On Henna

May 10th, 2010 - filed under: The Fashion » Beauty and Cosmetics

It’s no great secret that I love to color my hair. I’ve written about my many adventures with various hair dyes, and how I came to settle on my current product of choice, Manic Panic. I have no illusions about the ‘natural’-ness of my obsession, but it’s a huge part of who I am and not something I’ll soon give up. So I found my compromise in Manic Panic – it’s vegan, non-toxic, and veggie based. And that was good enough for me.

That is, until I got pregnant. And suddenly I was much more interested in keeping things completely natural (no way was I going to stop dying my hair all together, the horror!) It seemed the perfect time to play with henna, that strange plant powder I’d always eyed but never tried. And so I began experimenting.

‘Henna’ refers to the ground leaves of the plant Lawsonia inermis. These leaves contain the lawsone molecule, which is responsible for imparting that classic dark red dye. To be clear: there is only one color of henna. Anything claiming to be ‘black henna’, ‘brown henna’, ‘blonde henna’, etc, is a compound containing more than the actual plant. Be wary!

In order for the dye to be effective, the lawsone must be liberated. The leaves are purchased dried and ground, and then mixed with acid to coax out the pigment. Common acids are lemon juice, tea, or vinegar. The wet mix is then set aside overnight (6+ hours) while the lawsone renders.

IMG_1741Henna paste after mixing with lemon juice and refrigerating overnight.

Looks like just the kind of thing you’d want to rub into your head, right? Let me tell you, the first time I tried it I was pretty skeptical. It smells funky! And I was sure it was going to turn my hair some horrible shade of green. Just look at that stuff!

But I slopped it on and rubbed it in. They say to let it sit for an hour or so, but I left it for over five (I always do with hair dye). It smelled like earth and dried in crusty brown clumps. My skepticism continued.

This is what my hair looked like prior to the treatment, faded reddish with dirty blonde roots (the shame!):


And after many many hours of musty odored and mud clumpy head, I rinsed it out – certain that it hadn’t done a thing. But I was wrong!


It’s pretty, no? It’s definitely red! And I gotta say, I’m impressed!

So I’m a henna convert now. I used it all throughout my pregnancy (I find that lemon juice acts as a better acid than, say, vinegar). It has great lasting power and barely fades; you need to fix your roots before you ever need a color boost. And of course the best part – it’s completely natural, just a single ingredient!

We even used it to decorate my belly at my baby ‘sprinkle’! (henna dyes skin as well, lasting 1-3 weeks depending on the quality)


That said, I gotta be honest . . . I lasted about 7 weeks postpartum before going back to the old stuff. What can I say, I’m a sucker for bright colors!

So what about you guys? Have you ever henna-ed? What do you think?

  • http://alternativehousewife.com Janine

    I LOVE HENNA. I used to play with it in middle school, applying art to my hands and arms, although I’ve never tried it on my hair. Reading your post made me smell henna and yearn for it. :)

    I must say that I have dyed my hair twice with drugstore dyes since finding out I was pregnant, but your henna-dyed belly is totally inspiring – definitely something I need to do in my third tri!

  • LisaMaddox

    I love http://www.mehandi.com/! When I first found that site, it was all henna and an e-book on how to dye your hair (over here —> http://www.mehandi.com/shop/hennahairbook/index.html). Now they have oils, soaps, jewelry, pet products… They don’t specifically *say* that they are vegan, but at a glance, I don’t see anything icky in them (besides the bone jewelry, I guess).

    Following the advice in the e-book, I’ve always *warmed* my henna, and wrapped my head. The only time I have ever had a problem with henna was last month, when I used some year old product. There wasn’t much power left in it, but it was okay.

    I documented my first foray into smearing smelly plant material on my head. I think it was about three years ago. It is always approximately this much fun ^_^: http://pics.livejournal.com/animamea/gallery/0000xfrb

  • Minna

    What a great timing! I’m in *desperate* need of dying my hair. At first I thought I’ll try and let my hair grow out to see what the real colour looks like and maybe even leave it like that, but the sad truth is that I hate my real faded greyish light blonde colour… So I have to dye my hair!

    I was going to find an organic hairdresser to get my hair done, UNTIL I realised how much it costs. I don’t want to lose much length anyways so I guess I’ll just forget about the haircut and dye my hair myself :) …which rises the question of where to find a good blonde natural vegan hair dye!

    I’ve dyed my hair once with blonde henna and the result was a cool ultra-blonde (a little yellowish even) old school colour. Which I loved but some people thought was odd. I didn’t care about the ingredients back then but I’m certain it had lots of bad stuff in it. Now I’d like to be sure it doesn’t.

    And two summers ago I dyed my hair light pink with a vegan (probably not too toxic) hair dye, which I loved, but it faded away very quickly. Does Manic Panic last for long?

    It’s awesome that you fixed yourself a nice henna colour all by yourself! And just to know that it consists of TWO things and both are all natural.. that’s amazing! It does look good! I guess the next step would be adding some sort of colourants to get other colours? Are you going to try that?

  • Erin

    I love Henna. I use it every six months or so because I’m lazy! The 5 hour commitment (I leave mine on that long too, under a shower cap) is a little much for me. My hair is naturally almost black though, so I don’t get a very big change, just some extra richness. I’ve dabbled in indigo, too, which is also great fun. Love your belly decorations!

  • http://eef-ink.com eef

    I love the results of henna, but the process is so much work! Or maybe I’m just lazy. I’m trying to dye my hair LESS since I’m sure it’s bad for me, but I should probably just switch to henna since I know I’ll want to keep dyeing it every month or so. The few times I’ve henna’d I’ve liked the results, but I don’t like leaving it on my head for hours and I don’t like having to wait overnight for it to set up.
    So really, laziness and impatience. Those are the reasons I don’t henna more!

  • http://www.heathers-perspective.blogspot.com Heather

    Henna I adore thee! I’ve been using it for 18 years now-holy crap! Seriously? That means I’m almost, gasp, 35?
    Anyway, so happy for you that you like the results :)
    The longest I leave it on is for an hour, as I’ve read that once it completely dries, it stops dye-ing. So, it may not be necessary to leave on for hours.
    I’m actually headed to get another henna tomorrow. Can’t wait :)

  • http://www.ultimatemoneyblog.com Mrs. Money

    I did henna once and loved it! It made my hair the prettiest color. :)

  • http://www.renegadeyogi.com/ Eric Normand

    Your hair looks really nice! And I like the design on your belly. Nice decoration. I always said I preferred henna to tattoos because they’re changeable.

    I had henna done to me twice. Once in Egypt and once in West Africa. It was a cool experience!

  • http://easierthanyouthink.wordpress.com Ginger Baker

    I LOVE henna. During the three year period when I had hair about your length, I dyed the hell out of it, every color of the rainbow, it was great fun. Once I grew it back out again, I returned to be exceedingly cautious with coloring. When your hair is midback, anything that damages it is soooo not an option! (And I would have to bleach it to take out color before doing a new one.) So once I decided to henna, I knew it was a forever-more decision.

    I highly recommend using only Body Art Quality (BAQ) henna – i.e. pure henna powder with nothing added. Anything you pick up at the drugstore is fairly suspect, unfortunately! Pretty sure Sayward was good on that. :-)

    I don’t have to retouch the color pretty much ever, though every once in a while when I do the roots I do the whole thing. I find the process pretty easy at this point. I just prep the henna the day before, or maybe that morning, and glop it on when I get home from work. Actual application takes 15 minutes tops. Sometimes I henna before bed and just sleep with it (VERY carefully wrapped!) otherwise I go very Afro-Cuban and fancy a headwrap for myself so I can venture outside LOL.

    The one caveat I have is that I always have to wash it TWICE before *all* the henna powder is out. Meaning, wash, dry, rewash. It’ll look okay after the first wash, but a very fine dust remains that will end up on my comb, etc. However, I have hair that is midthigh (!) so I am pretty sure that is a big factor LOL!

    I have pics of the first time I hennaed here: http://easierthanyouthink.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/first_henna/

  • http://whynotwatch.blogspot.com Alana

    I’ve used henna hair-dye from LUSH Handmade Cosmetics and had some pretty faboo results. I was a seeerious redhead for a while :D

  • little deer

    A few months ago I made the switch from chemical dye to henna thinking it would be safer because it is more natural. Then I got to thinking about how it’s not regulated and as with many imports it could contain hidden substances. True henna is red, but I have been using a blend of henna & indigo to achieve a dark brown color. It looks and smells like plant ingredients, but how can I be sure it doesn’t contain harmful metallic salts and the like? Is sticking to my natural “ash” color the only guarantee? I want certified organic!

  • http://easierthanyouthink.wordpress.com Ginger Baker

    @little deer I recommend http://mehandi.com (run by the woman that runs http://thehennapage.com and http://hennaforhair.com, both excellent resources). They will tell you where your henna was grown and I’m sure can give you details on how it was grown. And the henna they sell, they check each batch to ensure it is pure henna, nothing added.

  • http://www.greeninoakpark.com Green In Oak Park

    I would love to know what brand you used. I’ve not dyed my own hair as I’m already a redhead, so true henna wouldn’t do anything for me. But I’ve dyed someone else’s hair with it and it was a huge mess. All mud and sticks, and I ended up dying the towel I was using with it. Yours looks all smooth and easy to apply.

  • http://www.zestysurprises.blogspot.com Sunnie

    MINNA I would look into something called cassia. You can get it at hennaforhair.com where you can also get henna and indigo. I don’t know that it dyes per se but it is recommended for blonde hair to “brighten” it. On the site they also have a big grid of hair colors that people have submitted and given their recipes for.

  • http://thegreengeek05.wordpress.com Courtney

    I’ve been wanting to henna my hair for a while now. I was going to ask my friend who’s going to beauty school to do it for me but she’s been brainwashed and won’t touch anything with henna in it. She’s told me why, and it’s rediculous. “You can’t use any professional hair color in it when it’s been hennaed.” Oh darn! I’m trying to get away from it anyway, despite her claims that it’s better for you than what’s on store shelves. She’s probably right about that, but I still want to use as few chemicals as possible. I love having red hair, so I may have to save up a little and order some henna to make myself and my hubby (who has a thing for red hair :) ) happy. Seeing your results make me want to do it even more!

  • Minna

    @ LisaMaddox ..Wow, there’s “Read Henna for Hair in Estonian”. How awesome! That does *not* happen too often :D Thanks!

  • http://makeway4ducklings.blogspot.com bashtree

    Ooo, love it! I’ve always been wary of hair dyes but this henna stuff, maybe it’s for me! Thanks for sharing. I LOVE the red shade you had!

  • http://twitter.com/erosan EroSan

    I loved the color of your hair after the henna, but I think I loved even more your belly decoration…

    wow it’s good to have you back (also, it seems to me like the community bloomed while you were out, I see lots of new faces around, which makes me super happy).

  • Josey

    random question, not at all related to henna, but I’m pregnant, and thus interested to see what kinds of homemade things you come up with for your little one. What will you use for teething? Just frozen chewers, b/c many people use tylelon or numbing cream in the mouth? What kind of diapers do you use? Diaper cream? I’m eager to see how you’re able to apply a non-toxic to your baby’s health as well.

  • LisaMaddox

    @Courtney: There are lots of “henna” products (those are sarcasm quotes, btw) that have weird chemicals in them to produce unnatural reds/purples/etc. You can’t use other chemical products over that junk or you might fry your hair. Body art quality henna (nothing but plant material) won’t have that problem.

    @Minna: Mehandi.com has an awesome community. I’m sure they have plenty of willing translators. ^_^

    @Minna & Sunnie: Cassia is like henna. It imparts some of the plants’ color, but will not make a dramatic change (i.e. black to blonde) like chemical dyes.

    @little deer (and everyone else, I guess): Mehandi.com now sells henna that has been tested for chemicals, and they certify that the products are pesticide free. It’s not specifically organic, and it *is* imported, so it’s really a matter of how you feel about it.

    @Josey: I know this wasn’t aimed at me, but here are my two cents anyway ^_^

    I liked Hyland’s teething tablets (http://www.hylands.com/products/teething.php) but they are not vegan. Humphrey’s teething strips *are* vegan, but I have no experience with them (http://www.walgreens.com/store/catalog/Health-Needs/Teething-Relief-Swift-Strips/ID=prod4185937&navCount=1&navAction=push-product)

    My friend made up a batch of diaper ointment that was made of beeswax, some manner of oil, and maybe some zinc (it’s been a veeery long time since my daughter was a baby!). For the blessedly few diaper rashes, she gave me the same ointment with some comfrey (and possibly other things).

    I was also in love with Burt’s Bees, but I’m not sure how I feel about the company now that they’re owned by Clorox.

  • http://www.creativeanomalie.com sarah

    Wow on the same wavelength as always. I JUST bought another batch of henna last night because I’m getting ready to do mine again. Like several posters above, if you are thinking about going this route, buy from MEHANDI.com. Fantastic site – fast shipping, great service, premium products. And another tip – USE CARROT BAGS and an assistant.

    Personally I die once with henna, then again with indigo for deep blue-black. Time consuming and a bit of a pain (messy) but hey, it’s powdered plants… no chemicals. I will point out though that I haven’t seen anyone mentioning the hazards of going from chemicals to henna and vice versa… starting to henna usually seems ok (test first), but once you’ve hennaed chemicals can be, um, iffy if you try to go back.

    If you want a blend of a color rather than straight up red and don’t want to play mad scientist check out Logona Herbal Haircolors (www.naturaleurope.com). They are premixed blends of henna and indigo, etc. Just remember it depends on your natural color… I am able to get the blue-black on my hair because it’s naturally very dark brown. A blond might not be so successful.

    Sayward: I do miss my bleached chunks. Too hard to not do the whole head so I dyed over them and I can’t bring myself to ever bleach again I think…

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    Wow, awesome response! Thanks for all the input everybody. I love hearing your experiences, so keep ‘em coming. Y’all are great!

    @ LisaMaddox – Hmm, how did you warm the henna? I wrapped my head but I didn’t warm my henna. That sounds interesting.

    Your pics are adorable!

    @ Minna – Other readers have already given great advice (I was also going to recommend mehandi) but I wanted to say you should link to pictures when you dye it! =D

    Manic Panic lasts if you bleach your hair first and then let the dye sit for 5+ hours. But you do have to bleach it first.

    I’m not sure if I’ll try mixing plant pigments . . . though I really like that idea . . . now you’ve got me thinking!

    @ Heather – Girl, I hear ya! Nothing like thinking about how long you’ve been dying your hair to make you realize how old you are! Eep! haha

    @ Ginger Baker – Your hair is amazing – love those pics!

    @ little deer – I understand your concern! You definitely need to find a reputable source. Looks like others have made some great suggestions – hope it helps!

    @ Green In Oak Park – Sorry, I don’t have a brand name. I bought it from the bulk section of my market. I’d say go for a reputable online retailer!

    @ EroSan – I feel the same way! All these new friendly faces – it’s so great!

    @ Josey – I use cloth diapers, a variety of types that I picked up (mostly used), but Bum Genius are by far my favorite. I use the brand Earth Mama Angel Baby for baby products including the bottom balm. It’s an amazing company, all natural and organic, and all their products score a ’0′ on the cosmetic safety database. When he’s older I’ll be making most of his products, just like I do for me!

    For teething . . . well, I plan to cross that bridge when I get to it. I haven’t really done my research yet though, I’m afraid. Sorry!

    @ sarah – I’m doing the same. No bleach . . . for a while at least. ;-)

  • Minna


    I browsed Mehandi website and read about cassia. It seems like a wonderful way to dye and condition your hair naturally and I would love to try it!

    I googled “buy cassia in Melbourne” and found no decent results. I’m not 100% sure if it’s impossible to find an Aussie online store for cassia hair dye but it doesn’t seem to be a very popular and well-known thing! Which makes it even more exciting :P

    ..the only problem is that if I order it from Mehandi, it’s going to cost me 35 bucks for international shipping, and that’s expensive. So I’ll try my best to find an Australian store for that! If not, I guess my only option is Mehandi.

  • Cindy

    Sayward -

    I’m not Lisa, but I warm my henna too. Just put your glass bowl over a pot of water, double boiler style, and let it heat up gently. Good old Brownian motion – it frees more lawsone molecules so they can bond with your hair! I also plastic wrap my head to trap both the moisture and heat, so the henna stays active for longer, resulting in a brighter color.

  • LisaMaddox

    I use an black bowl for my henna and put it in a sunny spot. I live in Arizona, so I leave it outside in the summer (and then have to use pot holders to bring it into the house!) or on a windowsill in the winter. If I mix it at night, I’ll put it on a heating pad, or near the stove while I’m cooking.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Minna – Good luck with the searching! And update us with the results please. =)

    @ Cindy & LisaMaddox – Thanks for the warming advice (and explanation – makes perfect sense). I’ll try warming it next time!

  • Maren-inthe-UK

    re: baby stuff. dunno about elsewhere, but a grocery store in the UK makes a gorgeous bottom butter with coconut oil, olive oil, shea, and chamomile. It smells lovely and when my baby was little I put it in all her little crevices each morning and night and it was wonderful for preventing diaper rash. In fact she didn’t have one until she was nearly a year old and that turned out to be a fungal rash anyway. Plus it made her smell lovely :D

    I’m sure something like that would be easy enough to make.

    Teething: babies aren’t supposed to chew on frozen stuff. They make really nice, rubbery pre-toothbrushes for babies that worked better for us than ANY topical application and she could move around to chew where she needed it. Also, it’s good to be going all-natural, but just keep in mind that you may need to resort to an actual painkiller (not topical) if your little one is truly miserable. We never needed it for teething, but there’s nothing like a week of 102 degree fevers to drive home the point that it’s not always possible to do all natural in all situations and we all just do the best we can.

  • Minna

    I finally ordered my Cassia Obovata – from that website – http://www.cosmica.com.au. I forgot to take a good “before” photo unfortunately, but I can guarantee that there definitely is a change in the colour of my hair. If I had somehow bleached it before, it would have dyed it golden yellowish blonde, right now it just dyed the lighter parts of my hair a bit. And it definitely feels very healthy, smooth and soft!

    I mixed cassia with lemon juice and let it sit for 12 hours. After applying (had my boyfriend do it, hahahahaha) I let it sit in my hair for about 5 hours. It did smell like earth too, haha, but in a positive way! My hair still smells like that, it’s like a nice mixture of earth and the scent of flowers.

    All in all I would say that it takes a lot of time and energy to mess around with cassia (it kept melting under the cling wrap on my head and it was sooo annoying!) and the results (at least the colour) aren’t all that amazing. But! I think I’m starting to like how soft and silky my hair is and although I’ve never been into hair care, I might try this again when my hair gets dry and dull.

    And now the pictures!

    (PS – The rash on my face isn’t because of cassia, so no worries.)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    Minna! Thank you so much for posting your experience and especially the photos! I’m sure it helps everyone to get a good idea of Cassia, but for me personally I’m just thrilled to finally put a face to the name! YAY! =D =D =D

    Oh, and your hair does look so beautiful and healthy!

  • http://heartmindjr.blogspot.com Rorita

    I don’t like the smell of Henna, especially if it’s applied to the hands. I know it’s much better than idustrial dye but I just can’t stand it. My man doesn’t stand it either. There is a wedding custom in my country which consists of the bride having henna tattos which I find rather ugly and the smell is just unbearable. Take a look :http://www.taus.it/club/images/henna.jpg I’m not really keen on dying my hair, but if ever I think of doing it I will resort to henna for sure!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Rorita – I know what you mean about the smell, but I do love the way it looks! What country are you from?

  • http://heartmindjr.blogspot.com Rorita

    @Sayward: I’m from Tunisia. Ever heard about it?

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Rorita – I’ve heard of it but I’m not too familiar with any details. But I’m thrilled to hear from readers all around the world! *runs off to Google Tunisia* =D

  • Rorita

    :) Tell me what you found out!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Rorita – Well, I didn’t know it was on the Mediterranean! Which of course got me thinking about the food, so I did a bit of research. Now I’m dying to try Tunisian food!

  • http://www.heartmindjr.blogspot.com Rorita

    Well! I can post a couple of recipes on my blog! That sounds like a good idea to try them! Cuscus, Tajine,Brik,Hsai…

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Rorita – Yessss! I want to try all of them!

  • Meri

    I die my hair with henna and I really love it!
    I used some henna which said “bright red”.



    (the photos are done some weeks after (maybe 3)
    I started using henna since my hair became so awefully dry and fragile and I’m more than happy with the results :)!

  • http://www.electricswitch.org Electric Switch :

    there are many hair colors out there but i alway prefere blondes,*~

  • http://www.electriccementmixer.info Electric Cement Mixer

    i really like to color my hair and i would love to try different hair colors specially auburn ‘~”

  • sanne

    I have dyed my hair for over ten years with henna. In between I’ve been blond, black, raspberry , crayon red, I share your love :)

    The first time I used henna was aprox 25 years ago and I bought it at the turkish store. I still do. It’s cheap and always perfect. I never checked the ingredients but I think there is only henna in it? Turkish people use it to dye their hands at certain holidays and festivities. I guess every indian/turkisch/middeleastern store sells it.

    What I did and always worked: I use boiled hot water to make the mixture and add a bit of lemon juice and olive oil. Then wait until it’s cooled down enough to put on your head (!) something to cover like a plastic bag ( teared open on one side) or aluminum foil. This keeps the henna wet and warm.

    One or two hours is sufficient every time.

    When my natural hair colour turned darker and hence the henna colour I bleeched it sometimes before I would dye it to make it the bright orange i love so much;)

    This I my new favorite blogg! i discovered it while brosing for homemade cosmetics adn soycandles. I live in the Netherlands and have a four year old son. Basicly 95% organic and 90% vegan ^-^

  • http://www.dooractuator.info Door Actuator

    I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives great information ,“

  • Kare

    I absolutely LOVE how you decorated your baby belly :) It looks BEAUTIFUL and fun @ the same time!

  • http://petgirlfriday.com Kaci

    Yay! I love this post! I found your site as I was looking for instructions on making sauerkraut at home and I came across your henna post…two scores on one page! (thank you)
    I just wanted to add my 2 cents on henna. I LOVE the stuff! I gave up chemically dying my hair about 2 years ago during a health crisis, I turned to henna and have never looked back (I also buy from Mehandi). It’s a timely process, but so worth it. The color does not fade – a plus for us *redheads*! I’ve been mixing plant pigments and the color never disappoints.
    Much love to all you beautiful mamas out there..

  • Anonymous

    Hey Sayward! I just wanted to mention that I dyed my bleached hair with henna and indigo and it worked fine. A note, if your hair is really damaged and you use only henna, you could end up with a faded orange. My hair didn’t exactly come out as dark as I wanted but it still worked! And it feels so much better.

  • DK

    This is a great blog, love all the hair stories! I’ve been a ‘dye-hard’ (nice!) since I was 13 (punky colours apple green) and my hair dye trajectory is pretty close to your own. I’ve been bleaching for a couple of years and I just started playing with manic panic again. I’m trying to decide whether to use vampire red or give henna a try (I’ve seen some pics that suggest I can achieve similar results through henna)… not sure what to do. Anyway, would love to hear your advice. Also, how was your hair after you went from henna back to manic panic? I’ve heard horror stories about going from henna back to chemical dyes (i.e. don’t do it or your hair will snap off). Would love to hear your thoughts!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    I haven’t had any problems bleaching or dying after henna. I did wait many months in between, but there was no issue whatsoever.

    Henna is definitely better for your hair, but MP isn’t so bad. It’s the bleach that really destroys things. If you can do Vampire Red without bleaching first, you might as well. YOu can’t get that kind of super-bright awesomeness with real henna.

  • Pingback: A Hairy Weekend | My Polymind

  • Chels

    Check out hennaforhair.com , it was an AMAZING resource when I was considering hennaing. I took the plunge and got beautiful bright red hair. Also, henna, true henna, doesn’t fade. It’s there for the long haul and the only way to remove it is to strip it via bleach. However, use of heated hair tools (flat iron, curling iron) will darken the color.

    I can’t stay committed to red, so I don’t know if I’ll go that route again, but for anyone that loves one color, check that website. They have a plethora of info and explain how to create different colors using different all natural plants.