Y’all, the very first time I ever dyed my hair the year was, maybe, 1994.
Blur and Oasis were dueling for the Britpop crown. Nirvana went unplugged. The Beastie Boys wanted us to check-ch-check-check-check-ch-check it out. OJ walked free. Nick Cave released maybe his third best album. And here in Manchester England my dear old Mum, keen to spare my 13-year old scalp from a chemical onslaught, took me along to The Body Shop, and we picked up a pack of powdered henna.
I went home with dreams of rich red tresses, and filled the house with the almightiest stink ever to violate my young nostrils. As I flew about the first floor flinging open windows with one hand and holding a shower cap barely containing the cow pat on my head with the other, I vowed never to dabble in henna ever again.
Nevertheless, many years and many hair colours have passed since then. I was red through much of my twenties and early thirties. At about 35 I decided on a whim to go back to black, and almost immediately regretted it. What followed was a couple of years of painfully slow growing-out which eventually left me with the surprising revelation that my natural hair colour was apparently a dark brown these days. Yawn.
Given my first experience with henna, it didn’t occur to me to give it another try until I saw lots of the young ‘uns on YouTube henna-ing with great success. I decided to give it another attempt, and I’ve now been relying on Lush Caca Rouge for about a year and I’ve pretty much got the routine sorted. I don’t even use gloves no more yo. SRSLY. Level 10 vegan over here. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A block of your preferred Lush henna. (I use half a block for my long layered bob.)
- A hardcore microplane grater thingy, COARSE, like this.
- Hair dye applicator brush (like this).
- Heat-proof bowl.
- Spoon for mixing.
- One lemon, juiced. (this is optional, see below)
- Dark/old towels – one large (to cover your bathroom/nearby surface) and one small (for your shoulders/hair).
- Some thick moisturiser, or vaseline (i.e. an emollient).
- Cling film.
- A HELLUVA LOT OF TIME BETTER GET ON NETFLIX.
The Lush henna comes in blocks of six smaller pieces, and I use three of these for each application. That’s just under £6 per application, which is about once every 6 weeks.
I can honestly say (and no this post is not sponsored but hey Lush you can sponsor me anytime WINK) that I get way more compliments on my hair these days than I ever did, particularly how shiny it is. (I am also regularly using the Lush Seanik OR Copperhead shampoo bar and Jungle conditioner bar.) The colour isn’t as punch-you-in-the-face vibrant as my box colours used to be, but since my hair is naturally a darker brown, c’est la vie I guess. I’m nearly forty. I suppose I can live with it. (And yes, henna makes my fledgling greys disappear completely without drawing any extra attention to them.)
Take the amount of henna you’ll need from the block and get ready to grate like you’ve never grated before. Yes, take your bowl and your coarse microplane grater and get that henna completely grated. Please be careful with your fingers because I don’t think blood actually makes the colour any redder.
When your henna is all grated is should basically look a lot like grated chocolate.
At this point, the lemon becomes optional. I add the fresh juice of one lemon to my henna mix each time as my colleague’s mother-in-law is from Pakistan and knows a thing or two about henna, and swears by this to intensify the colour. I’ve heard that the lemon juice can be an irritant if you have a sensitive or dry scalp, but I have neither and so I include it every time.
I squeeze the lemon juice into the grated henna, and then slowly add boiling water from the kettle, mixing as I go, until the mixture resembles melted chocolate.
Now you have your henna ready to smother on your eager head, but be careful to let it cool slightly before applying. Ideally it will still be warm, but obviously you don’t want to hurt yourself, so try a little first and see how it feels.
Thanks to my super good pal Vicki-whose-Mum-was-a-hairdresser, I now know the most sensible way to apply dye once it’s in a thick gloopy consistency. I didn’t even use gloves the last time I henna-ed and my fingers remained pasty white. The important first step is to apply the moisturiser/vaseline around your hairline and over your ears. Drape a towel over the surface you’ll be using (for me this is the bathroom sink) and another small towel around your shoulders. If you’re nervous, then also spread out an old or dark towel on the floor beneath your feet.
I begin with clean (i.e. without product) and dry hair, and simply start to apply along my top parting with the applicator brush, front to back. I then use the thin end of a second brush to part my hair a half inch or so to one side, and apply along the parting once again, front to back. I continue this way entirely down to my neckline. I then go back to the top, part my hair a half inch or so in the other direction, and again continue applying henna along the hairline and then moving along all the way down to the other side. This is a really great video that explains the technique. I think the trick with henna is getting it to the right consistency so you can use this standard application method, and grating is the key to that.
Once my roots are fully covered, I then usually dangle my head over the bath and dollop the last bits of henna onto the lengths of my hair with my hands. Yes, I even do this without gloves! You can of course use gloves for this if you have a lot to cover, but I find that a couple of minutes’ worth of henna on the hands can be easily washed off with soap afterwards.
Once your hair is fully covered, you should then twist it neatly onto the top of your head and apply a very secure ‘turban’ of cling film. Get help with this step if you need it! And make sure you catch all the hair under the cling film, because you’ll be sitting in it for a few hours…
At this stage I go around my hairline with a cotton pad and some cleanser or make-up remover and wipe up any stray bits of henna on my skin. (Mr J-M is a champ at helping at this stage.)
When that’s all done, you can wrap a towel around the cling film if you like. The warmer the henna stays, the more vibrant the colour result will be.
And then….well, then you need to wait a while. I usually leave henna on for 3 to 4 hours before I rinse. You may well find that the rinsing takes a while in a shower – I would recommend running a bath and letting your head soak in the water for a while, and then giving it a final shampoo and rinse under the shower.
And there she is, friends! I’m happy with the colour and it gets a wee bit lovelier every time I henna, for sure. I’m definitely planning to stick with this option rather than box dyes from now on.
How about you? Are you a box-dye fiend? A fancy salon-frequenter? Or a henna convert? (OR MAYBE YOU DON’T DYE AT ALL I DUNNO?)
ETA 12/01/20 – this is worth a read: THE COMMODIFICATION OF HENNA HAIR DYE BY WHITE-OWNED COMPANIES.
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