Henna (or to give its correct Latin name Lawsonia Inermis) is a flowering plant that has been cultivated and used as a skin, hair and fabric dye since the Bronze Age. In India court records dating back to at least 400 CE show it being used to dye hair and skin and it is still cultivated in the country today. It’s popularity has rarely waned throughout the world and now, in the 21st century it’s experiencing a healthy comeback as women become more and more concerned about the levels of chemicals and potential irritants in conventional hair dyes bought from the shops that come in enormous pallet delivery consignments from all over the world.
The Henna plant is a flowering shrub, of which the leaves are picked, dried and powdered – it is this resulting powder that yields the dye. Henna has also long been used in ayurvedic medicines because of its ability to take the heat out of accidents like burns and it is also considered antiseptic and antifungal.
Not All Hennas Are The Same!
Henna only comes in one colour, and that colour is a red/orange tone. Many companies that sell Henna will tell you that their henna comes in a variety of shades and tones. It doesn’t. The only ingredient in powdered Henna hair dye should be Lawsonia Inermis. Anything else is not “true” Henna. Henna can be mixed with three other plants to give different colouring results – those plants are Indigo, Cassia and Amla. Indigo will give a delightful blue/black tint to the Henna, making it richer and deeper. Cassia and Amla will soften the reddening effects of the Henna, turning it into more of a coppery tone – and also add a lot of volume to your hair.
Henna cannot lighten or bleach your hair. It can only add red tones, depth and shine.
Using Henna To Dye Your Hair
In many Indian communities the use of Henna to dye hair and skin is an almost sacred event and whole days are given over to the art of Mehndi designs and also colouring the hair. Mehndi designs are usually created using a thick henna paste which is applied using things like matchsticks or toothpicks to create intricate and delicate designs.
There are many different ways and methods by which you can use Henna to dye your hair – as you gain more confidence in this artful technique you can become a bit braver by adding different things to your Henna powder to give different results. It is very important to remember to always do a patch test on your hair before you dye it with Henna. If you have hair that has been previously coloured with chemical dyes it can affect the result in a negative way. Harvest some hair from your hair brush, and mix a small amount of the Henna as per the instructions given below – place your hair in this mix and leave for a few hours. Once your hair is rinsed, you will be able to tell from the colour result whether it is suitable to continue with it on your full head of hair!
A basic Henna mix would be as follows:
100g of Pure Henna (make sure the only ingredient in it in Lawsonia Inermis)
Juice of 1 Lemon
One hundred grams of Henna will be enough for medium to long hair. For hair that’s longer than that, you may need to adjust your quantities. Put the Henna in a clean, non metallic bowl (one that can be easily washed!) and add the lemon juice followed by enough boiling water to mix to a consistency of thick yogurt or mashed potatoes. You must now leave this mix to stand somewhere warm, so that the plant dye can be released – it’s usually best to leave it over night for at least twelve hours. This ensures that the extract is released properly and that when you apply you’ll get a good strong effect.
It’s best to apply Henna to clean hair – but freshly washed hair is fine too, so long as it is about eighty percent dry. Section your hair off, and remember to protect your hairline with a good barrier cream, coconut oil or petroleum jelly. Apply the henna liberally so that root to tip of all the sections is covered. You should make sure you are generous with coverage and that every part of your hair is coated in Henna. Once you’ve finished application, wrap your hair in something that will help hold in the heat – an old towel, or a shower cap. Now you must leave to develop. Development time is completely up to you – anything between one hour or twelve (i.e. – overnight!) the longer you leave it, the richer, bolder and stronger the result.
Once it has developed for the required time – rinse with plenty of warm water, this will take time as there will be a lot of plant matter to rinse from your hair. Be prepared! To get the last vestiges of dye from your hair, you can use a mild conditioner root to tip as you rinse. It’s important to remember not to shampoo at this stage.
Now your hair is rinsed clean, dry and style as usual. Over the next twenty four hours the Henna will oxidise in your hair, and the colour will develop and deepen even more – which is why you must not shampoo your hair for a good twenty four to forty eight hours after application.
Different Henna Mixes
Once you gain more confidence in this age old technique you can begin to develop different ingredient mixes! Taking the original base as recommended above – you can add in spices such as a small amount of Paprika when you are ‘cooking’ your Henna. This will give an intense redness to the finished result. Using warm beverages like Herbal tea or indeed even Instant Coffee will give browner/more burgundy tones to the mix. Some people dispense with the lemon juice altogether and just use boiling water. This gives a brassier result; the acid in the lemon juice really helps to bring the redness out of the dye. The most important thing to remember about Henna is that it’s a fun, relaxing way to pamper yourself naturally – knowing that while you’re dyeing your hair you’re actually giving it an excellent conditioning treatment too!
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