What is henna and why should I use it on my hair?
Henna is a plant and the red/orange dye comes from it’s crushed leaves.
Henna’s a great option for people who are looking for something natural to dye their hair. I love henna because it gets rid of dandruff (I have super scaly skin) and leaves my hair soft and shinny. If you get pure henna you should not have any problems/interaction with conventional hair dyes. The first time I henna-ed my hair it was over my bleached hair. Compound or mixed hennas though can have unpredictable and possibly very bad outcomes.
Indigo is another natural dye. Indigo can be mixed with henna to achieve a brown color or done over henna-ed hair for black. Cassia, yet another plant dye, gives off a yellow tint on grey or light blonde hair. It can be mixed with henna to make a lighter and more washed out red. Cassia can not lighten hair, it’s used on darker hair as a conditioning treatment.
Where to purchase henna.
I prefer to order body art quality henna from http://www.mehandi.com/. I should start off by saying that I’m not affiliated with the site in any way, I just like their henna and have learned most of what I know about henna from exploring the site and forums. There are some very knowledgeable people on the forums so if you have any questions this is the place to ask them: http://forums.hennapage.com/forum/2.
Why should you care if your henna is body art quality? Body art quality has a higher dye content and is less gritty. Here is a more in depth answer to that question: http://www.bodyartquality.com/index.html. Another reason I prefer to order from mehandi is because their henna is 3rd party laboratory tested, more information on that here: http://www.mehandi.com/shop/labtest/index.html.
One negative thing I have to say about henna for hair/mehandi is that their website can be difficult to navigate and find what you’re looking for, that’s why I have provided extensive links to pages on their site.
Patch and Strand Test
Of course it’s always a good idea to mix up a small amount of henna and do a patch test on your skin and a strand test on your hair (collected from your hairbrush). It’s rare for somebody to be allergic to henna, more on that here: http://www.hennaforhair.com/allergies/index.html.
I did a strand test the first time I tried henna, you can order sample sizes here: http://www.mehandi.com/shop/hairsamples/. Samples allow you to experiment with different types of henna and different acidic liquids, you can also work out your dye release timing.
Ready to start?
1) Mixing your henna paste.
Henna needs to be mixed with an acidic liquid in order to achieve dye release. This a very helpful table of liquids, pH and approximate dye release times: http://forums.hennapage.com/node/4146 . I usually prefer strongly brewed black tea (3-4 tea bags per cup). I have dry brittle hair so I think lemon or lime would be a little too harsh for me and vinegar is out due to smell. Plus I always have tea on hand.
Mix henna in a non-metallic bowl (plastic, ceramic, glass) with a wooden or plastic spoon or fork. Your bowl and/or mixing utensil might get stained so keep that in mind. I’m lazy and since I always freeze my henna I mix it in the ziplock bag that I’m going to freeze it in. Add liquid until you achieve a peanut-butter like consistency.
***If you’re not fond of the smell of henna you can add some ground cloves or pumpkin pie spice to the mixture.***
2) Waiting for dye release.
The acidic liquid you use determines how long you will wait to get dye release (see linked chart above). Make sure the henna is covered and simply let it sit at room temperature. Start checking at the low end of the dye release time by putting a dollop on the palm of your hand, after a few minutes rinse it off. If it left behind an orange stain you have dye release. Here is what it should look like:
Normally I make a large batch of henna and divided it up in bags and freeze them. After brewing my tea, letting it cool to room temperature, mixing the paste and waiting for dye release I usually don’t have time to apply the henna and leave it on for a few hours (I like to leave it on for a large chuck of time, 4-6 hours). Even if you’re freezing your henna for later you still need to wait for dye release before freezing it (you also need to be careful to not wait too long either as it will demise).
3) Applying the henna paste (ideally to freshly shampooed but not conditioned hair). Towel dry hair and apply henna to damp hair.
***If you’re using frozen henna make sure the bag is still tightly sealed and put it in a bowl of room temperature water to let it defrost. Once it’s fully defrosted follow the directions below.***
Helpful things to have on hand before starting:
– damp rags or paper towels (for cleaning up drips)
– old towels (to cover neck/shoulders and floor if needed)
– shower cap or saran wrap
– beanie (to go over plastic wrap to help hold in heat)
– hair clips
– trash can or bag (to dispose of gloves, left over henna, etc)
This is the fun and messy part! Applying henna paste is akin to smearing peanut butter or mud all over your hair. Gloves are a must unless you want orange hands and nails that look like you’ve been eating Cheetos for days. Wear old clothing that can get stained (I wear painting clothes). I make sure to put on a shirt that has a big neck so I can take it off easily when it comes time rinse off in the shower.
To start, transfer henna to a plastic ziplock or piping bag. Cut a small opening in the corner and twist up the top (it will look like a carrot). Squeeze henna out of the hole in the bag and onto your hair, smooth the henna paste out with your fingers or a brush to coat strands. I start with the under section of my hair at the root and work my way down. It’s helpful to have some hair clips and divide up you hair into sections. Once hair is coated root to tip pull it back and secure it with a clip. Cover hair with a shower cap (I use disposable caps as they will get very messy) or saran wrap. After the cap put on a beanie (or some sort of hat that will keep your head warm) or wrap a towel. In my experience a beanie works best, it fits snugly and keeps your hair warm.
This is what the henna paste looked like applied to my hair:
Now you wait. Henna for Hair recommends 2 hours minimum. I usually keep mine on for 4 hours. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on things around the house :-)! Some people even sleep with henna on their hair…
The “mermaid soak” is my preferred method of getting the henna out of my hair. You fill either your tub or a bucket with water, dunk your hair in and lightly swish it around. This doesn’t remove all of the henna but it does get the majority of it out. You definitely need to follow it up with a shower, shampoo and conditioner if you want.
Henna may oxidize and darken, and after washing it will start to fade. The henna smell will likely stick around for a few washes. If you’re not happy with the results you can use chemical hair dye over it (as long as you used PURE henna and not compound henna). You can only dye it darker though.
***Please note that these instructions are just from my own personal experience and other people may have different advice or different ways of doing it. There are no guarantees as to how your hair will turn out, that’s part of the henna adventure! You have to be willing to try something different than a normal box dye and it may be a little bit messy and unpredictable :-). Type of henna, acidic liquid used, application, timing, etc. can all play a part in the final outcome. ***
My Before and After- Henna on my bleached hair (my natural color is dark brown).
Before (bleached hair)
After (henna over bleach)
My hair is back to it’s natural dark brown color so now when I use henna it just gives it a dark reddish/auburn tint.