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FEATURES Jul 2 2012 9:58PM

How To Color Without Chemicals: A Quick Guide to Henna-ing Your Hair

by Shirley Kali Johnson, Soulistic Wellness

The first time I dyed my hair I was 16 and traveling abroad with a bunch of other American teens.  Fascinated with Lil’ Kim’s blond hair, a friend and me bought a box of hair dye that had a woman with blond hair on the front and experimented with my hair one afternoon. What I learned from that experience was:  1) the hair color on the box is not guaranteed and 2) hair dying processes can be very damaging to the hair and to hair growth.
I came across henna when I was in college, studying abroad in Italy. I bought a few cups worth and was instructed by the owner of the small natural apothecary, from which I bought it, to mix it with black tea and a few drops of olive oil. It seemed like it could be a fun do-it-yourself project. When I finally applied the henna a few weeks later, I noticed a thickness and voluminous quality to my hair. I was surprised by the tangible difference.

Henna is a plant that is known for its abilities in dying hair, skin and nails as well as fabric. For thousands of years, the henna plant has been used by people of the areas where this it has naturally grown—Africa, Australia, the Middle East and South Asia—as a way to decorate oneself and one’s surroundings.  Today, henna is popularly used for temporary skin body art and as a natural hair dye and conditioning agent. 

Henna will usually provide a red/orange-hued color to the hair. Depending on your natural hair color, the amount of time you leave the henna on your hair, and the origin of the henna that you use, the color can range. Henna is all natural and non-damaging to the hair shaft. In fact, henna penetrates the hair shaft and smoothes the hair cuticle, which makes hair thicker and less prone to breakage. Unlike other hair dyes that contain chemicals that dry out the scalp and sometimes strip the hair cuticle, henna  bonds to the keratin in the hair and creates more shine and smoothness. 

Henna is a perfect complement to a natural girl’s hair routine or to someone who wants to limit the amount of chemicals they use. 

Here is a how-to henna guide at home:
1)     Choose your henna wisely. You may find yourself inundated with the amounts of henna on the market. Anything labeled “neutral henna” or “black henna” is not technically henna. It is another plant. Look for lines that are pure henna and 100% natural or Body Art Quality (BAQ).

2)     Mixing it up. The henna will be in a powder form, and should have instructions on how to mix it.  You should follow the directions included with the henna. But you will want to create a consistency with the henna that will be similar to the consistency of cake batter or yogurt.  Simply mix the henna powder with warm water and 1 tbsp of lemon juice or black tea. You will want to use ALL-metallic spoons and bowls, as the henna can potentially tarnish them. You can also add in 1 egg or a 2 tbsps of olive oil to the henna mix if hair is dry or damaged.

3)     Let it sit. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit. Some henna instructions call for the mixture to sit for a few hours—follow directions and plan accordingly.

4)     Get ready. Once the henna mixture is ready, you will want to test a few steps before applying henna to hair:

·       Because the color result will vary from person to person, you will probably want to perform a test on some hair before you henna your whole head. The beauty of henna is that it is not permanent, but you will probably want to know what you are getting. Mix some of the henna paste with some hair from a hairbrush or strand and leave for 2-4 hours to make sure you like it.

·       Make sure you have plastic gloves to use on your hands to avoid skin discoloration. Wear an old shirt and make sure you have some old towels or fabric around.

·       Perform a patch test on your skin to make sure you are not allergic or too sensitive to the henna mix. Even though it is all natural, the body can still be resistant to it.

·       Hair should be washed and very clean. Make sure you scrub well, especially if you use many styling products. Henna can be applied onto dry or wet hair, but I have noticed better results when my hair was dry.

·       Apply Vaseline or natural oil around the hairline to prevent any henna that touches the skin from staining the skin.

5)     Apply to Hair. Starting from the scalp, apply henna evenly from roots of the hair to the ends, covering sections of the hair thoroughly. Before applying, you will probably want to part your hair in a few sections for best and even results.

6)     Let it sit. The longer you allow the henna to stay on hair, the deeper the color and henna treatment. You can sit under a dryer to intensify the process, or just cover the hair with a plastic bag or shower cap for 3-4 hours.

7)     Ready! It’s time to rinse the hair. Rinse thoroughly with cool water until the henna is all dissolved and the water runs clear. Apply a conditioner in order to help the henna to come out and to add conditioning to the hair. Note: This may be messy, so make sure you are careful.

8)     Deep condition.  Apply a deep conditioner of your choice to the hair. If available, sit under a dryer for the next 15-20 minutes with a plastic bag or shower cap over your head. Rinse out conditioner and style as usual!

9)     Enjoy yourself!  Look in the mirror and enjoy your lovely tresses! Note: The color will take about two days to fully reveal itself!


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