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Henna: Colouring your hair the natural way with plant extracts

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If you are looking to colour your hair the natural way then often your first choice is the century’s old henna. But we have all heard the horror stories and most hairdressers seem to be very negative on this subject. So here, as usual, we attempt to give you both the pros and cons so that you can make an informed choice.

What can henna do?

  • Henna can make your hair darker and red orange in tone. Variations like Black henna will produce a blue/indigo tone for dark hair and Blonde henna a yellow tone on light hair.
  • Henna can be healthy for your hair strengthening and thickening it, smoothing the cuticle and generally making it more resistant to breakage.

What won’t it do?

  • It won’t lighten your hair.
  • It won’t make you hair fall out.
  • If used four or five times a year, henna is unlikely to damage healthy hair and it is suggested that it is not used more often.

Why does my hairdresser not like it?

  • Ammonia found in synthetic hair dyes (the ones your hairdresser uses) will react with metallic salts which are sometimes added to henna and due to mislabeling you cannot always be sure that the henna you used was pure (to avoid this dilemma always use only body art quality henna). The resulting possible green, excessively dry and brittle, or even melting hair that bubbles and fizzes and is unlikely to be attached to your head for long has understandably left some hairdressers very nervous. Metallic salts or compounds are the basis of the ‘Grecian Formula’ also known as progressive colors so you may want to bare this in mind.
  • Hair treated with henna cannot successfully be permed (permanently waved) as the absorption time of the perming lotion is increased to such a degree that chemical damage of the hair will be caused way before any permanent curls can be produced.
  • The resulting colour of a henna treatment is very difficult to predict and normally when you visit a salon you expect a definite out come.
  • Poor training, education and availability of pure henna make it not the salon owner’s first choice when it comes to stocking henna.
  • Finally, it is a very time consuming salon process which means cost which has to be passed onto you the customer, often making out of many peoples price range.

What types and colour's of henna are there?

Red orange, red orange or red orange!!! So would you like red orange?

I’m not trying to be clever, just making sure that you got the message, because once you don’t want red orange hair when using henna then you are not using henna, real henna that is. You may see products labeled as henna or hear that henna from different countries of origin has different colour's but the truth is that the only differences you will get with real henna is that of intensity of red orange depending on the strength of the dye molecule in the henna you are using. This variation is because real henna is from a plant and as such it is affected by things like soil type and climate which differ from country to country.

To recognise real henna (also known as Lawsonia inermis ) it will smell like hay and be a green powder made from the leaves of the mature Lawsonia plant.

If you want to get different colour's and still be using a natural hair dye then your other options may still be called henna but actually be from other plants.

Black henna is actually made from the indigo plant, real name Indigofera tinctoria. Indigo is actually blue but great to intensify darker shades. It is also a green powder like real henna but smells for frozen peas.

Neutral/Senna henna ( also called blonde henna) made from the leaves of the Cassia obovata plant will as the name says be neutral in colour, but can in very high concentrations (when mixed with rhubarb root) give already light hair a yellow colour. It will help damaged hair and add to your hairs general health and gloss and is especially good with skin and scalp problems due to its many anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Also a green powder but smells more like cut grass.

After these 3 variations all other colour's are not only not henna they are not even natural. They may contain any thing from metallic salts to a developer even (a sure sign you have not purchased the real stuff).

Is henna permanent/will henna fade? 

Yes henna is permanent and yes it will fade slightly. It is however as permanent as any permanent dye you can buy as all colour's fade, but henna does ten to fade to a lesser degree and won’t leave you brassy or bronze. The question really should be does it was or grow out and the answer is grow out.

Repeated applications of henna will produce a deeper and richer colour for you. A single one off application will tend to fade and lighten a little more.

It can be removed using mineral oil although I have never personally done this.

Can you be allergic to henna?

Although extremely rare you can be allergic to pure henna. I use the term pure because more often than not what appears to be an allergic reaction to the henna is in fact a reaction to something that has been pre-mixed into it. Additives can include PPD and metallic salts and due to lax regulations in some of the countries that supply henna it is often impossible to know what is contained within them without chemical testing.

An allergic reaction to pure henna may include a tight feeling in the chest, sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and/or a dry cough. The symptoms appear soon after exposure so if you think you might be allergic to henna, dab it in the crease of your elbow and wait one hour.  If you do not have any symptoms within that time, you are not allergic to henna. 

How do you use it?

  • Simply mix your powder with hot/boiling water to a mud like consistency.
  • Using gloves and dark towels etc protect your skin, clothes and environment as it will stain.
  • Apply to your hair in sections starting from the nape (check the temperature on the scalp at first). This is a very messy business, henna tends to be heavy on the hair making it difficult to separate and go back over sections already covered so make sure that you do each section thoroughly.
  • Wrap your hair in cling/clear/glad wrap followed by a towel to keep it warm and leave for as long as you want the longer the greater the intensity of colour. One to two hours is the norm though.


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