Laura Billings / flickr

Laura Billings / flickr

Thanks to BLACKSTRANDS reader Angela, we have a very detailed addition to our reader recommendation’s segment.

The first henna post seemed to create quite a buzz, so hopefully this will help with any more questions that are looming. If you feel you are ready to take the henna plunge, here’s a play-by-play from someone whose been doing henna for about 20 years. She also has henna available at her shop, (just follow the link and click “product catalog”) : De’esse – The Sycamore Scent Shop and Boutique.

So here goes!

** Lot’s of people are buying products labeled as “black henna” and experiencing terrible reactions to it. These “compound” premixed hennas can contain a dangerous chemical called PPD that has been responsible for some bad allergic reactions and even death.

There is no such thing as Black Henna, or brown henna or neutral henna. True henna only produces one color: Red. There is a whole other deal if you want to get into using Indigo with Henna for darker deeper red and brown shades – and the issues of using henna over white or grey hair… But we can save that for another day. **

First, applying Henna is not really rocket science. Following a couple of simple steps to prepare, will avoid most problems. The equipment needed is simple – gloves, plastic wrap, old towels, newspaper, lemon juice or vinegar and a lot of inexpensive conditioner for rinsing out – plus good conditioner for later.

1. Henna has to be prepared ahead of time – nothing complex – it just needs time to “cure” as it were. The natural dye molecule inside the ground leaf needs to be mixed with an acid (lemon juice, tea or vinegar) to start the release process – and put in a warm place for a number of hours. Sometimes the dye will release within a few hours – but it is best to let it sit for a minimum of 4 or 5 maximum of 12 or so to get the optimum results.

For each 100gm package (almost all packaged henna is in 100gm units) add 1/2 C of Lemon Juice or vinegar or any acid liquid of choice (dark tea or citrus juices are sometimes used) – mix well, then add enough warm water to get it to a “pudding” consistency (add water slowly, you don’t want it too thin).

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm location. Gas stovetops, radiators and heating pads are favorite methods.

You can check to see that the dye has been released by dipping the tip of a white paper towel in the mix, if it turns orange you are good to go.

2. Prep your area. Henna is a strong natural dye; it will tint anything it comes into contact with so make sure you have covered any areas where it might drop – splatter if you tend to be messy. Applying some good cream or body butter to your face, neck and ears before application will make it easy to remove any spots later. Don’t get the cream on your hair.

Good gloves are a must. If your cheapie gloves spring a hole you are going to have orange fingertips for a week or two.

3. Apply. This is a kind of a messy business, but not all that bad. If you have short hair it will be a cinch, long hair takes more effort of course. You will however look like you wallowed in a mudslide and you will have the aroma of hay. If you have purchased a good brand of henna with a “fine sift” ie: finely powdered with no twigs or debris included, then you should be able to just spoon the mixure on your head and squish it around good and be done.

I find that a big spoon works fine to apply the mixture – some people like to use a ketchup squeeze bottle with the tip cut off to accommodate the thickness of the mixture.

Start at the roots, back to front may be the easiest and just SLOP it on and squish it in with your fingers. It is like playing in a mud pie and looks like it too (only green). Once the roots are done then spread it along the lengths until every spot is coated in the muddy mixture. Pile hair on head and either wrap well in plastic wrap or cover with a plastic cap (I have a heavy duty old fashioned shower cap that works great), wipe off any on your skin and wrap a towel around your head – turban style.

Relax and watch some movies – minimum time is 2 hours but for the most color saturation leave on as long as you can, 4 -5 hours seems to be the best time frame. Longer is better and you can’t leave it on too long (some people even sleep on it).

You want to keep the henna as warm as possible during the processing time. A towel will usually be sufficient but if you have a hood dryer handy a few sessions will help the process along and could reduce the time needed.

4. Rinsing – The henna will now have thickened and getting it out of the hair will take a bit of rinsing. The best suggestion is to fill a bucket or even tub full of water and dunk your head in as far as possible – swirl around until you have as much as possible rinsed out then shower or continue to rinse under the faucet.

Work in a handful of conditioner and rinse some more. You will probably see a bit of color coming out for a couple of subsequent washings and that is normal.

For best results do not shampoo the first day or two to allow the color to set. Use quality conditioners and good things like Shea butter on the ends if they seem a bit dry. You will probably notice the slight “hay” scent lingering for a few days too – it is part of the experience.

On lighter hair the henna will look brighter and more orangey for the first several days. The color actually oxidizes and deepens over the course of a week, settling in to a nice rich auburn red. Henna will fade slowly with shampooing, but does so in a very natural fashion that isn’t noticeable.

Frequent henna applications will deepen the color.


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