What is Henna?
Henna is a natural red dye taken from the plant Lawsonia inermis. The leaves of lawsonia are gathered, dried and then powdered. When mixed with water a red-orange dye molecule called lawsone is released. (Jones C. 2006) True Lawsonia inermis can only produce red tints however other herbs can be added to it to create herbal hair dyes to form colors from brown, red, burgundy, to black. You can also create rich coloring enhancing conditioners such as Bulk Herb Stores' Beautiful Hair. Beautiful hair comes in blonde, and dark. However the blonde does not contain henna.
Henna has also been used for centuries as an herbal hair die and to make temporary tattoos. Both Arab and Indian, and some Jewish peoples have used henna for tattoos as part of their wedding ceremonies.
Benefits of Using Herbal Hair Color:
Besides the fact that pure henna is a nontoxic plant (when used externally), there are some other benefits of choosing to use it. The lawsone in henna coats the hair shaft and binds with keratin. This creates stronger, softer hair as well as a vibrant color that varies depending on your hair color and the color of each strand of hair. Henna creates a permanent red dye with beautiful highlights that either will not fade on some people or fades very slowly compared to chemical dyes. This results in a more natural dye effect with highlights. Each individual will get a different shade with henna however you can vary the depth of color using other herbs and changing the length of time the henna sits on your hair.
Although henna only comes in red the shade can vary depending on where it is grown, its freshness, and the part of the plant harvested. It is important to be sure that you only purchase pure henna powder and that it does not contain synthetic dyes, chemicals, or heavy metals. If it says it is brown or black you should make sure that the ingredients are only herbs. Some people can of course be allergic to henna and thus a hair strand and skin test is wise prior to using. Although you can add plants like indigo to henna to get shades of brown and black today I will only discuss using henna and herbs to get red tints.
Learning the Art of Hennaing:
Using herbal hair dye, like all herbalism, is very much an art. As you get familiar with using the plants you will gain some comfort and brevity to create your own perfect blend. There are many add ins to help create your perfect tint and conditioner. I will share a few options to get you started. Remember that none of these add ins will make drastic changes in the color of henna but only enhance it's coloring or conditioning effects.
Beet root powder - This wonderful plant when dried and powdered can enhance the color for a brighter red or send it towards burgundy depending on your particular hair.
Hibiscus flower - Used as a tea in place of your liquid portion or powdered hibiscus can also bring brighter reds or burgundy. It is also said to rejuvenate, and thicken hair making it shiny and healthy. Hibiscus is also said to prevent premature graying.
Amla, Amaliki - Amla is used to nourish, thicken and darken hair and tone the reds down. (Jones 2015)
Adding Conditioning Agents
As I have discussed the herbs themselves act as conditioners however there are some things you can add to your henna to give an additional boost. You can consider adding olive oil, coconut milk, or yogurt. For a while I mixed my henna entirely in one can of coconut milk to create a deep conditioning. However I found this to be very hard to rinse out and so my current mix is normally just the herbs and water. I leave my conditioning for before or after use herbal hair dye.
DIY Herbal Hair Color With Henna:
As we get down to the actual how tos of using henna you will see that there is a large supply list. This is mainly because henna is messy and can stain temporarily if you get it on counters or your skin. Please do not let that deter you from hennaing. As I said, using henna, like herbalism, truly is an art and can be very enjoyable as you create your individual conditioning color recipe.
The amount of henna you use depends on your hair length, porosity, and thickness. My hair is tapered and reaches past my tailbone and I use approximately 150 grams of henna. You will see a variety of suggestions for amounts and many of them I believe are over stated. However if your hair is midback I would make sure you have 200 grams on hand to be sure you have enough your first time.Supplies:
- Ceramic or glass bowl
- Measuring cup
- Non aluminum stirring spoon or wood stick
- Measuring tablespoon
- A LOT of gloves
- Shower cap or grocery bag
- Saran wrap
- Hair clips
- Oil or salve
- 1-2 inch paint brush or dye applicator brush
- Paper towels
- Wet wash cloths
- Old clothing
- Neck towel or cape
- Trash bag or can
- Floor towel or paper
- 100-300 g Henna
- Warm but not hot water
- Olive oil
- Coconut milk
Gather your supplies, dress in old clothing and prepare and protect the area you will be hennaing in. Weigh your henna powder and place it in a bowl, stir in any color enhancing add-ins, add warm but not hot water until similar to pancake batter, add any conditioning add ins. Allow mix to sit and release dye according to henna brand instructions. Some people insist that you must use an acid like lemon to get dye release. I have found this to not be true and to result in dry hair. (2008 - 2015 Renaissance Henna ) The amount of time until dye release depends on the henna plant itself, most henna will release it's dye immediately with warm water. I let my henna sit the time that the company I purchased it from says or 30 minutes.
Section off hair into four areas. Apply oil, a plain salve, or Vaseline (if you must) to ears and hair line to prevent orange stains. Apply gloves and apply mud to clean wet or dry hair using a 1-2 inch paint brush or dye applicator brush starting at roots work henna mud all the way down the length of hair in 1-2 inch sections clipping each section up into a large clip as you go. When entire head is covered with mud cover hair with shower cap, saran wrap, or a plastic grocery sac. Leave henna on for minimum of 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on brand and desired color results. Rinse thoroughly in shower until water runs clear. Some people like to use conditioner to help rinse out henna. I only find this necessary if I used a conditioning add-in. Do not wash your hair with shampoo for 24- 72 hours.
The color of hair you see when your hair dries may change over the next 72 hours to it's true shade. Henna will build color and get darker or brighter each time. Some people with brown hair will eventually head towards a burgundy tint while others will stay red. If red is not for you don't worry with a little research you can learn how to use henna with other herbs like indigo to create browns and blacks, However you can not make your hair lighter with henna. You can henna your hair as often as every 4 weeks or only do your roots as they grow out.
Oops I Mixed Too Much Henna
If you have leftover henna you can freeze it in a zip baggie or sealed container and defrost it next time you want to henna. If you are midway through your dye job and run out, do not worry, just mix up more henna and apply it to your hair right away.
- Environmental Working Group- Skin Deep Database. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20,2015.
- Amla: Why and how do I use it? (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2015.
- Basic Henna Recipes: From Burgundy To Black. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2015.
- Jones, C. (2006).Henna for Hair “How-To” Henna. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
- Renaissance Henna's Natural Hair Dye ! & Organic Hair Dye ! Lemon. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20,2015.