Why I Dye My Hair With Henna
I decided to ditch traditional chemical hair dyes in 2016, when I realized that some of the more than 5,000 possible ingredients found in the ubiquitous drugstore product are carcinogenic. Used in commercial settings like hair salons, they can also pose a health risk to bystanders. Knowing this – and knowing that there was an easy alternative in henna, having dabbled with it before – made it easy to say goodbye.
A couple notes: Henna is a time-tested product that, like traditional dyes, will have varied results depending on your hair’s base tone. My natural hair color is ash brown. Henna also deepens with each application, so I will occasionally wait 3-6 months after application, then use a conventional dye in a light or bright red tone (like Garnier Olia) in order to brighten my base tone. After that, I’ll wait another several months, then begin the henna process over again.
5 Reasons to Dye Your Hair with Henna
1. It’s conditioning.
Unlike chemical dyes that rough up the hair follicle and make it more porous – and thus, more susceptible to breakage – henna strengthens and conditions the hair follicles. It adds subtle thickness and lots of shine to my fine, dull hair, and the individual strands feel much stronger.
2. It’s cost effective.
I pay $5.99 for a 4 ounce tub of henna powder at my local Whole Foods (it’s even cheaper online). I just measure out a few tablespoons per treatment and screw the cap back on for easy storage. Since my hair is short, I get 5-7 applications out of one tub!
3. It’s pretty and customizable.
You can buy henna in a variety of tones and supplement the dye with things like lemon and tea, though most shades will provide a bit of red. I have friends with very dark hair for whom henna provides a mahogany finish; one of them always mixes her henna with brewed coffee for a richer brown tone. I tend to get more of an auburn to bright red, depending on what shade I use and how long I keep it in. Henna is both heat and time sensitive, so if you wrap your head well and keep it under a dryer or let it sit for several hours, you’ll get a brighter, richer tone. If you just want a hint of color, leave it in for an hour or less.
4. It’s organic and non-polluting.
Henna is a plant native to parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Henna powder is simply the crushed leaves of the Henna shrub, so standard henna dye contains no artificially-derived ingredients or pollutants. There are formulations of henna dye available on the market that are mixed with other ingredients that may cause allergic reactions, however, so make sure that the henna you purchase has clearly marked ingredients.
5. It connects you to a long tradition.
Henna has been used as a hair dye for 6,000 years and its use spans continents. From Ancient Egypt to India to nineteenth century Europe (a favorite of the Pre-Raphaelites), henna has provided aesthetic pleasure, connected people to their traditions, and reinforced cultural values.
What you’ll need:
- a glass or plastic mixing bowl
- a plastic spoon (I use a tablespoon)
- rubber gloves (optional)
- boiling water
- henna powder (I highly recommend Rainbow brand)
What I do:
- Boil water in a tea kettle or in the microwave.
- Add desired amount of henna powder to a glass bowl (henna reacts to metal, so you must make sure you don’t use any metal implements during the mixing or application process). Knowing how much henna you need will take some guessing at first. Err on the side of caution, because you can always mix more later.
- Add boiling water to henna powder and mix until the texture resembles cake batter. It should be runny enough for easy application, but thick enough to adhere to itself. You don’t want it to fall off of your head during application.
- Cover exposed surfaces underneath the bowl containing your henna, apply gloves if desired (the henna will slightly dye exposed skin, but it will fade quickly), and begin applying henna by picking up a clump with your fingers and running it from root to end in thin sections.
- Continue until your whole head is covered. Make sure the henna is applied consistently and fairly thickly. You need it to dry to a paste for the dye to set properly. I usually have a bit of henna left in the bowl after my initial application that I use to double coat my hair. The more the merrier.
- Wrap your head in a plastic grocery bag or shower cap, then wrap a towel over it. This will keep the heat in.
- You can use a blow dryer for maximum saturation. I usually just let the henna sit in my hair for 2 hours.
- After the appropriate amount of setting time, jump in the shower and wash the henna paste our of your hair. This normally takes 2 washes for me. Make sure that your shower tiles are washed clean of henna runoff so that they won’t stain.
Any questions? Just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Read my Henna + Rooibos tea post here.