Go grab this free eBook all about using henna for more detailed information. These people ARE experts and I'm just a user and lover of henna.
Henna is a plant. They pick and dry the leaves, then grind them up. Just like basil or parsley that you buy in the spice section of the grocery store, only the henna gets ground up into a fine powder. Henna also happens to stain anything it touches orange. So it has no chemicals, no mineral salts, no formaldehyde/bleach/peroxide/insert your favorite toxic chemical here. It's just a dried plant. You mix it with a liquid until it's the consistency of pudding and then you slap it on your head. Ta da! That's not such a big deal, right?
Henna alone will not lighten hair, it only adds red. So your final color totally depends on your starting color. It doesn't really matter whether you have virgin hair or highlights, but your final color will be completely different depending on whether you're 100% gray, dark blonde, or dark brown. If you're platinum blonde or gray your hair will be reddish orange. If your hair is black you probably won't see much difference until you're out in the sun and then you'll just have a red sheen. Mine was dark brown with coppery highlights and lots of gray roots coming in. The dark brown parts came out reddish brown and the grays and highlights were pretty bright red.
Here is my Before pic. You can see how light the ends were from the highlights.
Here is my first After pic. Still mostly brown with a red sheen overall and red highlights.
Which brings me to another point. Because henna does not damage your hair at all you can do it as often as you want. Let me repeat that. HENNA DOES NOT DAMAGE YOUR HAIR AT ALL. For most people it improves the condition of your hair. So it's a strengthening treatment for your hair with the bonus of coloring your nasty gray roots or making you feel like Jessica Rabbit. I color my roots every 2-3 weeks and once every 6-8 weeks I do my whole head.
I mentioned before that you mix the henna powder with a liquid. The liquid can be a million different things and here's where it gets crazy.
Some brands recommend using water and nothing else. But most henna aficionados say you need something acidic to help the dye release. Water with some apple cider vinegar (ACV) is popular, as is black tea or fruit juice. Henna can be a little drying to some hair types so I like to add ingredients that are moisturizing, like coconut milk or jojoba oil. Just follow the directions on the back of the package the first time and you can always experiment the next time. The last time I did my hair I used fruit juice. I had a bottle of mango flavored Juicy Juice in the fridge that smelled really good so I used that. Henna itself smells like wet hay. It's not an awful smell but it's not my favorite and mixing it with ACV gives me a headache. The mango juice made it smell like a tropical cocktail! I also added in coconut milk from a can to make it extra conditioning.
So how do you do it?
Here's where the advanced planning part comes in. You mix up your henna paste and then let it sit for 8 hours. When you apply your henna to your hair you leave it on for 4-8 hours. So you can do this two ways. Either mix it in the evening, let it sit overnight, apply the henna in the morning, leave it on for several hours, and then rinse out. Or mix it up after lunch, let it sit all day, apply at bedtime, cover your head and your pillow and sleep on it, then wash out in the morning. I prefer the nighttime routine. I like leaving it on for 7-8 hours for maximum gray coverage, plus I'm asleep so it doesn't bother me. If I color my hair in the morning I spend the whole day praying no one rings the doorbell.
You want to buy body art quality (BAQ) henna. And if you have lots of gray you'll want something with a higher lawsone content. You can buy it at your local Indian grocery store or online. I have yet to see it for sale at a natural foods store anywhere in my area. Just make sure you're buying something with no additives. You want pure BAQ henna and that's it.
When you mix up your henna paste, you want it to be thick enough that it doesn't drip down your neck but not too thick where it won't spread easily. I like it to be like pudding or yogurt consistency. Just mix in your liquid a little at a time and when it is nice and smooth, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it for 6-12 hours. Don't use a metal spoon or bowl as I've heard that can cause a weird reaction depending upon the ingredients you used. I use a plastic mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.
If you mix up too much, save your leftovers! Just put it in a freezer bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze it for the next time.
How to Apply
Ok, this part gets messy. So does regular hair dye though. Just be prepared. Here's what I like to do:
- Gather your supplies: a comb with a rat tail for parting your hair, gloves, a shower cap, an old t-shirt to cover your head and keep in your body heat, a few hair clips. If you're only doing your roots, one of those paintbrush things from the beauty supply store is really helpful.
- Clear off your bathroom counter.
- Cover the whole counter with an old towel. I keep towels in the garage for this purpose. Put another on the floor.
- Get an old washcloth that you don't mind staining. Get it wet and leave it in the sink ready to use.
- Wear an old t-shirt.
- Comb all the tangles out of your hair. You can section it into 4 big sections and clip them off if you like. I don't bother when I'm doing only a root touch-up.
- Set your bowl of henna paste on the old towel-covered counter. Since I am only doing my roots today, I'm using leftover henna paste from last time. I just put it in a freezer bag, squeeze the air out, put it in another bag for good measure, and freeze it. Then you just thaw it on the counter for a few hours before you want to use it.
- For a full head application, start at your crown and finish off with the hair around your face. Here's a great video showing the technique.
- Wipe up drips as you go. Just keep that wet washcloth handy and wipe stains up off the floor/wall/mirror right away. Wipe your face and shoulders/arms off too. Henna stains so do this right away.
- Grab either a disposable plastic shower cap or a few long sheets of plastic wrap. Cover your head and if you find your mix was too runny shove a few cotton balls along the edge where you might have dripping.
- Now wrap your head in either an old towel or an old t-shirt. Do it like this:
Your hair will be inside a shower cap at this point though, not loose. This is how I always dry my hair when I get out of the shower though. No terrycloth = no frizz. Yay!
- The t-shirt or towel keeps your body heat in and helps the color develop. Leave on at least four hours. I've left it on for only three before and my gray roots usually aren't dark enough. If you do this at night, now just throw an old towel over your pillow and go to bed.
- When you're ready to rinse it out, don't use shampoo. I rinse with just water until it runs clear and then use conditioner. The color takes 48 hours to fully develop so you cannot wash your hair for a few days after coloring. NOTE: if you follow the No Poo method, henna counts as a wash as it is sebum removing so factor this into your wash schedule.
- My favorite way to rinse is to fill the bathtub about half full and lie down. Soak your hair in the water and swish it side to side. Loosen it up around your scalp and massage a bit. Then drain the water and turn on the shower to finish rinsing. This makes the least amount of mess in the shower and requires the least amount of clean up after. *Try rinsing under the shower once without soaking in the tub first and you'll see what I'm talking about!*
You will probably end up with an orange ring around your face. I haven't really found a way around this. If I'm so careful that I don't get any henna on my skin, then I don't get good coverage at my roots and I have to color my roots again in a week. So I apply it very liberally to my hairline, wipe off any excess, and just plan to wear my hair in a deep side part to camouflage any orange on my forehead!
Applying to my roots
Here's how it looks when it's on. You want it to be fairly thick. Just smear it in there and don't worry if you get it on your scalp. It doesn't burn and there's no danger of it touching your scalp so smoosh it down in there.
All done! See how my skin is already turning orange at my hairline? That's after the 15 minutes it took to apply. Wipe off as much of that as you can without removing any from your hair.
Wipe, wipe, wipe
Cover with a shower cap and a t-shirt. Now hang out for 4-8 hours looking fabulous.
That's it, you're done! As I said before you can do this as often as you want since it's not damaging to your hair. Repeated applications to your entire head will make the color a bit darker each time so keep that in mind. Once it's too dark you can't lighten it up again with henna, so you might want to only do your roots on a regular basis and do your entire head every couple of months just to refresh the color. I do my whole head each time I try a different brand of henna so that my color will be consistent. I don't want my roots to be a totally different color than the rest of my hair, and since each brand of henna is slightly different based on where the henna was grown, the climate where it was grown, and the lawsone content that is something to consider.
Your hair may be more orange than red if you're starting with a lighter color. Once your hair is dry, color it again! You can do back to back applications until you get your desired color.
Where to BuyI have personally used henna from Mehandi and The Henna Guys. While both were good, the Twilight from Mehandi gave me a deeper red with superior gray coverage. The Henna Guys is available on Amazon with Prime shipping though, so you can have it in two days. Love me some Prime shipping!
Henna is available at many Indian grocery stores as well and it's quite a bit less expensive than buying online (so I'm told) but I haven't gone that route yet.
How Much to UseHow much you will need depends on the thickness and length of your hair. When I buy 300 grams I'm usually able to get one whole head application and 2-4 root touch ups. I have thick, shoulder length hair.
Short to above the shoulders: 50-75 grams
Shoulder length: 100-125 grams
Bra strap length or mid-back: 150-175 grams
Lower back (above hips): 200 to 225 grams
Hip/Waist length: 250 to 300 grams
I used 150 grams the first time I ever used henna and did my whole head. I ran out halfway through the process and had to hurry up and mix up more! So err on the side of caution - you can always freeze the henna mixture that you have left over.
Have you tried henna? Do you like it? I've been using henna for four months now and I am a convert.