what we are talking about today. These “henna” products are almost always a mixture of cassia, henna, or indigo, with some not containing henna at all! At worst, some varieties will contain natural materials mixed with chemical hair dyeing powders. So how do you avoid this? Stick to buying bulk henna leaf powder from a herb resource, such as a local or online herb retailer or health food store. The package should be labeled with the botanical name of the plant Lawsonia inermis, and preferably with the year in which it was harvested. If you are able to look at the powder itself, it should be a relatively bright sage green color. It should smell earthy and herbal. The Sojourner carries henna in a variety of packages, all checked for quality and consistency over the years. If you are unable to make it to a local store, Mountainroseherbs.com, Starwest-botanicals.com, and Jamila brand henna powder all provide quality henna suitable for hair dyeing.
How much henna do I need?
Speaking from personal experience, having more is better than not having enough! If you are able, go ahead and buy a full pound of henna powder in bulk, no matter what length your hair. Any excess prepared henna can be frozen and used for up to six months, and most people are able to use it up well within that time frame. Otherwise, it may be up to you to find the perfect amount for your hair. I have long, thick hair that is between 20-30 inches in length. I prepare a full pound, and normally use about 75% of the prepared mixture. Based on this, I would personally recommend at least a standard 4oz package of henna powder per every ten inches of hair. If you feel like it will not be enough, buy more!
How do I prepare it?
To prepare your henna, you will need a plastic bowl, whisk, plastic wrap, and plain bottled lemon juice. For a full pound of henna, you will need up to two 32oz bottles of lemon juice. An acidic liquid must be added to henna powder in order to release the dye. You will find individuals and articles that will recommend using coffee, orange juice, water, tea, beet root powder, and any number of other additives or liquids to help your henna release dye. I have personally found that straight lemon juice has the acid content to produce the most reliable and consistent color and dye release of any product out there. In addition, tea, coffee, and other dark liquids will not cause your henna to stain any darker or different that it would have with other liquids. Henna is a product that is easy and safe to experiment with, but keep in mind: The higher the water content of your liquid, the less consistent and reliable is the stain you will create on your hair.
Place your henna powder into your plastic bowl, and slowly begin to incorporate the lemon juice. You will find that it drinks up a lot of liquid! Alternate adding a bit of liquid, and whisking to incorporate. Liquid, whisk, liquid, whisk, until you begin to have a mixture that resembles a thick pudding. Place your whisk in a sink, or on a non-porous surface to reduce the chance of staining any surrounding material or area. Tear off a large sheet of plastic wrap, and lightly press down to cover the surface of the henna in the bowl. This helps to prevent a “skin” of thick, oxidized henna from forming on the surface of the mixture. After this is finished, allow the henna bowl to sit in a relatively warm place to 24-48 hours. This time period will allow the acids to penetrate the henna leaf, and fully release the dye for use!
Now that you have your product purchased and prepared, it’s time to get started!
How-To: Hair Dyeing with Henna by Courtney V.
Supplies you will need:
Prepared henna. Spatula. Two or three pairs of vinyl or latex gloves. Plastic wrap. An old towel. An old shirt. Salve or lotion to prevent staining at your hair-line. Patience.
Optional: Shower caps. Plastic clips and combs for separating. Rain poncho.
- Wash your hair with a non-conditioning shampoo. Clear shampoos are a safe bet here; You will want to avoid coating your hair shaft with anything before applying the henna. Gently towel dry your hair, and brush thoroughly. Allow to air dry until only slightly damp. At this point in the process I like to have a friend or family member take “before” pictures of my hair. It will be easier to witness how the henna helps and changes your hair with a comparison photo! [One year since my last henna treatment. The split ends! The color transition! The dullness! The horror!]
- Prepare your area. A bathroom with a large mirror is the best place for henna treatments. Please avoid anywhere with carpet or expensive wood furniture! Henna will stain anything it touches that is even slightly porous! I like to cut a large trash bag along two sides, and lay it on top of my sink/vanity area. Afterward, gather anything that you will need handy, including: Gloves, plastic wrap, hair clips, combs, shower caps, prepared henna, damp rags or towels for skin cleanup, and salve.
- Suit up. Wear an old t-shirt or other items of clothing that you would not mind being permanently stained. If you are able, a cheap rain poncho works well for keeping the henna off your clothes and skin! At this point, go ahead and apply salve or lotion on your face and neck from the hairline. Up to two inches is what I consider to be the “danger zone” for facial staining, while the back of the neck is almost guaranteed to endure some staining, somewhere. The ears are typically waxy enough to avoid stain.
- Apply the henna. Put on a pair of vinyl or latex gloves. This is important, as henna will stain skin and fingernails for up to two weeks! After donning your gloves, your technique will be up to you. If you are able, seperate your hair into sections and apply henna from root to tip. Realistically? My best hairdressing efforts almost always devolve into grabbing henna into my gloved hand directly from the bowl, and massaging/glopping/smashing it in. The goal is to coat every bit of hair, root to tip, with the henna mixture. It will be very messy! You may need to change gloves a few times to maintain dexterity.[Just get it in there, any way you can!]
- Wrap your henna. At this point, there may be pounds of extra weight on your fully-hennaed head. I find it easiest, and most comfortable, to pile the hair as neatly as possible on top of my head. Use extra henna to sculpt and smooth it upward if you find it difficult. The Fonz is a good inspiration here. After it is piled atop, take the roll of saran wrap out of the cardboard box. Unroll a long piece, and cradle the back of your head/hair down to the hairline at the neck in the middle of the outstretched plastic, and begin to wrap from there. Try to cover all of the wet henna on your head with at least two layers of saran wrap. One continuous piece wrapped around the head two or three times provides the best strength and hold. Cut the wrap, and tuck in the edges. At this point, if you have a shower cap or two, place them over the saran wrap. This provides extra hold and support against leaks. In addition to that, I normally wrap an old towel around the other wraps. This helps keep in heat, which is good for setting henna color, and provide extra protection against dripping henna. [Try not to imagine what it actually looks like. …You did, didn’t you?]
- Clean up. And wait. At this point, what you have is a big mess, a wet head, and time! You will need to leave the henna on your hair for the next four hours or more in order for the dye to fully take and do its job. If you plan accordingly, you can henna right before bed and sleep with towel-covered pillows. This method also helps with the weight of the henna if you happen to have long hair.[There is unspeakable horror beneath this towel.]
- Wash it out. FINALLY. Step into a shower with water as cool as you can tolerate, and begin to rinse out your henna. If possible, avoid using shampoo. A lot of material will come out of your hair, but none should clog your drain. Rinse as many times as necessary, until you no longer feel grit or material in your hair. The water may or may not run clear, and this is okay. Typically, you will wash brownish, oxidized henna out of your hair three or more times, up to a week later. The smell of henna will linger for a few days; A small price to pay for the gorgeous color that awaits!
- Enjoy! Take an after picture, and compare your results. How does the henna affect your unique hair type and color? What differences can you note? Henna is an exercise in personal experimentation and governance over hair care. I like to use argan oil on my hair after a henna treatment to enhance the natural post-treatment softness. Whatever you do, enjoy the beauty and health of your naturally treated hair![Before//After]
Cheers, and happy hennaing!
❤ Courtney ❤