Henna has been used for millennia for dying hair, skin, and natural fibers. What many do not know is that it is very beneficial to hair and skin health. Other than being excellent at covering up gray it also improves hair texture, growth, and condition. Here at the pros and cons of using henna as a hair dye.
The Benefits of Henna
Hair Strength – Henna coats the hair, binding with the hair shaft and filling in imperfections, damage, and split ends. It binds with the keratin to make each strand stronger and more resilient to damage through styling and environmental stresses.
Conditioning – When henna binds with the hair strand, it also locks in moisture and helps form a permeable layer which helps hair absorb conditioning oils, rather than leaving an oily residue.
Hair Feel – Since henna binds with the keratin instead of the pigments sticking to the strands, like commercial dyes do, it helps smooth out the cuticles on the hair strands. This not only makes hair stronger, but it makes hair smoother and silkier, thus helping to detangle hair. Hair is left more manageable and shinier. In fact, the longer henna is allowed to oxidize and cure between the dying process and the next time it’s washed, the smoother and stronger hair will become.
Rich Color – Henna is amazing at color coverage. Since it penetrates the hair strands at a molecular level and then seals itself in with plant resins, it covers gray hair more deeply and the hair color lasts longer than commercial chemical hair dyes. This makes it a non-fading hair color that works better at gray coverage. In fact, henna deepens in color and richness over time, and each application after that serves to only deepen the color of previously henna dyed hair. It does its job so well that chemical hair dyes are generally not able to color over henna, nor are color-strippers able remove it.
Henna is Chemical-Free – Henna also provides one amazing benefit which outweighs, by far, any cons. It is chemical free. Gone the heavy nose-burning chemicals that can burn the scalp and cause hair loss. The same chemicals that should come with warning labels for causing cancer, dementia, and a host of other ailments. Henna actually boosts hair growth and encourages healthy scalp, reducing or eliminating skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff.
Cost – Henna is far less expensive than even the cheapest chemical dyes on the market. Henna can be purchased at large volume for just $25 per box, or in small boxes at ethnic (Middle Eastern) markets and stores for just a dollar or two. Each of these boxes usually has enough henna for two to ten hair treatments, depending on hair length.
Cautions for Henna Use
Application Time – While chemical treatments take just 20 minutes, henna needs to set in the hair for three to 12 hours while hair is wrapped in a shower cap and towel. Basically, it is a monthly deep conditioning treatment left for an afternoon or evening at home.
Application Process – The first few times henna is applied to the hair by the inexperienced, it can be a huge mess. Henna dyes everything it touches and is akin to slathering messy mud onto the head. While the smell is almost pleasant, like grass or something earthy, it makes some people nauseated (like my husband). The smell can be carefully covered up by adding cinnamon, coffee, or ginger (cinnamon works best and adds and the elements of bronze and deep brown to the hair, plus my husband loves the smell of cinnamon), it lingers on the hair, through every washing, for about a week. And it can linger on pillows and towels too.
Color Experiments – Unlike chemical dyes, getting the right color is a very personal and highly experimental process. Pure henna, without additives, is a deep red. Every other color on the market is a combination of other herbs and spices, like indigo. While the color selection varies from neutral (Cassia Obovata) to black (the application is followed up with indigo or indigo is added to the mix), it is not an exact science, and the resulting color has a lot to do with the condition of the hair, current hair products used, if hair was dyed with chemicals, or if henna was applied to the hair in the past. The color is also dependent upon the additives used to mix up the recipe. For instance, vinegar and lemon will lighten or brighten the color, turning reds to cherry or copper to orange, and coffee or cinnamon will deepen the color, adding browns and bronzes to the final result. Repeated applications, rather than roots only treatments, will make the hair color exponentially darker each time.
Hair Texture – Some other issues that might be undesirable is that henna may relax curls, especially perms, since it opens the cuticles and then smooths them out. Those with only slightly wavy hair will see the most effect, while those with kinky curly hair will see smoother, more defined curls.
Dryness – Henna is very much like a protein treatment in that if oils are not added to the mix or hair is not conditioned (or a hot oil treatment used) immediately after the treatment, hair will be course, dry, and unmanageable. Since henna does lock in moisture, a conditioning treatment immediately following the dyeing process will keep hair fully conditioned. (I simply add about ten drops of Dabur – Vatika hair oil to the henna mix prior to application. It contains henna, lemon, amla, coconut oils and smells yummy, which also covers up the earthy smell of the henna. My husband loves the smell of Vatika on my hair.)
Mehandi is Henna
Henna has been called Mehandi and used by women in eastern societies for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It has always been a symbol of high fashion and beauty among high society. In addition to its many benefits, it does improve the health of the hair and scalp, thus is is not just used to color hair, but also to treat skin and scalp conditions like dandruff and hair loss.