This post was originally published in April 2012. It has been revised and republished.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…I stated on the Facebook Page that I was literally seconds away from dying my hair with Henna.
And then, a concerned group of citizens informed me that I was quite literally about to ruin my life forever. And possibly the lives of everyone I know. And puppies were going to be kicked and kittens would cry and Kardashians would rule the world and I would become yet another fool taken in by Henna Lore and it would be “the most tragical thing that has ever happened to me.”
So, of course, I put the Henna away. I shuddered to think of the pain I’d almost caused myself. I replayed the scene from Anne of Green Gables where Anne’s hair turns green because she attempted to flaunt nature as I almost did (except, in my scenario, I was simply trying to cover a crop of pesky premature YES THEY ARE PREMATURE I’M NOT OLD YET greys).
My henna-curiosity sprung from my commitment to natural skincare and healing, which has now become a full-blown profession with my Purely Primal Skincare Guide – it has served thousands of people!
I believe that, while nourishing the inside is crucial, it’s also important to be aware of what we’re putting on our outsides. (Did YOU know many hair and makeup products contain harsh surfactants? Random industrial substances? GLUTEN? I say on principle: Blech.)
I’ve accumulated some amazing resources and body/home care favorites since starting this journey. While all you ever REALLY need – for ANYTHING – is baking soda, vinegar, and a nourishing skincare oil (See: No ‘Poo Results), I still like to luxuriate in a few more exciting self-care routines: I love the Oil Cleansing Method, along with the products from Primal Life Organics for my face; and 100 Percent Pure carries some gorgeous eyeshadows.
You can assume, then, that I generally like to appear marginally presentable by modern standards, all while enjoying the self-care process. And also, I like to try weird, sometimes smelly skincare stuff. Which includes henna.
As I’d developed a compulsion for yanking out those thick, wiry grey hairs I discovered once I quit the monthly salon dye I’d been doing for a decade, I needed a solution that was both natural AND capable of hiding all the greys and quelling the compulsion. Because mom was right: when you pluck out a grey hair, they grow back and stand STRAIGHT UP like one of those inflatable crazy-flailers at a car dealership. Which is fine, unless you have a weird crazy-flailer phobia. Which I do.
(But wait, you say – I heard that henna can’t cover grey anyway!
…Just wait, my friend. I’ll get there.)
I like to play with hair color, anyway – it’s like risky semi-permanent art, all done on a human.
After doing a bit of research, I decided to turn full-speed onto the henna highway. It’s only hair, after all…
Here’s what I found as I researched henna: it seems that you simply have to be extremely selective about the henna you use – many brands masquerade as “henna” when they’re actually full of hair-perverting gunk. Some of them contain an eensy-beensy bit of henna, sandwiched inside a laundry-list of unnecessary industrial chemicals. Not cool.
Repeat: JUST BECAUSE THE BOX SAYS “HENNA” DOES NOT MEAN IT’S ACTUALLY HENNA.
Additionally, you have to be aware that henna alone is coppery-red-colored. That’s its natural tone. Read LOTS more about the origins and the science of henna here.
You CAN achieve a range of colors using henna and other herbs. You can do this yourself (read about other peoples’ recipes here) or you can buy a pre-made blend from a company you trust. I know many people who have done well with Lush henna (like Hayley) and the henna from Mountain Rose Herbs.
I have had amazing success with Henna for Hair and only use their henna. Henna for Hair is an incredible site both for ordering high-quality batch-tested henna, and for learning everything you could ever want to know about the science and history of henna.
For the most part, when using henna, you’ll make a giant mess. Henna powder will be blended with an acidic liquid (depending on brand instructions) and there MUST be gloves to protect your skin from henna’s stain. You will muck up your head with the stuff, destroy your bathroom sink, make your shower look like a sludge pit, and emerge on the other side of the process with beautiful, strengthened, slightly herbal-smelling hair.
If you’ve got short hair, you’ll no doubt have an easier time than I did attempting to cover the entire length of your hair with this mud-like stuff. Long-haired gals: be prepared for a bathroom crime scene. And possibly a drug raid on your house – because this stuff smells like – ahem – herb. Not that I would know.
By the way, since this post was originally published in 2012, I’ve now been exclusively henna-ing for at least 3 years at time of update. Meaning every single Instagram pic I’m in shows henna-d hair.
Here’s one of my first photos of henna success, from long before I was Instagramming:
I love henna and won’t go back to conventional dyes. (Good thing, because while you CAN use pure henna to color over conventionally-dyed hair (according to Katherine Cartwright-Jones at HennaforHair.com) you CANNOT use conventional dyes over henna. Not because henna is in any way unsafe, but because you just gotta pick a side and stick with it.
Unfortunately, there are many horror stories out there involving adulterated henna-impostor dyes, fake henna ruining already-dyed hair, and the like. Many so-called “henna” products are contaminated with metals and WILL ruin your hair – just remember, that’s not real henna.
Just rest assured that REAL henna will NOT do any of those things. You’ve just got to get the real stuff.
While the process is challenging and a bit awkward, it takes a mere few hours and, in my opinion, it’s well worth the trouble (plus, it’s highly affordable).
I still use the “No ‘Poo” strategy, as I have since 2011, and dry and style as usual.
Let me know your experiences with henna in the comments!