How to Henna Your Hair

Although we use henna as a hair color, it has wonderful side benefits. Thickens hair and leaves it silky and strong. But you have to buy pure henna (or henna mixed with clearly labeled plant extracts). And first you need to do a strand test.

A thread test will tell you two critical things:

1) if you will like the final color and

2) how long to leave the henna to get that color.

Because henna is often left on the hair for an hour or more, it would be wise to set aside a large amount of time. Between preparing the henna, strand testing, application, and waiting time, you may want to spend an afternoon on the project.

Who can use henna?

The best heads for henna are brunettes and dark blondes. Hair that is naturally very dark will look stunning with red henna highlights.

Do you have gray hair? Contrary to popular opinion, may get good results with henna. To go brunette, choose a henna that has been mixed with brown extracted from safe plant powders like walnut, cloves, and even a little indigo. (But use common sense – if you’re allergic to nuts or sensitive to cloves, don’t use these products.) If you prefer to blush your gray hair, look for henna that has been mixed with rhubarb root or other natural ingredients.

Henna color options

Reds are the most widely used, have the least amount of additives, and if they are pure (read the label, search the internet, join a henna forum) they are completely safe. Browns and blondes are fun too.

Henna does not lighten hair. It will not lift the color, as commercial dyes can. So you need to get a shade that matches yours a little bit, or is darker. Brunettes can easily turn red, blondes can turn brown or red. But there is no way a brunette can turn blonde.

Some words of caution

Don’t use henna on commercially colored hair. It is safest to wait at least 2 months after a commercial dye job, before using henna. Some women have had no problem waiting just 1 month, but again, that’s what the strand test is for.

About a week before you plan to use henna, use a clarifying shampoo. This will help remove the old color.

Make sure you buy a brand of henna that does not contain metallic salts. These are extremely unhealthy. They may be labeled on the box as compound henna dye, or they may not appear in the list.

How can you tell if your henna contains metal salts if they are not included in the ingredients? If your strand test leaves your strand of hair brittle or dry, or if the color “takes on” very quickly, that probably means it contains metallic salts. I did not use it.

Black henna is fine to use as long as it is made with Indigo. To avoid PPD Black Henna, as it contains paraphenylenediamine, a dye, which is extremely harmful.

What to buy

The safest henna is body grade henna. But there are also many well-known, well-used, safe and ethically labeled packaged hair hennas. Just use common sense – if there are ingredients listed that you are unfamiliar with, write them down, go home, and run them in your search engine.

Henna does not have a long shelf life. Don’t buy it and then keep it forever, it will lose its potency. However, you can seal and freeze it, and it will last at least a year.

Now for the fun

Many women consider the preparation of henna to be a ritual. Herbal dye looks like a green powder and has a peculiar fragrance, kind of like hay. The smell goes away in a day or two.

Assuming you have a box of pure red henna, empty it into a glass or plastic container. If you bought it in bulk, use about 1 cup. Never use metal utensils, bowls, or even hair clips when mixing and applying.

Now, boil some water. For the boiling water in the henna, little by little. Stir. Keep doing this until you get a paste consistency. Add a couple of pre-beaten eggs if you like, to keep the consistency sticky. Many women add a half cup of strong coffee to tone down the red a bit. If you add coffee, use less boiling water. You don’t want the mixture to end up dripping.

Apply a cream or oil around your hairline to prevent henna from coloring your ears and forehead. And don’t forget your gloves (or you’ll get your hands red too!).

Apply the paste on clean, dry hair. If this is your first henna treatment, saturate the hair completely. Then wrap everything in a plastic bag or plastic wrap. In addition to all that, you may want to wrap a towel, so as not to scare the children. Some women use a hot towel. Here’s why you should have done the strand test – it’s the only way to know how long to leave the henna on your head. It can be from 20 minutes to 2 hours or more.

When the timer goes off, go to the shower. The whole process is complicated, so don’t make cleaning a problem or you’ll go crazy. Rinse off the henna, no need to shampoo. Finish with an organic conditioner, not tested on animals. Its color should last 2 or 3 months, except for the growth of the roots.

And you are ready. There will be a lot of cleaning involved, but you will have incredible red hair that is silky, strong and healthy. (Or whatever color you choose). Once you start using henna, you may find that you love it so much that you will never use anything else again.

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