For the Edification of Amy (and anyone else who might be interested)…

10 Mar

Several weeks ago, after my New Years Resolutions post, I had an email conversation with Amy about the dyeing of hair and the chemical worries that go along with it, and I mentioned that I use natural henna, which is chemical free and gives me a gorgeous chestnutty auburn colour to replace my natural mousy brown (and the premature grey bequeathed unto me by my forebears – thank you all so much, honourable ancestors!).

Anyway, Amy asked if I could post how I do it, and finally I got a chance to get it done. So here ’tis, Amy!

First, catch your henna. I’m not talking about those so-called henna hair colour packs that you find at the health food shop – they are mostly just the usual chemical-loaded hair colour with a bit of henna added to look good in the ingredients list. They will be worse for your hair than what you would buy from the supermarket, and if your scalp is sensitive like mine, they can actually burn your skin. Don’t go there! What we have here is natural henna, as in the leaves of a henna plant, dried and ground into a powder. You should look for “Body Art Quality” henna, the kind they use for hand-and-foot painting in India and the Middle East.

Sift it into a glass or ceramic bowl. You’ll probably be left with a little residual muck that won’t go through the sieve, that’s okay, it’s just bits that didn’t get ground up. If you have a mortar and pestle, you could grind it up, but I just throw it out. For our purposes today, I’m using 60g of powder (we are talking six or seven weeks worth of regrowth).

If you find the smell of henna objectionable (and it can be a little bit strong), this would be the time to add some kind of aromatic. There are plenty to choose from: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg. Please note that cloves will alter the colour, making it a little bit darker. Some people like that, others prefer to have a truer henna red. I don’t bother, because the smell doesn’t worry me that much. It’s certainly not as offensive to me as the chemical smells of commercial hair colour.

Moving on, mix the powder with the liquid of your choice. I use chamomile tea (good for the skin/scalp), brewed strong and left to cool until it’s warm, but not hot. There are plenty of options: plain water, other herbal teas, some people even use yoghurt. You want a nice thick consistency, like mayonnaise. Now, to quote Miracle Max, “you need to wait 15 minutes for full potency”. I use this time to get all my bits and pieces together, and apply some barrier cream around my hairline and all over my ears. You will need gloves – this stuff will stain your skin – see above re: mehandi body art. I also wouldn’t wear my best posh frock for this, or use the Good Towels.

Your hair should be freshly washed – but not conditioned – and still damp. Section it by parting down the centre and across the crown from ear to ear. Using a sectioning comb, and working in layers starting from the back, plaster it on nice and thick from the roots down along the hairshaft. Anyone who has ever coloured their hair knows how to do this part.

Unlike chemical hairdyes, which first strip the colour out of the hair and then lay pigment over the top, henna works with your own colour and all the highlights and lowlights which are naturally there. This means that when I do my roots, I just do the roots; I don’t need to go back halfway through the processing time and work the colour through the rest of my hair. Once or twice a year I get a friend to help me do the full length of my hair, and in between times I just retouch the roots.

Once you have a good thick layer all over everything, check that you haven’t missed any bits (like for instance that spot behind my ear in the photo), do a quick cleanup with a wet facewasher, and wrap your head in plastic wrap, topped off by a cap or towel – I have one of those micro-fibre hair towel/turban thingies.

Glamorous, no?

Now comes the only real downside to the henna: it takes a whole hell of a lot longer to process. Five or six hours, perhaps even longer, depending on how strong a colour you want. I usually give it about six, and then I soak the henna out in the bath. A quick shampoo to get out any gritty parts that I may have missed, and I have beautiful rich auburn hair, with copper highlights where my greys were before (and a bathtub that looks like the Nile Delta).

Please excuse the camera shadow - it's remarkably difficult to get a good shot of one's own head.

Further reading: Henna For Hair, a free e-book  by Catherine Cartwright-Jones. It’s where I first learned most of this stuff.


7 Responses to “For the Edification of Amy (and anyone else who might be interested)…”

  1. Lynne March 10, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Very interesting – thanks for sharing. I’m afraid there is way too much “silver” in my hair to go the way of natural products – despite the fact my hairdresser charges a bomb to give me a colour! When my hair is almost completely turned, I will let it go natural; until then…

  2. amy March 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    Wow, that is quite a tutorial!! I wonder when I might have five hours to let it sit, though? And I still fear it wouldn’t take, given that I’ve been told I have “stubborn” grey. (Like you, I have early-greying genes. It started in my mid to late 20s, although that second child of mine sped up the process quite a bit!!)

    I think you need to come over and give me an in-person lesson… 😉

  3. Tinkingbell March 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    OK just a note (my hairdresser and I have been using henna for ages) so here is my wisdom

    1. get the stuff from the middle east where possible, particularly Saudi or Egypt are best – the quality is better.
    2. Try mixing is with ground coffee and very very very strong normal tea. You can also add some beetroot juice for fabulous highlights (although you tend to smell a bit odd)

    3. Wrap your hair in gladwrap or a plastic shower cap and sit under a hair dryer or if you have one of those vintage ones with a cap over your head, thats good too. Or somewhere hot – the henna works better and quicker under these conditions.

    You can get black, red and brown hennas – but I prefer red – the redder the better. If you are really really gray, it is not a good idea to henna – you go a sort of yellow, so I am not looking forward to the idea.
    My hairdresser also says henna ‘grabs’ better on dirty hair – so it is not a problem if you have left your hair for an extra day or so after washing when you apply henna!

  4. Kate March 13, 2010 at 7:02 am #

    You know, henna is one of those things I always wondered about – maybe I’ll give it a go in the holidays… but how will I get purple streaks?? I’m not sure my work would approve of yarndreads ;P

  5. katie February 10, 2016 at 6:52 pm #

    useful post thanks. you will inevitably get some henna on bits that have previously been dyed, does this create a darker stripe or permanently darken the older hair over time?

    • kissmyfrog February 11, 2016 at 6:49 am #

      Hi, Katie.
      Not that I ever noticed, but my hair was fairly dark to start with, and my friend Ceri, she who gave all the extra info in the comments, has been dyeing with henna much longer than I have, and her hair is very evenly coloured. I think the most likely outcome on lighter hair would be an ombré effect.
      Thanks for the blast from the past! Two years after I wrote this post, I shaved off all my lovely henna-red locks to raise money for leukaemia research and I’ve been my natural salt-and-pepper ever since.

      • katiekeith February 11, 2016 at 6:34 pm #

        Thanks very much!

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