How to do a henna treatment on natural hair
Should you henna?
I have often been frustrated with the natural kinky texture of my hair and the fact that sometimes acts as if it doesn’t want to retain length—because I have definite evidence that it grows. My hair often seems to do better at the roots than at the ends where my hair likes to tangle and knot up. Because of my mane’s tendency to “kink” up, the ends of my hair is probably where most of my breakage occurs. My purpose initially was to find some type of super conditioner or treatment that would stop my kinking and breakage woes without me having to resort to the “creamy crack”. After doing quite a bit of “Google-ing” I ran across a few interesting articles on auyurvedic hair care and its benefits. I won’t get into detail on auyurveda—that is for another post. Let’s discuss henna and its benefits for hair.
What is henna?
Henna is made from the leaves of a plant called lawsonia inermis. The powder that we use for our hair and skin (you’ve heard of henna tattoos right?) is essentially dried up plant leaves that stain the hair and skin a reddish brown. The henna should also be 100% pure henna and nothing with anything else mixed in. This is where you can run into trouble. Generally, Jamila henna with or without the date stamp and henna purchased from www.mehandi.com are good for doing a home henna treatment. I have used henna from Mehandi as well as the Jamila henna from the Indian market around the corner and I have had good results with both. For the hair, you should use only BAQ (body art quality) henna. The BAQ henna for the most part stains the hair as it would stain your skin for a tattoo. People all over the world have used henna for years to color their hair. So, you can feel pretty confident about your decision to use henna.
What can henna do for my hair?
When the henna paste is applied to the hair (or skin) the paste leaves small amounts of henna on the hair. It coats the hair strand leaving traces of the color. Since the henna molecules are too large to penetrate the hair shaft it leaves a semi-permanent reddish brown color. Some folks report that the henna slightly relaxes the curl pattern. I personally have only experienced a slight difference in my curl pattern. For the most part, my 4b hair remains 4b hair.
How should I apply my henna?
Carefully! Let me just say that henna can not only stain your hair and skin…it can stain your sink, cabinets, walls, floors, etc. So, it is VERY important that you carefully prep your area first because henna paste has been known to appear in strange places. The first thing you should do is mix your henna with a slightly acidic liquid and cover with a lid or plastic wrap to allow for sufficient dye release time. If you plan to leave the henna paste on overnight, you can just mix and apply. If you only plan to leave it on for a few hours during the day, then you should mix it beforehand and allow a few hours (approx. 2-6 depending on the climate) for dye release.
Before starting the process, gather all the materials you will need:
For your mix*:
100-300 mg of henna powder depending on the length.
Purified or Distilled water (amount varies)
1-2 tablespoons organic honey (from Whole Foods or any health food store)
Acidic liquid (apple cider vinegar, green tea, lemon juice, orange juice—it is your choice but you may get variations of color depending on the acidity and type of liquid you use)
1-2 tablespoons cheap silicone free conditioner
*The recipe I have listed above has been made up from my own experience and independent research. I find that doing a henna treatment is a pretty hard process to mess up. What you add to your mix is up to you, I’ve only given you the ingredients I use to make my henna’s successful.
For the process/area:
Plastic container to mix your henna in
Plastic (Saran) wrap
Tarp, garbage bags, or newspapers (or all three!)
For after you are done:
Cheap conditioner for co-washing
Deep moisturizing conditioner
Thermal heat cap or hooded dryer
Depending on when you plan to do the henna, is when you should make your mix. If you plan to do it overnight and sleep in your henna then there is no need to pre-mix. If you plan to apply and rinse in the same day then you should make your henna mix the night before. Start by deciding which acidic liquid you want to use. If using green tea, steep the tea as if you are making a strong glass to drink using the distilled water (allow the tea to cool before mixing in the henna). If you plan to use apple cider vinegar or any other acidic liquid I would recommend using a ratio of 50:50 liquid to water. Put your henna powder in the plastic container that you have designated. Then, slowly add your liquid until your mix becomes a thick paste. You should continue to add the liquid to slowly loosen the consistency of the henna mix. Keep in mind that the more liquid you add the runnier the finished mixture will be. It’s best to try to get a consistency that is tighter than cake batter. You don’t want a runny mix, if so you will be wiping mess from your face and neck during the whole henna treatment. If you plan to sleep in your henna, go ahead and mix in your honey and conditioner. If you plan to pre-mix for application the next day, wait until you are ready to apply before adding the honey and conditioner. For your pre-mix girls (or guys), remember to add JUST the liquid and henna powder. Cover with plastic wrap (seal it down around the henna mix), cover with a lid, and leave in a warm place overnight.
Start by covering your floor with newspaper or a paint tarp. Then, take garbage bags or more newspaper and cover your sink or the counter that you will be using.
Now you’re ready to henna! *Finally* It is a good idea to start with freshly washed, detangled and sectioned hair. Then, as if you were about to apply a color treatment or relaxer, start with applying the henna to smaller sections within the larger sections. Don’t bother with using a color brush; it’s easier and quicker to apply it section by section using your gloved hands. Completely coat each section with the paste as to make sure that no bits of hair are left uncovered. Continue section by section until you finish your entire head. Be aware that your head will probably feel a bit heavy, but don’t worry too much about that—your hair will thank you later!
Then, gather your hair up into a large pasty bun on the top of your head. Use cotton strips around your hairline, remove your gloves and clean around your forehead and nape to avoid your skin being dyed henna red. Wrap your entire head with plastic wrap a few times then cover with a plastic cap. I always find it helps to then tie your head with a cotton scarf to absorb any remaining “drippies”. If you plan to sleep in your henna, go to bed! If not, go on about your day with the henna in your head to process. It usually takes about 3-5 hours for henna that has already released the dye to leave deposits on your hair, so plan to be glamorous in your plastic wrap for a few hours!
It’s time to rinse! This is where it gets messy (oh you thought all the mess was done with huh? NOT!) I recommend rinsing in one of two ways. Fill a tub up with water, lean over it and dunk your head in. Or, you can go outside to the faucet in the back yard to rinse. If you dunk, you will probably need to dunk twice before the water isn’t so brownish red. If you use the backyard method, you will probably be soaking wet by the time you’re done. If the weather is warm, use the outside rinsing method—less clean up.
Essentially you want to keep rinsing until the water is clear. Then, use your cheap conditioner as if it were a shampoo and “shampoo” the rest of the henna from your hair. You will probably need to do this 3-4 times before all the henna is rinsed out.
Apply a deep moisturizing conditioner immediately and sit under a hooded dryer or use a thermal cap for about 30-45 minutes. Rinse the deep conditioner and style as usual!
Slight curl relaxation
Slight curl relaxation
UPDATE* I did my last official henna October 2011 which was right before I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter Ava. I am pretty certain that I could have continued my regular monthly henna treatments while pregnant but I decided against it. Women all over the world continue to use henna for body art and hair while pregnant. I chose not to. I plan to continue with my henna regimen within the next month or so.
Cartwright-Jones, Catherine. Henna For Hair “How To”Henna. Stow: Tap Dancing Lizard, LLC, 2006. 60. eBook. <http://www.hennaforhair.com/freebooks/hennaforhair.pdf>