Henna is a leaf that people have used forever in Ancient Egypt, India, Africa, Greece and the Arab world to dye their hair.

In fact, Rhamesses II, Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt was found to have henna-dyed hair that was applied after his death.

Henna, or mehandi, is also used to decorate hands and feet during Indian wedding ceremonies, as a temporary tattoo and as a long lasting hair conditioner.

It also has some medicinal uses such as cooling the body down in hot temperatures (this explains why it is used in the tropics), preventing pressure ulcers in ICU patients, etc.

It has antibacterial, antimicrobial and anticancer actions. Henna cannot be taken internally though.

Studies are still being done to look into how to use henna medicinally.

Why use henna?

Hair dyes contain numerous toxic chemicals that could cause allergic reactions such as an itchy scalp, watering eyes and even headaches.

There are numerous studies linking hair dyes to the increased risks of breast cancer and other cancers.

Look at individual ingredients in your hair dye and do your own research.

I have used henna since I was a teenager and I have had no issues with it.

Around 8 years ago though, I found that my scalp became very itchy after using it. This continued for a year or two. I thought it was because it was drying my hair, so I began adding some coconut oil. The itching lessened to some extent, but it was still present.

I then began to read the labels and I was shocked! If you buy store bought henna, look at the ingredients carefully as these could contain toxic chemicals as well.

So I sourced some organic henna leaves from www.australherbs.com.au and I’ve never had that issue again.

How does henna work?

These leaves contain ‘lawsone’ which is a pigment that produces a vivid red-orange colour when it interacts with keratin in the skin, nails and hair!

The leaves are powdered and then made into a paste that people put in their hair to dye it.

Henna also makes your hair manageable, soft, gives it a brilliant shine and a deep lustre and make it less frizzy. It could even thicken your hair!

I get bedhead and when I use henna, I wake up looking like I’ve brushed my hair! Seriously…this is an amazing powder that helps condition your hair for weeks on end (yes! You read that right – WEEKS!)

Things to remember before using henna

For best results, use henna only if you have dark hair. It becomes a reddish-orange colour depending on your original hair colour.

If you want to dye your hair in a salon, I’ve heard that it takes ages for chemical hair dyes to ‘catch’ if you’ve hennaed your hair recently.

Do a patch test on the inside of your elbow for 24 hours before you use the paste on any part of your body.

How to use it?

Buy an organic powder (which is very hard to source) or organic henna leaves (which are easier to come by). You will need a high-speed blender if you are buying leaves.

Blend the henna leaves until it becomes a very fine powder.

Add around 1 cup of henna powder for short hair, 1.5 cups for medium hair, 2 cups for slightly longer than shoulder length hair and around 3 cups for really long hair.

Mix henna the night before you want to dye your hair. It needs 8-12 hours for the dye to release to work well.

1. Put the appropriate amount of henna for your hair length of hair in a ceramic bowl. Do not use stainless steel as it could change the way it interacts with your hair (keep the bowl just for this purpose)

2. Add enough water and mix it until the liquid is absorbed. Start with ½ a cup of water and add more liquid if you think the paste needs it. You want a thick smooth paste.

You can also add some black tea, coffee or warm water instead.

Add a tablespoon of extra water as this will be absorbed by the end of the soaking time.

3. (Optional) Whisk an egg in a separate bowl and add it to the paste, mixing it in – this adds a bit of protein to your hair

4. Add a teaspoon of coconut or olive oil into the mix and incorporate

5. Cover this bowl with a plate and keep overnight

The next morning, follow these steps in front of a mirror–

1. Check to see if the paste is too dribbly – it should be a thick paste, not like pancake batter. Add a bit more powder if it is too dribbly; add a bit of water if it is too thick

 2. Put a towel around your shoulders and secure it in front with a pin or claw hair clip

3. Make sure you have gloves on

4. Apply a thin layer of coconut oil around your forehead, tops of ears and at the back of your neck (basically all around your head where your hairline begins)

5. Brush your hair

6. Take tablespoons of the henna and apply it on sections of parted hair from tip to end. Start at the top of your head and work around till the nape of your neck

7. If there is excess henna left, put it in a little bottle, seal it and put it in your freezer.

8. Cover your hair with a shower cap and leave on for around 2-3 hours. The longer you leave it, the better the results

9. Wash you hair with shampoo a few times – this will ensure there is no residual oil

Your hair will deepen in colour over the next few days.

Apply once every four weeks to keep your hair healthy and strong.

Be mindful that henna stains anything it touches, so clean all surfaces it falls onto immediately. You might want to spread some newspaper on the floor while applying henna; at least until you become adept at putting it on without dropping any.

This, like any natural alternative, takes some practice and getting used to. It also takes a bit of effort and time, but the results are well worth it.

REFERENCES

Shore RE, Pasternack BS, Thiessen EU, Sadow M, Forbes R, Albert RE. A case-control study of hair dye use and breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1979;62(2):277–283

França-Stefoni SA, Dario MF, Sá-Dias TC, et al. Protein loss in human hair from combination straightening and colouring treatments. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015;14(3):204–208. doi:10.1111/jocd.12151

Chowdhury AR, Maddy AJ, Egger AN. Henna as a Hair Dye: A Current Fashion Trend with Ancient Roots. Dermatology. 2019;235(5):442–444. doi:10.1159/000500828

Rafiei Z, Mazaheri M, Eghbali-Babadi M, Yazdannik A. The Effect of Henna (Lawsonia Inermis) on Preventing the Development of Pressure Ulcer Grade One in Intensive Care Unit Patients. Int J Prev Med. 2019;10:26. Published 2019 Feb 15. doi:10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_286_17

Rahmoun N, Boucherit-Otmani Z, Boucherit K, Benabdallah M, Choukchou-Braham N. Antifungal activity of the Algerian Lawsonia inermis (henna). Pharm Biol. 2013;51(1):131–135. doi:10.3109/13880209.2012.715166

Badoni Semwal R, Semwal DK, Combrinck S, Cartwright-Jones C, Viljoen A. Lawsonia inermis L. (henna): ethnobotanical, phytochemical and pharmacological aspects. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;155(1):80–103. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.05.042

Kazandjieva J, Grozdev I, Tsankov N. Temporary henna tattoos. Clin Dermatol. 2007;25(4):383–387. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2007.05.013

Yousefi I, Pakravan M, Rahimi H, Bahador A, Farshadzadeh Z, Haririan I. An investigation of electrospun Henna leaves extract-loaded chitosan based nanofibrous mats for skin tissue engineering. Mater Sci Eng C Mater Biol Appl. 2017;75:433–444. doi:10.1016/j.msec.2017.02.076

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