Henna is a plant that grows in the hot, dry climates of the Eastern hemisphere. For decades, women from North Africa, India, and the Middle East have used henna to stain their hair, skin, and nails. The red henna dye is contained within the leaves of the plant. After the plant is harvested, the leaves are dried, ground and sifted into a flour-like powder. In the last few years, henna has become a popular treatment option for African American women seeking more natural remedies for their hair. Here are the most frequently asked questions.
Is henna safer than commercial hair dye?
Yes, but it's very important that you only use 100% pure henna. Low-quality henna mixtures may contain additives like PPD to make the dye stain stronger and darker. Dye additives may cause allergy problems or react with chemicals that have been previously applied to your hair. Unfortunately, the FDA has approved henna for use as a hair dye, but does not regulate its safety. So, the seller of the henna is the only person who really knows the purity of what you're purchasing. Mehandi.com and LUSH Cosmetics are two suppliers known for high quality.
Henna is gentler on your hair than permanent hair color because it only deposits dye onto the surface, not inside the cortex. The effects from henna are most similar to semi-permanent hair color. Both are safe enough for fragile African American hair.
Can I get the same color results using henna as with commercial hair dye?
Maybe. Pure henna leaf powder can only produce a red to orange-red color. Different crops (depending on location) produce different levels of red, ranging from auburn to cherry. If you see henna advertised as producing black or brown shades that means the henna has been mixed with some other herb or product. For example, henna is commonly mixed with cocoa powder to produce reddish brown.
Since henna is a depositing dye, it cannot lighten your hair...only bleach can do that. If your natural hair color is dark black, henna may not show up at all or it may produce a red shimmer.
If your natural hair color is dark brown or lighter (including grey), you are likely to see a color change after your first henna application. The color should be subtle, but it will increase in intensity after every treatment.
If your hair is bleached or relaxed, your hair is more porous. Porous hair absorbs chemicals more easily and the henna dye may absorb into the hair cortex instead of just coating the outer shaft. The color may still be subtle, but definitely noticeable in direct light.
*Henna is a very inexact method of coloring your hair. If you really want a substantial change in hair color, you're better off visiting a professional cosmetologist.*
Will henna loosen natural African American coils?
Sometimes. A quick Internet search produces thousands of results on the subject. The only thing we know for sure is that everybody's experience is different. If you want to loosen your natural coils, you can definitely experiment with henna. Any effect will be gradual. Most women who report looser curls say that it took 3 or more treatments to see any difference. However, if you truly wish to transform Type 4 coils to looser curls, a chemical treatment (applied by a professional cosmetologist) will deliver more significant and uniform results.
How do I get the most out of my henna treatment?
First, purchase your henna from a reputable supplier (see above). To get the most value for your money, choose pure henna with high dye content. Typically, 100 grams of pure henna only contains 2 or 3 grams of dye. The rest is just ground up henna leaves. So, for the most effective treatments, you definitely want the highest dye content available. Ask your supplier which henna they recommend to cover greys because that usually means maximum dye content.
When working with pure henna, the liquid that you use to help the dye release can impact the treatment results. An acidic liquid will help the dye release faster. Aloe vera juice is a great choice because its pH is low enough to smooth your hair's cuticles without making your strands stiff or dry.
Henna hair treatments have been done by North African and Indian women for decades with little to no instruction. Unless you're really hoping to achieve curl loosening or a color change, feel free to experiment by adding Ayurvedic herbs to your mix (supplier websites usually offer plenty of recipes). When attempting to change your curl pattern or hair color, keep it simple and just add an acidic liquid. A batch of high dye content henna can quickly become low dye content if you add too many oils and herbs to the mix.
If this is all sounding like too much guess work, try one of the pre-mixed henna bars from LUSH. They combine henna, lemon juice, cocoa butter, and herbs into one firm block that you just have to melt in a bowl of water.
The biggest advantage with henna is that you can do it yourself. Your henna supplier will give you all the instructions you need for a successful treatment. Whether your hair is natural or relaxed, a properly applied henna can add shine and softness to your hair. You can't count on any other benefits, but feel free to try it a few times and see what you get!