I love being a redhead, I’ve loved it since I was 13 and dyed my hair for the first time, and I still love it-10 years later. Not to say I’ve solely been a redhead for the past decade, oh no no … I enjoy change way too much for that. My natural hair color is a kind of dirty blonde and over the years my hair has been a canvas for all shades of brunette, red, blonde and even some “stranger” palettes (I mean, I had pink hair for my wedding … it’s been a wild ride). No matter what color held my fancy for a phase or two, I somehow always revert back to all the possible hues of red, mostly cause it goes great with my skin tone and I like the red-hair green-eye contrast.
Now all that sounds great and is completely true (cross my heart), but the most important reason I go back to red is because when I do, I dye my hair using henna. This awesome natural plant makes my hair thick, shiny, healthy, and helps me heal my poor hair after all the torture I put it through (bleach, dye, heat, etc.) as well as doing wonders for my scalp (y’all with dry skin will understand). My hair is generally straight-ish, I have a lot of it (seriously, a LOT), but each strand is pretty thin, making my hair that perfect setting for a bird’s nest if I sleep with it untied. One thing that really helped me achieve better thickness and avoid this problem has actually been using henna. In the past ten years, whenever my hair was shiniest, healthiest and thickest was when I was dying it with this plant. Given that I get many questions on what it is, how to mix it and apply it and how it works … I’ve decided to write a longer, more detailed blog post.
So, what is henna?
Henna is a natural dye made from a plant, it can be used for body art (non-permanent tattoos) and as a hair dye (permanent).
In terms of hair dye it comes as a fine powder (greenish brown), and can be mixed in various ways. It’s a great alternative to chemical dyes and also really strengthens the hair and gives it extra shine.
One important thing I have to stress here is that henna will ALWAYS dye your hair reddish, so if you come across a package or product saying no-color henna or blond henna … steer clear, who know what the heck that is. If you see videos of women dying their hair black with henna, that’s henna mixed with indigo, which is also pretty cool.
Why dye your hair with henna?
Dying your hair with henna properly is a lengthy process and most people don’t have the time or energy for it, especially when you can just buy a box of dye in the drug store or pay a professional to effortlessly dye your hair. So here are the pros and why I personally do it:
- Cause it’s freakin’ awesome for your hair.
Okay, Okay … I’ll elaborate:
- Henna is all natural, meaning there are no chemicals such as ammonia, peroxide, etc. which are harmful for your hair and skin
- It makes hair stronger by creating a “film” around each strand that protects your hair and makes it extra shine (more and more so with every use)
- This same film gradually makes each strand thicker, making your hair fuller and more lush (as well as strengthening the hair root, making it fall out less)
- It nourishes the hair really well so it works both as a dye and as a hair treatment/mask in one
- Cleans and nourishes your scalp keeping dandruff and itchiness away
Now it wouldn’t be fair to just write the pros so here are the cons:
- You don’t have a guarantee of the exact shade you’re gonna get, it depends on the mixture and the base hair color you already have (just like with chemical dyes)
- It’s a lengthy and often messy process
- It can be difficult to remove the red shade from your hair later on (but doable, trust me)
Now, back to explaining the how:
Dying my hair this way has never been something new or “trendy” in our family. My mother used to dye her hair with henna, my sisters as well, and even my grandmothers. It’s always been this staple in our household, made easier by the fact that I was born and grew up in Egypt, and we could always buy high quality, natural henna really cheap.
Seeing as the whole process of preparing this “concoction” has been passed down from mother to daughter, I perfected my base recipe a long time ago, and then discovered the internet for extra awesome tips and tricks to make it better and easier. Now I’m gonna share with my process from start to finish. Keep in mind that everyone does things differently and that you can find a bunch of recipes online, some of them may work better for you … this is simply 10 years of experience through trial and error (the only way I learn really).
You’re gonna start off with the henna powder, it should be greenish brown (I’ve noticed that beige powders aren’t of good quality), and the smell is kinda earthy and herbal. I get mine directly from Egypt, but you can find pretty good options in stores and even better online. Depending on your hair length your gonna put the henna powder in pot (I put about 1,5 or 2 smaller cups for my shoulder length). If you’re worried about not making enough, I would encourage you to add a bit more than less since you can always stack on the excess (I mean it’s great for your hair), while making a new batch if you didn’t make enough on the first try is just annoying.
Now goes the fun mixing part… my routine is pretty simple: mixing the henna powder with a bit of oil, tea and cinnamon on really, really, low heat (the lowest possible)
So let’s break that down:
Oils: generally you can use any oil that’s good for your hair, it’s used to add some extra protection and nourishment for your hair and you don’t need to put too much of it, as the tea will be added to make the mixture paste-like. I personally enjoy using a blend of coconut and almond oil, but as I said, this is a matter of personal preference. Most people I know tend to mix it with olive oil and love the results, but my scalp doesn’t really like olive oil (funnily enough it dries it out), so I played around until I found what works best. When it comes to amounts I would say I put a tablespoon of each oil into the powder and then later decide if more is needed.
Tea: Now this is my favorite part. People are always confused on what role the tea plays in dying your hair with henna, and some would say-the most important one!
Depending on the tea you use you can play around with the shade of red you’re gonna get. Chamomile tea is great for carrot/ginger, hibiscus or cranberry for a richer red and black tea for a darker shade (or really dark coffee). I make a huge mug of really strong hibiscus, mixed with black tea (about 6-8 bags all in one big mug) and add bit by bit until I get a thick paste that easily “spreadable” throughout my hair (you don’t have to use the whole mug). It’s important to note that the base color of your hair is crucial to the red color you’re gonna get since it’s definitely not the same if you’re dying blonde vs. black hair (also, the more you use henna the more the color stacks up so the shades get richer with time).
At this point I tend to add a little cinnamon for the smell and because it increases blood flow in the scalp, which is always a good thing. I’ll stir all of the ingredients together on the lowest heat possible for a maximum of two minutes (just so everything becomes homogeneous, but no longer than that, otherwise you ruin the awesome stuff it does to your hair).
Now … you can use it right away, but I prefer to leave it for a couple of hours (or overnight) to oxidize (and generally to cool down from the warm tea and heat). Sometimes when it cools, it can get a bit hard so I just add a splash of milk so it becomes really creamy and easy to apply. When the mixture is done I just section my hair, apply heavily, wrap it up in cellophane and a shower cap and leave it on for as long as possible (I leave mine for about four hours, or if I’m going hardcore, overnight).
*protip: if you have really dry hair or it’s hard for you to section your hair and spread the mixture, you can dampen your hair prior to dying or add some oil to make the mixture spread more easily*
Wash it out with loads of warm water (no need for shampoo, it honestly just dries everything and makes it harder to wash out), and then generously apply conditioner/hair mask cause it clears out residual bits of the henna mixture perfectly.
*Another pro tip: If your hair is really damaged and/or dry, you can add one egg to the mixture (after it cools down) and then apply to your hair. It doesn’t sound appealing, but it gives your hair a really great extra kick and shine. I use the egg tip from time to time, but only when my hair is really desperate*
So that’s it … that’s my routine. I generally dye my hair every four weeks or when I notice my roots are coming in. I cannot begin to explain how many times henna has saved my hair … plus since it’s all natural I don’t have to worry about it being safe for my pregnancy. If you try it out please let me know and if you have any questions at all, feel free to contact me, I’d love to help.