Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Truth of Henna

Ever been to an art or craft fair and saw a "Henna Tattoo Art" booth? Have you ever seen 'black henna'?

The reason why I am making this a subject for discussion on my blog is that it encompasses a HEALTH issue. There are various dangers associated with henna(or what some people call henna) and I would like to dispell some myths and enlighten those who are truly interested in learning about this natural plant-based art form.

The definition of henna is "Lawsonia Inermis" a small shrub-like tree that is native to Asia and the Arab countries. The leaves are dried and crushed to a powder and the super concentration of red-brown dye in the plant itself means that it will stain anything it comes into contact with: hair, human skin, animal skin(think: drums and wooden ornaments or instruments), finernails, shampoos, conditioners, and even moderately used in self tanning lotions! Very versatile stuff. Henna has been used since Biblical times to beautify the body and even keep the hands and feet cool in very arid regions.

Safe, ecologically sound and efficient when you look at water usage and the humane harvesting methods. An industry which needs to be protected at all cost, in my opinion. It is one of the last truly natural and safe coloring ingredients available to us.

It is not a permanent stain unless the item it was painted on never comes in contact with water. Think of henna as a temporary tattoo on the skin or a semi-permanent hair dye.

This is real henna. The good stuff. The cream of the crop.

There are dozens of brands out there. My personal fave is Jamila. It's consistent and great for body art or hair coloring. I'm going to share my recipe with you in a bit, too!!

The problem is that there are folks out here today selling all sorts of things that are not henna but their packaging or advertizing states that it is. When you use these products you are in danger of rashes, blisters(which permanently SCAR!), hives, asthma attacks, liver and kidney cancers/failure, fainting, itching of the affected skin, swollen eyelids, and.. even death.

Straight from "Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is a chemical substance that is widely used as a permanent hair dye. It may also been found in textile or fur dyes, dark coloured cosmetics, temporary tattoos, photographic developer and lithography plates, photocopying and printing inks, black rubber, oils, greases and gasoline."

Alternative names for paraphenylenediamine:

Phenylenediamine base
para-Diaminobenzene (p-Diaminobenzene)
para-Aminoaniline (p-Aminoaniline)


Now go back and look again at the picture of Jamila in the picture above. Notice that it is a very earthy looking green, yes? Not at all like it is going to give you a reddish brown hue to your hair or skin.... Or like
these people's hair! Yes. Those colors were ALL made with henna + other natural spices and liquids you can find in a grocery store! (L'Oreal eat your heart out)

True henna powder can be found in many colors, depending on the area it is harvested and the amount of rain in a given season. Not sure what you're buying? Here's a good idea to keep in mind: Real henna can be olive green, light to medium mud brown, and even a medium brown with a 'sunny' hue to it. If it reminds you of a weird kind of dirt then it is most likely henna. (hate to be blunt but... that's the best example I could come up with.)

True henna is never bright red. It is also never black or mostly yellow or super light brown. True henna has an earthy hue which is always deceptive in what its final color will be.

If you find prepackaged hair color which says it is natural henna and when you open the package you see that it has any color except green or appears to match what color you are supposed to achieve as a final result- throw it out immediately!! All of these prepackaged deals are henna mixed with powdered hair dye chemicals. And if they're so devious to not inform you right up front that there are other dyes and chemicals added to their mix then heaven help you. You can't tell what your body's reaction is going to be.

I went into my local healthfood store last weekend and found at least 3 types of prepackaged henna hair dyes. Red, Brown, and Blonde in all three brands. I wouldn't touch these things with a ten foot pole.

Click here for more info and articles on fake henna.

My own personal recipe for natural auburn hair that also hide my grays?

A single 100gram box of Jamila henna.
1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lemon or lime(key lime is my fave) juice.
1 regular sized coffe mug full of freshly made
Good Earth Chai Tea.

In a glass or plastic bowl, dump box of henna powder in and then add the 1/2 cup of citrus juice. Using a fork mix until it is a bowl full of clumps of even size. Do not add tea(made with one bag) until it is just slightly warmer than room temp. Let it cool down naturally. When ready, pour it in your henna mixture a little bit at a time and mix thoroughly. You may not use the entire cup or you may need to add a bit of room temp water. It depends on the weather.

The final texture of your henna should be very much like brownie mix or creamy cake icing. When you have reached that texture, take plastic wrap and cover the bowl. Make sure it is airtight!! I usually have to use two pieces crossed and then tucked under.

Let sit for an hour at room temp. During this time the bowl or plastic covering may feel slightly warm to the touch. This is normal. After at least an hour, take a spoon or butter knife and gently scrape the upper layer off. If the color you uncover is different than the upper layer then you're ready to go! The color change means that the henna is properly mixed and ready to impart color.

Put on plastic or rubber gloves. (If you don't your hands will turn red. Fun.)Apply to hair starting at the roots. There is no such thing as 'too much henna on your hair.' Seriously. Slap it on like it's mud. Don't be afraid of it. Make it thick. When you're done, cover your hair with a plastic hair bonnet/shower cap and then go read a book for an hour. Or clean the house. Whatever strikes your fancy.

My recipe makes a rather thick henna so it doesn't drip or run down your neck. A lot better than that old chemical stuff out of the store!

It's far easier to rinse henna out in the shower than by hanging your head in the kitchen sink. Trust me on this. Otherwise you're going to end up with a very painful neck. So hop in the shower and using mildly warm water rinse it out. It's going to be thick; take your time.The great stuff about using henna is that you can use shampoo the day you dye your hair! Some people do and some people don't. But the point is that you CAN and it won't kill the color.

Awesome Ingredients To Add for Color Adjustment

Dried/powdered herbs like: ginger, cardamom, rosehips, paprika, cinnamon, clove, allspice, tumeric, cayenne pepper, and spiced tea of all varieties.


  • Don't add coffee. It'll make you jittery and it kills the color quick.
  • Don't use scalding hot liquids in your mix.
  • Don't use wines unless you are prepared to stink like a wet dog. Not cool. The colors you can achieve are pretty darn nice but... sometimes I don't think it's worth it. I haven't found anything yet that will mute the scent enough for me to use it on a regular basis. If you're going to use wine and you don't mind the eau d'dog then I highly recommend Gallo's red cabernet. It's cheap and you can buy it in a little four-pack of single servings. Not that you need a whole lot of it anyway.

I hope you enjoyed learning about henna! Next I will be discussing a few other possible herbs you can use alone or add to henna to tint/color the hair + shop links for you to browse. Learning about this stuff is great but if you don't know where to get your hands on some then it's pretty frustrating, yes?

{Picture is from which is where I get my own henna. Great prices and service. Their 2008 crop is spectacular!!}

1 comment:

Pink Quartz Minerals said...

Wow! Super informative article, thanks for addressing this natural colorant and especially how to use it! (and what not to do!)