Although we use henna as a hair color, it has wonderful side benefits. It thickens hair, and leaves it silky and strong. But you have to buy pure henna (or henna mixed with plant extracts that is clearly labeled). And you must do a strand test first.
A strand test will tell you two critical things:
1) whether you will like the final color.
2) how long to leave the henna on to get that color.
Because henna is often left on the hair for an hour or more, it would be wise to set aside a large chunk of time. Between the preparation of the henna, the strand test, the application, and the leave-in time, you might want to x out an afternoon for the project.
Who Can Use Henna
The best heads for henna are brunettes and dark blonds. Hair that is naturally very dark will look smashing with red henna highlights.
Got gray? Contrary to popular opinion, you can get good results with henna. To go brunette, choose a henna that’s been mixed with brown taken from safe plant powders like walnut, clove, and even a little Indigo. (But use common sense – if you’re allergic to walnuts or sensitive to clove, don’t use these products.) If you’d rather turn your gray hair blond, find henna that’s been mixed with rhubarb root or other natural ingredients.
Henna Color Choices
The reds are the most used, have the least amount of additives, and – if they are pure, (read the label, research the Internet, join a henna forum) are completely safe. The browns and blonds are fun, too.
Henna does not lighten hair. It won’t lift the color, like commercial dyes can do. So you must get a shade that somewhat matches your own, or is darker. Brunettes can easily go red. Blonds can go brunette or red. But there’s no way a brunette can go blond.
A Few Words of Caution
Do not use henna over commercially colored hair. It’s safest to wait at least two months after a commercial dye job, before using henna. Some women have had no problems waiting only one month, but again, that’s what the strand test is for.
About a week or so before you’re planning to henna, use a clarifying shampoo. That will help strip out the old color.
Be sure you’re buying a brand of henna that does not contain metallic salts. These are extremely unhealthy. They may be labeled on the box as compound henna dye, or they may not be listed at all.
How can you tell if your henna contains metallic salts if they’re not listed in the ingredients? If your strand test leaves your hair swatch brittle or dried-out, or if the color “takes” very quickly, that probably means it contains metallic salts. Don’t use it.
Black henna is alright to use as long as it’s made with Indigo. Avoid PPD Black Henna, as it contains Para-Phenylenediamine – a dye – which is extremely harmful.
What to Buy
The safest henna is body-art quality henna. But there are also many well-known, well-used, safe and ethically labeled packaged hair hennas. Just use common sense: If there are ingredients listed that you are unfamiliar with, write them down, go home, and run them through your search engine.
Henna does not have a long shelf life. Don’t buy it and then keep it around forever. It will lose its potency. You can seal it and freeze it, though, and it will last at least a year.
Now For The Fun
Many women consider the preparation of henna to be a ritual. The plant-based dye looks like a green powder, and has a peculiar fragrance, kind of like hay. The odor goes away in a day or so.
Assuming you have a box of pure red henna, empty it into a glass or plastic bowl. If you’ve bought it in bulk, use about one cup. Never use metal utensils, bowls, or even hair-clips when mixing and applying.
Now, boil up some water. Pour the boiling water into the henna, a little at a time. Stir. Keep doing this until you get a paste consistency. Add a couple of pre beaten eggs if you want, to keep the consistency sticky. Many women add a half cup of strong coffee to tone down the red a little. If you add coffee, use less boiling water. You don’t want the mixture to end up drippy.
Put a cream or oil around your hairline to keep the henna from coloring your ears and forehead. And don’t forget the gloves (or you’ll also get red hands!).
Apply the paste to clean, dry hair. If it’s your first henna treatment, saturate the hair completely. Then wrap it all up with either a plastic bag or some plastic wrap. On top of all that, you might want to wrap a towel, just so you don’t frighten the children. Some women use a heated towel.
Here’s why you absolutely must have done the strand test: It’s the only way to know how long to leave the henna on your head. It could be anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours or more.
When the timer rings, hit the shower. The whole process is messy, so don’t make neatness an issue or you’ll go nuts. Rinse the henna out – no need to shampoo. Finish with an organic, non animal-tested conditioner. Your color should last for two or three months, except for root growth.
And you’re done. There will be a lot of clean up involved, but you’ll have awesome, silky, strong, healthy red hair. (Or whatever color you choose.)
Once you start using henna, you might find you love it so much you’ll never go back to anything else.
Suzann Kale’s current specialty is cosmetics without cruelty – that is, using makeup products that have not been tested on animals. She’s using her website, My Makeup Mirror, to demonstrate how easy it is to be beautifully made up, coiffed, and dressed, without harming other species.