Friday, May 17, 2013

Henna is magic!

It truly is. How else can one go from this:
Pre-henna blondishness
Happy henna head!

To this?

And all without harsh chemicals, highly allergenic ingredients, fumes, or stripping your hair. In fact, it'll strengthen and repair it! 

Wanna make some magic of your own?

First, a little bit of background:

Henna saved my butt, a few years ago. I'd been trying to grow my hair out, and had been using a popular brand of "box" dye from one of the Big 3 hair dye manufacturers. Three major things were going wrong- one, it was stripping the heck out of my hair- it was so unhealthy, and kept breaking and splitting. Two, the color wouldn't stay on- I was using a red, and it would go all brassy and fadey in a week or less, thus necessitating MORE dyeing! It looked terrible- it was a patchy purple/orange mess. And three, the scariest and most dangerous part...I had become allergic to the hair dyes. 

You know those little fine-print warnings about patch and strand-testing on hair dye boxes, and in the instructions? There's a very, very important reason for those. If you develop an allergy to the PPD's in the dye, it can kill you. It's an extremely unattractive death. And the worst part is, it can happen all of a sudden. You may never have had a reaction to the stuff before, but then, BANG- you've got a new allergy! And once you're allergic, you stay that way. It's like bee stings- you may be allergic, but you don't know until you get stung. Then, once you find that you are, you'll have increasingly violent reactions to bee stings. You'll never not be allergic again...and you can't predict how badly you'll react to the next exposure. The next time could very well be your last time, if you get my drift. This is why the manufacturers are so very, very careful to tell you to take a patch and strand test every single time you dye your hair. It's not that they're concerned with how the color of your hair is going to turn out. It's a way to avoid litigation, if you should be injured or killed by their product. They're well aware of the risks. I wasn't. And each time I dyed my hair, my reactions were getting worse. So I looked up "reaction to hair dye", thinking this was just one of those freaky things... and was absolutely terrified by what I found. And appalled at how common it was! So I kept searching, and tried keywording "alternatives to hair dye", and found something incredible: The Henna Page's Henna For Hair. They have recipes for creating any haircolor you like, without resorting to The Box ever again. It changed my world. It led to learning all kinds of neato new skills, and meeting all kinds of neato people, too. The Henna Page is every kind of awesome. I'm an INCHA Certified Natural Henna Artist, and happy to say that I will never need to use an artificial dye again, for haircolor or body art! 

(By the way, if you're curious about how bad PPD reactions to commercial hair dye can be, have a look at Henna For Hair's PPD Chemical Hair Dye Allergy page. If you have a strong stomach, and would like more information about PPD reactions to "black henna" tattoos, go to the Henna Page's Warnings: PPD Black Henna page. I guarantee that you will never consider a "black henna" tattoo ever. And I'll bet that you'll think twice before crackin' that box of Clairol, too. Beauty is not worth a trip to the hospital, or permanently ruined health. Ever.)

So anyway, I read about how great henna was, started talking to people online about it, asking questions, and everyone who actually uses the stuff swore up and down that it was the most amazing substance on earth. (Well, close to it, anyway.) I was promised that henna would totally repair my damaged locks, give me a heavenly shade of red that wouldn't fade out, and wouldn't make my scalp disintegrate or make my head and face swell up. Now, me, I'm a natural skeptic, and such promises sounded too good to be true. But I was desperate, with my shredded, discolored hair and damaged I tried it.

And it worked. It did everything they said it would do. EVERYTHING. No kidding, it was miraculous. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. It didn't. The color didn't fade, the damage was practically erased, and best of all, there was no allergic reaction!

Now, I will be perfectly honest with you- there is one downside. Henna really doesn't fade, and it doesn't remove easily, so if you're a "temporary color" kind of gal, it might not be worth it for you. Once you've henna'd, you're gonna be a redhead for awhile. But, you can color up or down gradually, by "glossing"- more on that later. Unlike "box" dyes, henna goes to the core of each hair, and colors from within, which is why it looks so glowy and shiny. "Box" dye first strips the hair of its natural color, then puts down a layer of new color on the outside of the hair shaft, which is why it fades so easily. The stripping of the natural color is what damages the hair. Even with the conditioners that most of them come with, "box" dyes strip and damage hair with every use- henna doesn't strip anything, and it conditions your hair like crazy.

Ready to give henna a try? I thought so! You can purchase excellent-quality henna from, but the henna used in this tutorial is from From Nature With Love.  It's not really body-art quality, as it's not quite as fine-sifted as the more expensive stuff, but it's definitely got great "stain"- it colors strongly, and works just dandy for haircoloring. If you buy it in bulk, store it in your deep-freeze- it seems to keep forever that way! Here we go!
You will need:
Natural Henna Powder

~ a mixing bowl
~ whisk
~ small airtight plastic container
~ measuring cups
~ a warm spot to develop your henna paste
~ plastic wrap, or other covering for your head
~ rags or paper towels to wipe up spills and drips
~ a shirt or top that you're not worried about staining
~ condiment squirt bottle, as is used for ketchup (optional)
~ gloves (optional- you'll see why!)
~ Q-tips (optional)

My Henna Recipe for Hair

1/2 c. lemon or lime juice
1/4 - 1/2 c. water
1/3 c. natural henna powder, plus more to correct texture (if needed)

Make your paste the day before you plan to dye your hair. Mix the citrus juice and 1/4 c. water in the bowl, and add henna powder. Whisk thoroughly to blend. It will be clumpy- don't fret, that will ease up later, after the developing period. You're also going to be surprised by how much it thickens up, after a minute or so- add water as needed to make a cake-batter-like consistency. When it becomes relatively smooth, like the picture above, scoop your henna into an airtight container, and put it in a warm place to rest.

Fresh henna paste looks a lot like split pea soup.

The top of your 'fridge is a great spot to keep it warm and happy. 
                                                      Let your henna bask in the warmth for 12-24 hours.

And gets weird!

My batch of henna developed for about 20 hours. How can you tell that it's ready? Well, if it looks kinda grody, that's a good clue. No, really, it's supposed to look like that! 
That dark, weird-looking liquid shows that it's going to work. It's part of the magic!

Give it a stir, to smooth it out, and check the consistency. If it's become too thin, add a little henna powder to thicken it up again. Thin with water if it's gotten too glunky and thick.

That's the texture you're looking for, right there!

If you want to be absolutely sure that it's ready, do the Blop Test.  


If you put a blop of it on your finger, and it does this in under 30 seconds, it's ready!

BTW, "blop" is a well-known technical term. Really.
Now, get ready to get GLOOPY!

This was my hair, pre-henna.
 Blonde-ish. Brown-ish. Bland.


Let's fix that.

 First, glove up, and pour your henna into a condiment bottle, if you're using one. They make great applicators for herbal dyeing, and you can often find them at the dollar store.

In order to get a matched look, I started with my eyebrows. (That's one of the nifty things about henna, by the way- you CAN do your eyebrows!) 

Carefully, using a q-tip, I paint a layer of henna over my eyebrows, trying very, very hard to keep it just on the eyebrow area. (Remember the Blop Test? Yeah, it'll stain facial skin, too! On the plus side, it will come off of your face and hairline a lot faster than it does from your hands.)

 Now it's time to start in on your hair. Grab that condiment bottle of green goo, and get gloppy!

You really want to smook the stuff in, and cover every bit of hair. You don't have to worry about this burning your scalp- it's quite cooling, actually- so feel free to get those roots good!

While I was at it, I did my eyebrows again- henna only works while it's wet, so layering it to keep it moist is a MUST. 

Then it was off to the kitchen for a layer of plastic wrap. Thing One, who took these pictures, suggested that I use tinfoil, for that "deflecting the space rays" look. 
I'm not afraid of the space rays.

Stick with the plastic. Trust me, it's more effective for keeping the moisture in, and lets the henna do its job.

Remember the gloves that I mentioned? I don't tend to use 'em, because I prefer to be able to feel where the henna's going. However, be aware that this will happen:

It'll wear off in a couple of days. It'll also change color over time. (Part of the magic, that!)

I left the henna on for a little over half an hour, but you can literally leave it on overnight, if you'd like. In the meantime, I packed up the remainder of the henna paste, to freeze for the next time. One batch is enough for my short hair, for 2-3 dyeings. And I use a LOT of henna, when I do mine!

These are approximately 1 oz. portions of henna. I packed them to use for glosses, which I mentioned before. Let me tell you about that.

If you don't want to make an extreme change, or aren't absolutely sure that you want to stick with red once you've dyed it, you can make a gloss. Basically, you take a smaller amount of henna paste, and mix it with some conditioner- any kind will do. Put that on your hair, as a conditioning and coloring treatment- it will be much less intense. You can also do this to while gradually growing out colored hair- each successive glossing can be done for shorter periods of time, allowing the roots to grow out with less and less color. Glossing's also great for a quick touch-up or brightener for your color- a nice little boost! And it will condition the heck out of it, too. Henna, by itself, is a terrific conditioning treatment!

OK, so then it was time to wash it out. When my hair was longer, I would fill a baby bathtub with warm water, and mostly dunk my head in it, shaking my hair out under the water to loosen the henna. Then I'd work a little conditioner into it, let it set for a minute, and rinse my hair out with clean water, until all of the henna was cleared out. 

Heh-heh. Short hair's sooo much simpler. A rinse was all that was needed. No conditioner, no nothin'.

Now for the magic part!

Freshly henna'd hair in sunlight- this is henna magic!

THAT is what freshly-henna'd hair looks like!

Those crazy-shiny highlights? 

The ultra-conditioned hair?

All part of the package!
What's that? It looks a little coppery? 

No worries! 

The other part of the magic: henna continues to oxidize, and change color over the next few days. You'll still have shiny highlights, but the bright-new-penny look does tone down a bit. And because you can do your eyebrows, too?

It comes off looking a lot more natural than you'd expect.

It really does have magical properties!

You can learn much, much more about henna at The Henna Page. They're the single best resource in the world for learning about henna and mehendi. The folks on the Forums are friendly, and the Q&A is incredibly comprehensive. If you ever want henna body art done, I would highly recommend that you look for an INCHA Certified Natural Henna Artist to do it- one, they'll never use an adulterated paste on you, and two, they had to really learn their stuff to achieve certification. (Trust me, that test is a killer! I'm no slouch, and I had to study HARD to pass!) You can look up your local Artist by country, state, or name here.

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial! I also hope that, if you do dye your hair, you'll seriously consider using henna or other natural dyes to do it- there's a ton of info at Henna For Hair, for all kinds of shades- not just red. The health risks involved with commercial dyes can be pretty serious, and coloring should be about fun- not visits to the ER! If you have any questions at all, feel free to contact me- I'm always happy to help.

Have a great weekend, all!


  1. HI there! I clicked on your name from a comment somewhere... anyways, I have short hair just like you and I have been thinking of doing henna for a while now. For ten years or so I would dye my hair with store bought stuff and have the dizziness and headaches and burning of the scalp, but I just ignored it because I hated my natural hair color. so ridiculous I know. But now I really want to try henna, but it seemed so messy. You made it look so simple. Is it because your hair is so short that it makes it less messy? I want to try, thanks for the info!!!

  2. Ooo...yeah, you probably shouldn't use "box" dyes again! Using any dye is easier with short hair, I think- but one of the advantages with henna is that you can completely control the texture of your dye. I've ruined more shirts (and other things) with "box" dyes than I ever have with the henna paste, thanks to being able to thicken it as needed. (BTW, you can use food thickeners, too, if you need a "quick fix"- that's the beauty of herbal hair color!) Have fun with it- henna's wonderful stuff! Have a great weekend, and if you have any questions, etc., give a holler! :)

  3. I love this!!...that color is so flattering to you, Miss Heather. You mentioned other colors are possible, red tones only? I keep my hair dark, well..a soft black. Is that possible with Henna because I know nothing about the whats and whys, other than what I just read from you. Thanks for all the info! : D

    1. No, actually, you can do all KINDS of colors using herbal stuff! Go to , and - you can use indigo to get black, and still get the conditioning benefits of henna (because you use it as well to get the correct shade. And bonus- your "drip" towels will be stained denim blue! LOL


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