My hair was dry, frizzy, and would not hold color for more than a few weeks at a time. After years of toxic chemicals being dumped on my head in an attempt to dye my hair, my locks were a mess. Worse yet, they were a mess of my natural blonde color – not the tone of choice for this redhead!
So I did what any beauty-focused writer would do – research. I looked into all methods of hair coloring the natural way and finally settled on what has become one of my beauty staples; henna. I found dry, mixable henna from Mountain Rose Herbs which, due to the length and thickness of my hair, I buy a pound at a time. Each half pound dyes my long (about 8 inches below my shoulders), thick hair for about 3 months. So, I get about 6 months of color for around $20, not bad at all.
Metro Beauty also has a range of henna products, sold in 2 ounce packages for about $3.49 each. This would get me about 6 months of color for just under $30 – still a good deal!
But how do you actually use the stuff? Is it difficult? Messy? How long does it take? All these questions, and more will be answered here. Just read on, and prepare to get excited about this natural beauty trend that leaves its chemical competition in the dust!
What you’ll need (besides henna and boiling water!):
Bowl (plastic or glass works fine)
Wooden spoon or some other stirring tool
Plastic gloves (if you are concerned with your hands being tinted)
Oil for around the hairline (to protect skin in that area from becoming tinted)
Old clothes or protective salon-type smock
*Enhancing additives (optional)
*Paintbrush or a hair tint brush (optional)
1. Preparing the mixture
The henna that I buy comes in powder form which requires mixing with water until it forms a paste. For my long hair, I use roughly half a pound, whereas my friend with the chine length bob only needs about 1/8 of a pound to tint her locks. It pays to experiment and find the best amount for the length and thickness of your hair. After a while you’ll become like a television celebrity chef, dumping in random amounts of ingredients because you know exactly how much your hair will need. Until then, follow the guideline of slowly pouring boiling water into about 4 ounces of henna until the mixture is the right consistency.
Ultimately, you will want your mixture to be like cake batter – thin enough that it applies easily, but not so watered down that it slides off of your tresses. If it is too thick, it will be difficult to apply and will cake easily, also not good. The positive in all of this is that henna is an extremely forgiving mixture. If it is too thick, add water; too thin, add henna. Easy, right?
2. Natural enhancers (based on 4 ounces of henna)
Oil: Adding about 2 tablespoons of olive or grapeseed oil to the mix is great for dry hair and damaged tresses. A bit of oil, I have found, also makes the henna glide on easy and rinse out quicker than usual. Bonus: it acts as a detangler even after the hair is rinsed.
Egg: An egg can also help quench dry hair and acts as a power-packed protein rinse
Yogurt: Another powerhouse additive for those parched locks, yogurt helps reduce frizzies and aids in application. Just add about 3 tablespoons per 4 ounces of henna.
Apple cider vinegar: Adding about 2 tablespoons of vinegar boosts henna’s staying power in grey hair.
Honey: 3 tablespoons of honey added to the mix boosts highlights and makes blonde shades shimmer.
Molasses: 3 tablespoons of molasses enhances and adds depth to red tones.
Lemon: The faithful standby for blonde locks. 2 tablespoons of lemon juice brightens blonde tones and helps to combat brassiness.
Coffee: Replacing water in the henna mixture with brewed coffee deepens auburn tones and adds deeper browns to your overall color.
Tea: Want to boost your red tresses? Try replacing the water in the mixture with rosehip tea, hibiscus tea, or even red-hued fruit teas to make your auburn hues gorgeous. Need more golden brown highlights and lowlights? Try a black tea – I have found that earl grey smells heavenly, thanks to the bergamot, and really gets those golden highlights to show themselves. Want to brighten blonde hair and add some highlights? Go for chamomile tea and prepare to be wowed.
Other shades of henna: want a rich strawberry blonde for the summer? Try mixing red and blonde hennas for rich results. Need a rich, dark black-brown? Mix black with golden brown for a deeper hue. One important thing to note, you can go darker, and add shimmery hues to your natural color, but you cannot lighten hair with henna.
3. Preparing the hair
Henna must be applied to clean hair for the best results. It doesn’t matter whether your hair is wet or dry, as long as it is clean the color will take beautifully. Usually, I wash my hair, comb it out, then apply the henna to my wet hair. I find that the color lasts a bit longer when I apply it this way.
At this point, a lot of people new to the hair coloring scene do a strand test. Not a bad idea, just to make sure that you aren’t allergic to the plant dyes, and that the color is what you expect. For a strand test, you’ll want to take about an inch of your hair, preferably from an inconspicuous part of your head, and apply a bit of the mixture. Use about 1 teaspoon of henna and 1 tablespoon of water, apply to hair, and rinse out after about an hour. If all is well, it’s time to move on to the next step!
4. Applying the henna (I promise, it’s easy)
Step 1 – Separate your hair into small sections, about 1″-2″ in width so that you can get maximum coverage as you work. At this stage you may want to put a thin layer of oil along your hairline to protect your forehead from matching your colored locks.
Step 2 – Using either your hands (my preferred method of application) or a brush, apply henna from roots to tips, working with each small section of hair at a time. Continue this until all of the mixture is evenly applied and covers your entire head. If there is extra, distribute it as evenly as you can throughout your hair. At this point, your head should feel well coated with henna mud, and will be a bit heavy.
Step 3 – Now that your hair is well coated in the goopy henna warmth, you can either cover your head with plastic (an old shower cap works great for this) or leave it uncovered. I have done both and have found that it doesn’t make a difference, for me, in the end result. My friend, on the other hand, swears that her results are best with covering. You can also opt to add heat to your hair to make the henna work a bit faster. In short, do what works for you.
Step 4 – Wait. For lighter shades, color should stay on for about 35-40 minutes with heat, 1 hour without heat. Darker shades require a bit more time and can range from about 45-50 minutes with heat to about 80 minutes without heat. I typically leave my henna on for about 75 minutes (no heat) and have always been happy with the results and the length of time my hair stays red.
5. Rinsing it out
Now that you have waited not so patiently, it is time to rinse. This step will take a bit more time than rinsing out traditional hair dye, but I think that you will find the results worth the wait and the small amount of additional effort. I typically stand in the shower and rinse out the henna with hot water, using the same section technique that I used during application. I take small sections of my hair, rinse and comb out the henna from that portion of hair, and move on to the next section. This ensures that the henna is thoroughly rinsed and is bit quicker than attempting to get all of the henna out at once.
After the water is running clear, I turn down the heat a bit and do a cool water rinse to lock in the tone. Then, as my last step, I wash my hair as usual. This gets rid of any residual henna and leaves my hair clean and shiny. At this point, when my hair was a bit damaged, I used to condition just for that extra bit of moisture. Now that I have been using henna for a few years, I find that my hair is in such great shape that I no longer need to condition after a coloring session – the henna does the conditioning for me!
6. Enjoy the results!
Congratulations! You now have gorgeous, naturally tinted, conditioned hair that shimmers in the light and makes heads turn.