How does it look? How do you do it? Is it a good idea? Why don’t salons do it? Is it permanent? Is it safe? Does it really make your hair healthier? Is it really incompatible with normal hair dyes?
The internet is packed with incorrect answers to all these fairly basic questions. So here’s the 411:
How does it look? Like natural red hair, far more natural than any modern dye. It dyes anywhere from strawberry blonde to chestnut, depending on the concentration, development time and your existing hair colour.
How do you do it? I’ll show you. If you have red or brown hair, look below. If you have blonde hair, you can mix a teaspoon of henna powder into a handful of conditioner, and use that as a toner to warm up your colour. If you have black hair, you can use the method below, but you won’t get a dramatic change. You will get red reflections and relaxed, shiny hair.
Is it a good idea? If you have dark or red hair, don’t mind extra weight and want to add some warmth and shine, it’s probably a good idea. If you have bright highlights, want more curl or volume, like to change your hair colour often or plan to bleach in future, it’s probably a bad idea.
Why don’t salons do it? It is really not a very saleable concept. It takes hours, it smells odd, it’s only suitable for a minority of customers and it’s difficult to reverse. High end salons will do it for you, but expect to pay a lot and be there for a long time.
Is it permanent? It is. It is far more permanent than most ‘permanent’ hair dyes. It is very difficult to remove. Hair dye remover works by shrinking the dye particles, thus allowing them to escape from the hair core, between the cuticles. Henna does not add coloured particles to the core, it stains the cuticle. Bleach will remove a lot of this stain, but not all, which is likely to give you a bizarre, bright orange result. So henna is a long term decision. If you think you might want to go for a blonde or cool tone in the future, do not use henna as you will have great trouble removing it.
Is it safe? Extremely. It is the ground leaf of a nontoxic plant. It contains none of the usual ammonia (that’s the smelly part that is bad for your respiratory tract) or peroxide (that’s the bit it irritates your scalp and can cause allergic reactions), or, in fact, anything other than what you add. The finished mixture, made the traditional way, is mildly acidic, but so is your scalp. The henna powder can even be mixed with plain water, if lemon juice irritates you.
Does it make your hair healthier? Hair is dead. You can’t have ‘healthy’ hair, there is really no such thing. What you can have is hair that shows (or fakes) signs of the good health of your body. Henna does give your hair features generally associated with health. It will make the hair shinier, thicken, soften and strengthen the hair shaft and relax the curl/wave pattern which gives the appearance of smoothness and general good health. Hair treated with henna is softer and thicker. That is good for some, but remember that thick hair is heavy, which will flatten it, and soft hair is flexible, it doesn’t hold teasing well and may require more product to curl or puff up.
Is it incompatible with normal hair dye? Only if you don’t know what you’re doing. ‘Lifting’ (bleaching) is generally a bad idea on henna treated hair, as the henna lifts less than natural hair pigmentation. So you may end up with a (nearly) white hair core, covered by an orange cuticle. The challenge here is that many (boxed) dark hair colours do lift your hair, then replace the colour with a new one. You can safely and predictably dye your hair after using henna, but you have to be careful to only ADD colour. You can do this by buying a tint of your choice and mixing it with a 10vol (3% peroxide) developer or buying a boxed colour marked ‘no lift’ (which will be the same thing, in a box). If you’re really careful, you can actually lift your henna dyed hair, giving you vibrant strawberry blonde highlights, it can work out very well, but be very, very cautious!
Here’s how it’s done:
Indian grocers are the best place to buy henna. It should be quite cheap, only around $3/100g. One treatment will be around 25g. I recommend only buying 100% pure henna. It doesn’t need any other ingredients, and they might lead to unpredictable results. Make up plenty of mixture, around twice what you would use in normal hair dye. You will get much better results this way and it will be easier. The mixture can be left to oxidise for a day before use, but I haven’t found this beneficial, and it stains to skin more.
Henna smells quite strong. It’s a muddy, earthy, frog pondish smell. It will be in your hair for a few days. Adding an essential oil to the mixture can cover this a bit. Be careful though, allergies to essential oils are common.
Henna stains skin deeply, and stains on skin can last for weeks. Wear gloves and clean your hairline well. It doesn’t tend to stain your scalp if it’s not too clean, so I suggest leaving your hair a few days without washing before doing this.
Development time depends very much on the results you’re after. Always go for less rather than more, results are permanent!
Ten minutes – a subtle warm glow, visible only on blonde hair.
Thirty minutes – a gentle ginger tint, will turn blonde to strawberry blonde or brown to chestnut. Maybe a little extra condition and shine.
One hour – a fairly strong ginger tint, much like what you’d get from a modern hair dye. Will turn mid brown to natural red, dark brown to rich chestnut or blonde to bright ginger. Your hair will feel a little heavier and thicker and will have a bit of a shimmer.
Three hours – serious red. Good for natural redheads and folks with dark brown hair. You will get a bright, almost metallic shine and relaxed hair. Don’t do this first time.
Over night – This is good for folks with black hair, it will not lighten your hair at all, but the light reflecting from your hair will have a red/gold tint. This will hugely add to thickness, shine, smoothness and softness. Do not try this until you’ve gauged the results of much shorter development periods.