I wanted to touch up my hair before a trip recently, particularly the roots. Most women have been there. I have a few strands of gray down the center of my roots but very little elsewhere and I’ve been playing with color for so long, like many women, it’s easy to lose track what your natural hair color really is.
I didn’t have time to go to my regular colorist nor did I have a box handy from the store to merely touch up the roots, and my flight was early the next day. In the closet, I noticed a box of Henna that I had gotten on some exotic trip that I was planning to use at some juncture and what a better time than when you’re in a pinch and don’t have time for option A. Besides henna is supposed to be healthy for your hair, non?
Henna (lawsonia inermis) is a plant native to Egypt that has been used to dye hair for thousands of years. The henna plant leaves are dried and ground into a fine powder and mixed with liquid to produce a reddish color. There are many henna color products on the market, but pure henna is the safest and highest quality and I was pretty certain that my trusty box was pure henna.
It’s not the first time I had played with henna or used it on my hair but it had been YEARS since I had used it and the memory was a bit blurry. In fact, I think I may have done it outside on a hot summer day with a hose nearby. Now I know why.
Applying henna is not like applying any hair dye. You begin with a green powder which you’re supposed to add distilled water to for mixing. I didn’t have that either, so I figured boiled water would do the trick. After all, what difference could distilled water make for a henna mix really?
I swap things out in recipes all the time, don’t you? I noticed that they offered a few fun additions to the mixing recipe, like day old coffee, paprika, cinnamon and other spices. The latter was supposed to deepen the color and make it less red and more auburn red/brown, which was my preference. You could also add an egg for good measure. How fun I thought. Since I didn’t have day old coffee, I used regular coffee which because of a phone call in the middle of my mixing, I forgot to strain the coffee and just tossed it in — coffee grains and all — into the henna mix.
Even after realizing I had done that, I didn’t think it would be a big deal – after all, when you see a mixture that looks more like a mud bath, the last thing you think of are grains that should be lost within the mix, non? Absolutely a big fat non…..coffee grains linger. There’s a reason that they called for day old coffee sans grains. I also threw in some paprika and cinnamon.
They ask you to leave it to “stew” for 1-3 hours, so I left the “messy substance” for 3 hours for maximum effect. Applying it is like handling whipped cream or yoghurt vs. handling paint. (one is clean and easy and the other is messy). It is literally like whipping it in and onto your hair and while I wore plastic gloves in this process, the henna, which pretty much dyes everything coated my arms, ears, sides of my face, the kitchen floor, sink, the list goes on…and on.
Below is what I imagine an experienced henna user’s head should look like:
Below is more what MY head looked like and this was before the plastic bag went over it.
Articles I read later (after the fact), was that you should leave a plastic shower cap over your henna-ed hair for three hours or more. Light hair could take up to eight hours. Are you kidding? As it was, this was quite the process, not to mention the state of my kitchen sink, bathroom sink, tub and bathroom door. It also said not to shampoo right away after removing the hair which my instructions failed to mention. How on earth would you get the henna out of your hair without shampoo? As it was, it was like removing wet paint from a dog. Actually worst.
The water that fell from my head in the shower was definitely more orange than red and it was coated with coffee grains that I seemed to find everywhere for hours after the bathroom was cleaned up. I knew these coffee grains were going to be a bit like your living room after removing your Christmas tree — those pesky pine needles show up weeks afterwards in the strangest places. I had this vision of going to an event three days later and as I made a quick turn, bits of coffee grains would fall to the floor, looking more like black “lice” than anything else.
Who would suspect coffee grains? Forget about explaining the strange orange stains on my airs and tips of my ears that didn’t want to come off even after a bit of nail polish remover was applied.
Henna is a natural dye so much healthier than the synthetic ones loaded with chemicals. It’s different in that it coats the hair shaft, binding with shaft with keratin. The idea is that it not only colors your hair, but it conditions it as well, giving it shine and body. Because it is a transparent dye, it will not change the color of your hair, only coat it with color. The problem is that it coats everything else with color as well. (such as your entire house).
The coating results are as follows: black hair will just have a reddish sheen when seen in direct sunlight, but blond or gray hair will become a brilliant orange and brown hair will become a deep shade of auburn. WHAT I DID NOT READ until after doing this. “If you are dyeing your hair to cover the gray, the gray hairs will come out a bright, almost pink orange.” Oh yeah baby, the article is right. Pink orange. While I don’t have many gray strands in the middle of my head, there they were, pink orange strands of hair down the middle of my head like the offspring of a zebra that slept with a fushia cat who happened to eat a lot of carrots.
I later read other recipes that suggested you cover the bowl and refrigerate until the dye color changes from green to brown which can take about one day for the dye to fully mature. Mine was pretty much still green after the recommended three hours with the exception of the coffee and cinnamon powder scattered through it.
Lessons learned. 5 things NOT TO DO when trying henna:
1. Don’t do this at home if you can avoid it, at least not in your house. Your best bet is doing it outside on a hot summer day where you can shower your whole body off at the same time and keep the water running through your hair for quite awhile to ensure all the henna grains are out. AND, coffee grains if you’re adventurous enough to throw them in there like I “shouldn’t have done.” :-)
2. Don’t use coffee that has even ONE grain in it. Take the advice of my original instructions – use day old coffee and make sure it’s strained well.
3. Avoid those gray strands: if you have any gray hair at all, apply the henna there last or skip the gray strands altogether. They really will turn out pink orange.
4. Don’t use towels that you care about to dry your hair. Have paper towels and tattered towels you don’t mind tossing after the fact handy. The orange left from your wet hair will coat everything it touches and will continue to do so until your hair is absolutely dry. Even then, avoid wearing white for a day or two.
5. Don’t involve men in this process, or perhaps I should rephrase this by saying, be careful which men you bring into this process. It’s a fun, health and beauty experiment for women but when it turns the house upside down, your male buds who live with you, romantic or not, may not find the process as much fun as you do, especially if any of their “things” end up with orange spots in the process.