I read a pretty alarming fact online recently that the average age for women’s hair to turn grey is at 35 – somehow I’ve grown from 18 to 31 in the blink of an eye and as my 32nd birthday approaches this year, whilst I thankfully haven’t got any grey hairs yet, I’m looking for a safe and natural longterm method to say goodbye to my natural hair colour forever.
Over the years I’ve over-bleached, over-straightened, heat and style damaged my hair and fretted over losing fistfuls of my hair in the shower after having my two children. Where I once had glossy strong locks I now have a bit of a limp mess in it’s place with fine, flyaway wispy hair that I keep up in a ponytail 24/7 to avoid the inconvenience of styling it.
I first started dying my hair at the age of 15 when I decided to go from my natural colour of a dark blonde (number 7 on the hair scale) to peroxide blonde and through my lack of understanding would sometimes bleach my hair two or even three times a month! It totally wrecked my hair, caused it to dry out, split and snap off in places.
So I moved onto having green hair for a while, followed by cosmic blue which is more of a black really that shimmers blue in the light, then a medium brown, a yellow blonde all over and finally where I am today, which is my natural dark blonde, with just a top section of highlights every few months as I try to leave the majority of my hair alone to recover.
Whenever I’ve dyed my hair, which must be hundreds of times over the years, I have always used permanent dyes and bleaches applied by hairdressers rather than experimenting myself at home. I first heard about henna hair dye about five or six years ago when complimenting one of my girlfriends on how thick, long and glossy her hair always looks and she told me all about the process and benefits of using henna whilst we huffed and puffed on the crosstrainer at the gym.
It sounded and looked too good to be true and I remember thinking how involved the whole process was at the thought of mixing and melting the dye, not to mention the huge mess and potential for it to go wrong somehow as you have to make and apply the henna yourself at home – something that I have zero experience of. So I figured it wasn’t for me, but looked great on her and I went back to my hairdresser flicking through glossy magazines and sipping iced water as I relaxed whilst waiting for my highlights to develop in foils.
Having been vegetarian from the age of 5, and vegan for the past several years almost, I have a love for natural products and being kind and careful with my body and health.It’s a far cry from my late teens and early twenties when hairdressers would freak out as my dark blonde hair kicked off warm tones during bleaching and they would say “I’m so sorry, your hair looks ginger, we’ll have to dye it again to get rid of it!”
I guess because many hairdressers always tutted at me and said “you’re blonde but your hair throws off warm tones when its dyed so we have to be really careful to avoid turning you ginger” that I always thought it was a bad thing to be a redhead and something that should be avoided. I’ve even heard pregnant couples frantically talking about their unborn babies in maternity waiting rooms saying “I know the most important thing is for the baby to be healthy and safe – but I really hope that it’s not ginger! My sister in-law is, do you think it’s likely?”
Being of Irish descent my Grandmother was a redhead as are three of my cousins and they have always had the most beautifully thick, long and glossy bright orange hair that I adore. I see no problem with red in any shade or tone, it’s just nothing that I’ve considered having myself until now. So why now do I want to be a redhead? I guess being a dark blonde with a fair skin tone and blue eyes, browns and blacks make me look pretty washed out and pale and brighter blondes totally wreck my hair, so being a redhead is an in-the-middle warm and welcome change.
Henna is made from a plant called lawsonia inermis which grows in hot, dry climates. The leaves are first harvested and then dried out and ground into a fine powder that can be made into a paste and used to dye hair, skin and even fingernails. Hair is in fact composed of four colours – yellow, red, black and brown with lighter hair showing more vibrant results with henna.
Whilst henna does not wash out of hair it will gradually fade over time as the dye works like a varnish over natural hair rather than chemically changing the colour, this means that regrowing roots are far more subtle than after using alternative synthetic dyes. Henna covers the cuticle of the hair and varnishes it with rich colour, maintaining the natural structure of the hair shafts without penetrating the inner layer of the hair so that the hair can retain its moisture and flexibility, looking and feeling strong and glossy as a result.
Henna restores the acid-alkaline balance of the scalp without affecting the natural balance of your hair and is a very good conditioner. Henna is often recommended for thickening and plumping fine hair, but if used too frequently it may lead to unnecessary breakage from the additional weight to the hair. It is therefore recommended that you reapply henna no sooner than every 4-6 weeks, about the same period of time as you wait between using regular hair colours.
The henna will then remain rich and vibrant in colour for 4-6 weeks and can be layered as much as you like to create the desired effect. It also boosts hair growth, prevents dandruff and helps to remove excess grease and dirt from the scalp. Those who use henna oils as a scalp treatment praise its ability to repair hair follicle damage which then leads to stronger, faster-growing and healthier hair.
For future-proofing my locks I was really pleased to read that henna can easily cover grey hair whilst still leaving it feeling thicker, stronger and more silky. Whilst pure henna is 100% natural and does not have any serious side effects associated with it, some hennas have added chemical ingredients that may not be safe for the hair and skin so it’s always best to check the packing for its intended use and not take for granted that all hennas are the same.
I’ve seen online that henna can be applied to the hair for 3-4hrs to develop, depending on the strength of the colour desired, however the henna that I’m using recommends just 1-2hrs which is far more convenient. After reading a lot of reviews I decided to purchase my henna from the cosmetic store Lush specifically for dyeing hair and the pack reads: ‘Lush Caca Rouge Henna Hair Colour: Rouge up your hair with fiery red hues and soft, glossy locks.’
The process of preparing, using and rinsing out the henna as a first time user was far easier than I expected it to be. Considering a home hair dye requires mixing up bottles or sachets of product and applying the dye in a bowl with a brush and gloves, a similar effort is required for the two methods. It is recommended that you use the following equipment: gloves, a spoon for stirring, a covering on the floor, clips to section your hair, dark coloured towels and a t-shirt, cling film, a heatproof bowl for the Bain Marie, a saucepan, Vaseline and a colouring brush.
I was cautious not to stain my skin or home with the henna and thankfully found that once any splashes were wiped (with a wet wipe) it was totally undetectable and easy to remove. The henna came via the post in a foam protected block – much like a giant chocolate bar – which I cut into smaller chunks with a kitchen knife and added to a Bain Marie on my cooker, the same process used to melt jelly. Within a few minutes the henna began to melt into the water that I’d added and formed a dark green paste which made my home smell delicious, floral, fruity, spicy and upliftingly fragrant.
At the consistency of melted chocolate, and steaming hot, the henna preparation is complete as the boiling heat is needed to activate the colour. In the several minutes that it took to prepare my hair for the henna it had cooled to body temperature and I didn’t notice any warmth or tingling sensation when using it. Hair dyes tend to make my head feel pretty cold and tingly, sometimes burning my skin even, but the henna was just soft and warm and smelt amazing.
To prepare my clean dry hair for henna I brushed it through to remove any tangles and then applied vaseline to my hairline and ears to prevent them from staining. I used a garden ground sheet to cover my bathroom floor and sink, sitting the bowl of henna in the basin beside the mirror and put on the protective gloves that came with the henna dye. Using the mirror I picked the henna paste up with my hands and massaged it into my hair, starting at the roots and working my way down to the ends.
For this particular henna the instructions recommended that it sits on the hair for 1-2 hours, applying cling film or a shower cap to achieve a redder shade of result. The application process took me around 10-15 minutes which I did entirely by myself, using the mirror to check for patches and massaging my scalp all over as if washing my hair. The henna paste becomes thick and lumpy, a lot like I would imagine wet dreadlocks might feel like, because of this you have to rub and smooth the hair over towards the end rather than being able to run your fingers through it as it becomes a big green matted lump.
I used cling film to cover my hair for cleanliness which I then wrapped in a towel as I had to do the school run and didn’t want to cause a mess everywhere that I went. It did dribble down my face and neck several times as the warmth of the clingfilm and towel melted the paste, but once I got home I wiped any dribbles away with a wet wipe and they didn’t stain my skin.
After waiting a full two hours I then rinsed my hair off in the shower and used shampoo to get the grainy lumps and gritty speckles of henna out of my hair. It took about four rinses in total with shampoo to get it all out, all the while my shower looked like I’d had a spray tan gone wrong and a food fight with ground up coffee beans! But aside from the initial flash of bright orange water running down the plug hole as I rinsed my hair, the mess was pretty quick to wash off and didn’t stain anything at all which I’m very pleased about. You can apply henna as many times as you like to build rich colour and shine, but the final shade of henna will continue to develop on the hair for 24hrs after the application.
I’ve literally had so many compliments on my hair today and I can’t stop smiling and touching it. It feels so much thicker, more shiny, bouncy and vibrant compared to my old hair. I couldn’t resist popping to the shops to stock up on peach and bright orange lip stick, nail varnish, eyeshadows and bronzer. I’m so in love with my new hair colour, the perfect shade for summer as it really pops with a tan and I think it will look so enchanting with pale skin and smokey eye shadow in the winter.