For many people, dying their hair is a straight-forward process. You either purchase box dye from the drugstore and color your hair at home, or you go to a salon to get it professionally done. Both are solid options, but there's another way to give your hair a refresh — henna.
Henna has been used for over five thousand years, with roots tracing back to the Middle East and Egypt. That said, the way henna has been used has evolved over time, as have the formulations. But it's long been known to give hair shine and vibrant color.
Here, we tapped two henna experts to explain everything there is to know about henna and using it on your hair. From the expectations you should set and what hair types it works best on, to how to prevent henna from staining your skin during the dying process, here's everything they have to say.
What Is Henna?
Let's begin with the basics. Khadija Dawn Carryl, founder and CEO of Henna Sooq, explains that henna comes from the henna plant, which is commonly found in parts of Africa, India, Pakistan, Yemen, and most of the Middle East. Its leaves are used to naturally dye the hair and skin, which is why it's a common ingredient in certain hair dyes and temporary tattoos.
For hair, Lush's co-founder Rowena Bird explains that henna varnishes the hair rather than penetrating the cuticle, which gives it a gloss of shine and demi-permanent color.
What Are the Main Differences Between Henna Hair Dye and Traditional Hair Dye?
In short: The hair dye you're used to penetrates the shaft, whereas henna dye coats the strands. "With natural henna, the cuticle remains intact, with the henna varnishing over the top," explains Bird. "With synthetic hair dye, the cuticle is opened up and chemicals alter the pigmentation within the cortex of the hair, permanently changing the color."
Carryl adds that another huge difference is that henna doesn't lift the natural hair color, but rather, it deposits onto the hair and colors it naturally.
While conventional hair dye works on all hair types, it can be too harsh for people with sensitive scalps and certain allergies. Carryl says that henna prevents any type of irritation or negative health side effects, and adds that it's an effective alternative for those looking for natural dyes.
Does Henna Hair Dye Show Up On All Hair Shades?
"Henna can dye all hair types and shades, but the end color really does depend on the person's natural hair color and whether or not they have any grays," says Carryl. "Those with grays and lighter shades of hair will get vibrant orange-red tones, while those with brown and black hair tones will get less of a red pop in color."
One thing Bird says to note is that if you plan to do a synthetic process in the first couple of weeks after henna, the synthetic process will open up the cuticle, pushing henna inside and chemically altering it with unpredictable results. "If you plan to do any synthetic processes, do them first and henna afterward," she says.
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Are There Any Side Effects?
Both Bird and Carryl say that the biggest thing to be wary of is how much henna can stain. However, there's lots that can be done to prevent staining your skin and clothes. Bird suggests wearing gloves and old T-shirt, and says that applying a balm-like ointment around the ears and hairline will help prevent skin staining. You may also want to have paper towels and dark-colored towels at hand to quickly wipe away any accidental drips.
Another potential side effect could be over-dry hair. Carryl explains that henna has a lot of protein in it, so if your hair receives too much protein it could become dry. This is typically an issue if someone already uses protein-rich treatments, such as certain hair masks.
How Long Does Henna Hair Dye Last?
Depending on your hair's porosity, both experts say that henna dye lasts anywhere between four to six weeks. "The more porous, the longer it will last, and as it grows out, it will also fade nicely," says Bird. "Those who henna their hair regularly find that the color builds over time, creating a more vibrant and longer-lasting color with each application."
What's the Best Way to Dye Your Hair With Henna?
Most professional salons exclusively offer synthetic hair dyes, so if you're looking to try henna, you'll likely have to do it at home. Thankfully, both Lush and Henna Sooq offer henna dyes that are easy to use — just follow Bird and Carryl's tips below.
Prep your skin. As previously mentioned, henna can easily stain porous surfaces like the skin. To prevent accidents, apply an ointment around your hairline and ears to act as a barrier.
Mix the henna with hot water. To make the paste, place the henna powder or block in a bowl and add boiling water. Then, mix it until the henna releases it dye and it becomes a thick paste. Wait for it to cool.
Apply. Section off pre-washed and slightly damp hair into four sections. Then, take the paste and massage it into each section while wearing gloves.
Wait a few hours. Depending on the formula and your existing hair color, you may have to wait anywhere between two to four hours.
Wash it out. Use your regular shampoo, co-wash, and/or conditioner to rinse all the henna out — just steer clear of protein-heavy formulas to prevent damage.