What is henna?
Lawsonia inermis, popularly known as Henna or Hina, is a blooming, evergreen shrub. Typically, the powdered version is mixed into a paste and applied to the hair or skin. Lawsone, a chemical that attaches to proteins to colour hair, textiles, and even skin, is found in henna. It has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties as well.
Henna dye is traditionally made by drying the leaves and then combining them with tannic liquids such as coffee or tea to boost its staining ability. Despite the fact that most people link henna with India since it is an important part of ethnic weddings, henna for cosmetic reasons originated in Egypt.
Henna was first employed around 1200 BC when it was used to colour the hair and nails of Egyptian pharaohs. Cleopatra herself is supposed to have used henna to beautify her body. Mehndi (the art of applying henna to the body) has long been thought to bring good luck and love, as well as protect the person from all harm.
Henna comes in 3 different types:
- Natural henna - Natural henna is a pure kind of henna that leaves a deep brown stain that darkens with time. It's often referred to as red henna and is commonly used to colour hair.
- Neutral henna - This kind of henna has no effect on the hair's colour and the powder comes from a plant named Senna italica, not from the Henna plant. When individuals wish to condition their hair naturally without dyeing it, they use this instead of natural henna.
- Black henna - It's made from indigo plants and may contain unlisted colours and compounds like PPD (para-phenylenediamine), which can cause serious allergic responses and permanent scars if worn for more than 2-3 days. Instead of using black henna powder, use pure indigo powder blended with henna powder to avoid any risk.
Is henna a good or a bad idea for your hair?
Henna, like many other natural ingredients, has its own list of pros and cons. Completely organic henna is usually safe to be used by adults and does not contain too many side effects. But, if you’re not careful in selecting the right quality, you may end up damaging your hair.
- Improves hair health - 100% organic henna improves your hair health in a number of ways like improving its shine, making it soft and conditioned and even strengthening your hair from the roots. Due to being rich in a component called tannins, henna can also prevent premature greying of hair.
- Good for your scalp - Henna can also improve your scalp health by reducing its oiliness. Due to the antimicrobial and antifungal properties of henna, it can also soothe your scalp and control itchiness.
- Helps prevent dandruff - Henna can work to reduce dandruff by removing excess grease and dirt from your scalp. Also, since it conditions your scalp, it prevents flakiness which can lead to dandruff.
- The permanence of the colour - Henna can produce a deep auburn colour that can last longer than some chemical dyes. After 4-6 weeks, you may notice the colour fading, but it never goes away completely.
- A cheaper alternative - Henna is completely natural and, depending on the brand, is often more pocket friendly than its chemical counterparts.
- Time-consuming - Usually, you need to prepare the henna paste before you can apply it to your hair. It needs to soak overnight prior to being ready for application. Furthermore, after you manage to work with the muddy consistency of the paste, you need to let it sit for 1-6 hours depending on the vibrance you want. So, the entire dyeing process can become time-consuming.
- Reacts with bleach - Unless you’re using 100% organic henna, it can react with bleach and cause your hair to smoke and become stretchy or brittle. Also, even if you use natural henna, the bleach may actually end up darkening your hair instead of lightening it. So, achieving lighter shades can get very tricky after you’ve used henna on your hair.
- Low quality may damage your hair - Low-quality henna may have added chemicals to it which can end up damaging your hair, making it dry or fall out. Further, low-quality henna may make your hair weak and dry.
- No variety in terms of colour - Henna can produce only one shade which varies from orange to auburn. So, if you’re looking for variety, henna may not appeal to you.
- May cause an allergic reaction - Sometimes, a chemical called PPD can be found in some types of henna - like black henna. This chemical can cause allergic reactions when it comes in contact with your skin. Other times, you may be allergic to henna yourself and develop signs of allergy like redness, swelling, dermatitis or itchiness.
How do you apply henna to your hair?
Henna can simply be mixed with tea or coffee water or other ingredients like curd, eggs or lemons can be added to make a hair mask. The application process is fairly simple, even though it can get messy.
- Prepare the paste - Prepare the henna paste by mixing it with tea or coffee water till there are no clumps. You can also add eggs, curd and oils to it for extra nourishment. Leave the paste overnight.
- Apply the henna - After washing your hair with a mild shampoo and leaving it unconditioned afterwards, apply it to your entire hair in sections. Then, wrap your hair in a shower cap to keep the henna warm and moist to improve colour payoff.
- Leave it on - Depending on the richness of the shade you want, leave the henna on your hair anywhere between 1-6 hours. 2 hours is considered the best option as this is enough time to dye the hair without causing it to become overly dry.
- Wash it off - To remove the henna from your hair afterwards, wash your head in lukewarm water to remove all traces of henna. You can choose to oil your hair after drying it if you like.
- Aftercare - To make the colour develop even better, shampoo and condition your hair after a day or two. This also makes your hair softer as a result.