Warning…this is a long post.
I’m hoping this helps someone who has ever tried or thought about trying henna. Most blog posts and articles I’ve read about henna discuss the history, preparation of the henna paste and boasts about the great benefits…yada, yada. Unless you’re a lover of forums, very few discuss the possible hurdles and offer suggestions. That is my attempt with this post…to share my henna suffering and pain so someone can avoid it. If you’ve tried henna or henna on a regular basis with little issue, this is not the post for you. I offer some suggestions to those who have a head full of unruly, argumentative and difficult or nearly impossible to manage hair and considering henna.
First, a bit of background.
Ah Henna. I debated about blogging about henna as there are so many variables that can change your experience for the better or worse. For those unaware, henna powder is a dried, ground henna plant leaves that allows you to naturally and permanently dye or tint your hair red (or variations of red depending on your natural hair color and what you used to mix your henna). To release the Lawsone dye that is naturally found in the plant, you have to mix the henna powder with really warm water that is slightly acidic. Some people mix their henna with tea, coffee, coconut milk or a bit of lemon juice. Depending on what you use in your mixture and where you get your henna from, the dye release can take up to 24 hours. When the dye starts to release, it is applied to your hair where it finishes the dye release process over several hours and bonds to your natural strands. The benefits of henna: Stronger, thicker hair, a looser curl pattern, shine boost, reduces dandruff and split ends and of course the red dye/tint.
My henna treatment mix – Henna Sooq’s Red Raj Henna (green), Hibiscus powder (red-brown) and Aloe Vera powder (cream)
My henna mix after dye release. (Warm, strong hibiscus tea was used to boost the red.)
After a ten year break (and vowing never to touch it again), last summer, I started applying henna treatments to my hair. I realized I would slowly go bald if I continued to pull out my grays. A few fun facts – I have long (past mid-back), natural mostly 4b curly hair (some 4a and 3c)that is extremely thick. Not thick as in “oh your hair is nice and full”, it’s “oh…dear”. I keep my hair in two-strand twists. Every two weeks, I cleanse it while twisted, and individually detangle each twist and twist it back. I loathe, LOATHE taking it all down at once. My hair will tangle, knot up and become nearly matted if you look at it cross-eyed. So, deciding to do a henna treatment is a big commitment…a 12+ hour commitment. I did a lot of research before deciding to jump on the henna bandwagon again and corrected the mistakes I made the first go round.
Years ago, the four major problems I had were rinsing the henna out completely, detangling my matted hair, shedding and the terrible dry feeling henna left behind. When my gray hair desperation led me to looking into henna again, I realized the mistakes I made:
– First, I used way too much henna and not enough liquid. My hair was much shorter than it is now and I used 500g of product (300g of henna and 200g of cassia).
– I applied it on dry, unclean hair.
– I left the henna in my hair too long (8+ hours), which caused the henna to dry out in places.
Rinsing Out Henna
Being able to rinse the henna out cleanly was the first problem I had to solve before trying henna again. I started by switching the brand. When doing my research, Henna Sooq popped up quite a bit. The company offers several types of henna, but Red Raj is popular for its richer red color and ability to effectively dye the grays. Henna Sooq’s organic Red Raj is from the Rajasthan’s Region of India and is promoted to yield vibrant red tones and easily wash out. I can definitely say it rinses out and turns my grays into lovely red highlights. What also helped is decreasing the amount I used to 200-250g, applying henna on damp clean, lightly oiled hair. You can’t imagine my relief to find that Red Raj did rinsed out cleanly!!!! Cue the choir. Problem #1 solved.
Now, it is suggested that people do a deep conditioning treatment after hennaing. Unfortunately, I don’t have the extra time to add another layer of product-wait-rinse-detangle. My typical wash/condition routine involves adding my own mix of several conditioners, oils and butters to my hair before re-twisting. Using thick, creamy leave-in conditioners works for hair and I don’t get the dry feeling after henna treatments. I was previously using rinse-out conditioners when I henna’d years ago, and that simply wasn’t enough. Thankfully, this was an easy fix. I do have to use a lot more conditioner after a henna treatment as the henna that remains bonded to your hair will suck up moisture/conditioner like a dry sponge. So far, this has worked for my hair and the hair style I maintain. The dreaded henna dryness is gone!!!! Cue the choir. Problem #2 solved.
Good grief the shedding. I experienced tremendous shedding during the first few treatments since starting back. I’m used to seeing a fair amount of shed hair just by washing my hair every two weeks and maintaining twists. It doesn’t scare me, but hennaing kicked it up several notches and I had to figure out why. I learned that how you physically apply the henna can cause hairs to shed earlier than your scalp planned and take some friends along for the ride. Secondly, how you wrap your hair for the long wait time can cause your hair to be loosened at the root or pulled out. Henna paste is heavy. So, ANY tension you put on your hair while hennaing is multiplied by the weight of the powder and water. These changes that have helped me a ton:
– Don’t spread the henna paste by running your fingers down the length of your hair, especially if your hair is long. It didn’t seem like I was pulling my hair, but the act of continuously dragging my fingers down to smooth out the paste for coverage was causing problems. What I’ve found extremely helpful is squeezing the henna down the length of my hair.
– I’d tried several ways to contain my hair near the top of my head after application, so I can baggy and wrap my hair. All the ways I tried used some form of a hair clip. By clipping my heavy, henna’d hair at or near the top of my head was causing pulling to wherever the anchor point was. Now, I clip the clean hair and let the henna’d hair hang. It’s messier, especially around my neck and ears, but worth it.
– I’ve also read that French twisting your hair to get it contained at the top will also cause the same amount of stress to your roots.
– Some henna lovers suggest using a cheap conditioner to help clean your hair. I do this as well, but I avoid applying the conditioner to my scalp. It seems that aided in additional shedding.
I noticed an immediate improvement after making these adjustments. I was blown away during the rinsing process. I counted 5 hairs. FIVE!! I could’ve sewn a throw rug with the amount of hair I lost in prior treatments. Shedding? Gone!
Henna – Detangling
For my thick, curly hair, increased manipulation causes tangles, which creates knots that leads to breakage. That is why I maintain twists. I typically wash my hair while twisted and take them down to detangle and condition, one at time. I’ll put my twists in various styles, but it MUST stay contained. I took my twists out completely for the first henna treatment and regretted it to my core. Since then, I was trying various ways to do the henna treatments successfully, but keep my hair contained and maintain my twist part lines. (Parting my hair can take up to two hours alone depending on how tangled my hair is.) It took three tries for me to get it right.
What has worked for is cleansing my hair and detangle each twist, one at a time. I lightly oil my hair with hemp or grapeseed. I then re-twist the strands very loosely and clip the ends with a small clip, leaving a 2 or 3 inches free. (I do this the night before I henna.) When I style my hair, my twists are tight. A henna treatment on tight twists wouldn’t be effective, especially for covering gray hair. I found a very loose twist provides enough space to squeeze in henna for full henna coverage and rinse out completely. I do have to apply the henna slowly and check to ensure I’m getting to each strand.
My hair in loose twists before a henna treatment.
Keeping my part lines is a personal issue, but preventing my hair from getting too tangled is the primary goal. A very, very loose braid works as well if your hair is short and unfurls when using a loose twist. What is also important is not to add hair to the sections in the twist or braid as this invites tangles after the treatment is complete. During rinsing, I take the small clip out, one a time to ensure the henna is gone, but I don’t let the hair unfurl. Hallelujah! PROBLEM SOLVED.
My hair soaked in henna.
My Henna Recipe
200g-250g Henna Sooq Red Raj Henna
4-5 tablespoons of Hibiscus powder from Henna Sooq (for growth and red color boost)
2 tablespoons of Aloe Vera powder from Henna Sooq (adds moisture and slip)
Warm hibiscus tea with distilled water for dye release (I prefer the consistency of the henna paste to be similar to yogurt.)
3-4 tablespoons of oil (jojoba, hemp or olive for dryness and easy rinse)
Henna recipe options are endless depending on the color you want and other conditioning properties you want to enhance. Have fun experimenting.
– Use good quality, body art quality henna that is sifted well. Believe me, it’s not fun fishing tiny twigs out of your hair.
– Use a plastic or wood utensils to mix your henna.
– It helps me to mix the henna and liquid in small batches to for a smoother consistency.
– Line your floor with newspaper for easy clean up.
– Where an old shirt and/or a salon cape or a cheap poncho.
– Where latex or latex free gloves for application, rinsing AND styling (initially). I didn’t wear gloves to re-twist my hair and had orange hands and finger nails.
– Freeze left over henna.
– INVEST IN A HANDHELD SHOWER HEAD. Do I need to write this again in a bigger font? As stated before, henna paste is heavy, especially if your hair is long and you need a fair amount. Unless you’ve got some super strong neck muscles, you will be aching from holding your head under a faucet. Mine would hurt for days after. (The high pressure, massage function is fantastic at rinsing out henna.) Getting a hand held shower head changed my henna life.
– If your hair is long, wear it up or wear dark clothes until after your first wash. Also, add an extra layer to cover your pillow case. The henna is still going strong and bonding to your hair days after and will stain clothes.
– Do some serious research into hennaing and strand test if you already have chemically dyed hair. Henna isn’t on friendly terms with the chemicals in commercial dyes.
Side note: I did experience a noticeably looser curl pattern after 5 or 6 treatments.
My henna’d hair in my wrap bun.
Natural hair (4b) in a wrap bun.
Natural hair (4b) in a wrap bun.
I hope this helps. Good luck.