Pure henna, also called lawsonia inermis, is an all-natural plant native to Africa, Southern Asia, and Australia. It has many uses, including dyeing and conditioning hair simultaneously. The leaves of the plant are crushed and a reddish-brown dye is released using a liquid such as hot water, coffee, or tea.
What does henna do?
- Thicken Hair, Add Weight: This is because henna molecules bind to the keratin in the hair, creating plumpness of individual strands. Note that this is not permanent, and is not a solution for rapidly thinning, breaking, or otherwise damaged.
- Awesome Color: 100% natural henna will always stain your hair to some degree. Depending on how long you leave it, the ingredients you mix in, and the natural color of your hair, your color will range from deep orange to burgundy or coffee brown. It is almost like a natural cellophane. The results are long-lasting and fade naturally, and won't leave your hair looking washed out.
- Shiny, Strong Hair: Henna always makes my hair shine. I also notice less breakage, which can be attributed to the protein-binding action mentioned previously.
Psoriasis Relief: To date, henna has been the ONLY thing to help keep my scalp psoriasis at bay. Even in the cold winter months when things get tricky, my scalp psoriasis isn't nearly as bad. I don't know why it works, but if it ain't broke don't fix it!
Which henna should you use?
I always advocate for using 100% pure Body Art Quality (BAQ) Henna. In my opinion not only does it work better, but it will make your life easier. I strongly advise against naturally curly girls using Light Mountain because it is not finely sifted, and contains large granules and twigs. I had the time of my life trying to get that grit and twigs out of my transitioning hair, and had to wash my hair for several days following a henna treatment just to get them out. Body Art Quality henna on the other hand, is finely sifted and smooth. It has the consistency of baby powder. This makes for easy mixing, easy application, and rinsing out. I personally swear by Jamila BAQ Henna. I have also recently tried Reshma Natural Highlights (this is the only box that is 100% henna, by the way) and it is the same in terms of consistency, performance, and results.
What should you mix into your henna?
Some henna mixes just call for hot water and a spoon. That basic mix is totally fine, but it can leave your hair feeling a bit straw-like (because it acts like a protein treatment). To get the most out of your henna session, try playing around with the following ingredients, according to your hair's needs.
For moisture, softness & conditioning
Carrier Oils: I like coconut, olive, safflower, and red palm.
Rhassoul Clay: I like the Purgasm Shop Wild Cherry Treatment Hair Truffle.
For shine, pH balancing & porosity correcting
Aloe Vera Juice or Gel
Apple Cider Vinegar (raw, unfiltered with mother)
For color enhancement
Coffee (for deeper brown)
Lemon Juice (for brightness)
Green Tea (for brightness)
Paprika (for more red)
For scalp health
Tea Tree Oil
Peppermint Essential Oil
Rosemary Essential Oil
How to apply henna
For me, the easiest way to apply henna is using my hands (protected by gloves, of course). It allows me to get the henna directly on my scalp (for that psoriasis relief), as well as work it thoroughly through the hair. Using a color applicator brush is another way to apply it through the hair as well. I've even seen applicator bottles (with a wide nozzle of course) used. It all depends on what you have around, and what would be easiest. Henna should be allowed to sit after mixed for about half an hour to allow the dye to release. After that, applying it to your hair for anywhere from 1 to 8 hours is just fine. The longer you leave it on, the more color you will get out of it. I usually henna at night and sleep with my head (and pillowcases) covered, and rinse in the morning.
Watch this quick mixing demonstration
- Start on freshly washed or thoroughly rinsed hair. No sense in henna sticking to product buildup!
- Always use plastic or wooden containers and utensils. Henna can react with some metals. Although I've never seen this happen, I tend to err on the side of caution.
- Cover everything--the table you mix on, the floor, and any surfaces within 3 feet of where you'll be applying. It can get messy.
- Wear gloves. Unless you want orange fingernails.
- Wear a shirt you don't mind getting stained.
- Rinse out your henna using water and a cheap slippery conditioner. It'll make the removal process a lot easier.
Deep condition your hair afterwards, and style as normal.
Have you used henna to brighten or condition your hair?
This article was published in April 2014 has been updated for grammar and clarity.