24 March 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Sorry, Fabulous Readers: I won't be posting an outfit today. Instead, I'm hennaing my hair.

I've always wanted red hair. My mom is a stunning redhead, naturally, and growing up, I was always disappointed that I didn't inherit it. Genetics handed me a slightly bum card when it comes to hair color: I didn't get my dad's almost-black shade, either. Instead I ended up with a medium-brownish-blonde color that does nothing for my complexion and makes me look washed out (oddly, it's about the same shade as Fabulous Husband's, but looks splendid on him: he's got much darker eyes and paler skin than I do, though).

So of course, the first thing I did when I went away to school as sixteen was dye it. Red, like my mother's.

I've experimented with other shades over the years - a truly unnatural fire-engine red, jet black, blonde, calico (an ill-advised homebrewed attempt to rid myself of a grown-out black dye job: it could have been worse) - but always returned to red.

However, as anyone who's tried to maintain red hair with ammonia-based dyes knows, red is a remarkably fugitive (i.e., short-lasting) color. Even with massive amounts of conditioner, trying to stay red left my hair dry and damaged, so I started using henna.

Henna is a subtropical flowering plant, Lawsonia inermis:
picture via Wikipedia

The dried, ground leaves are used as a dye for skin, hair, leather, and wool: any protein-based material, really. The color is long-lasting and vividly orange-red.

I've been using henna on my hair for several years now, and I'm thrilled with the results. My hairstylist is amazed that I can get a true, vivid, lasting red that not only doesn't damage my hair, but conditions it: my hair is never as glossy, silky, and cooperative as right after I've hennaed it.

The biggest problem with henna is that, for centuries, the term 'henna' was used as a generic term for any hair dye, including ones with ingredients that can cause serious damage to the user's health. For that reason, always be leery of any product calling itself henna that promises a color other than red or contains anything other than L. inermis (although there are other natural dyes, such as indigo, alma, or cassia, that can be used alone or in combination with henna to create different shades. Products containing these other dyes should list them, though, not refer to a mix of dyes as "brown henna," "chestnut henna," or any other variation). Henna powder should be bright green and smell like fresh-mown hay.

The best way to ensure that you're getting good-quality henna without additives (I've encountered henna with green sand added for bulk and color) is to buy it from a reputable supplier. I order mine from Mehandi, but there are several reputable suppliers: a Google search for "Body Art Quality Henna" or "BAQ Henna" should turn up several. Mehandi also has great instructions on how to mix and apply henna to hair. Be warned, though: it's not a quick process. I like to dedicate a day when I have no pressing obligations outside the house to hennaing, because I know that I'm going to be stuck with a plastic-wrap turban covering a headful of greeny-brown mud for at least four hours. That's also why there's no outfit post today: I'm wearing old, disreputable clothes that I don't mind about dye stains on.

Part of the reason that I'm doing this today is that tomorrow, Fabulous Husband and I are going to Pennsylvania for our end-of-winter getaway combined with my birthday celebration. We're going to see the wonderful Gypsy Nomads in concert and be in the audience for their first concert DVD. It's a costumed event, and I've been sewing like mad trying to get The Perfect Outfit together.

I'm bringing my netbook, but I can't promise that I'll be able to find a wireless connection. If not, I'll post lots of photos next week when I come back!


  1. Woot! Have a great time at the show!

  2. I've been a redhead since 1991! Of course my mousey brown hair is now grey underneath.

  3. I never knew that henna could be used to dye hair.

    Hope you had fun at the concert!


Comments are moderated to reduce spam, so don't worry if they don't show up right away!