The answer is, it depends. And are you sure you really want to?
I discovered henna for hair when I lived in San Francisco. If you read my earlier blog entries, you’ll discover my love affair firsthand.
This is the color and state of my hair before I went the henna route. It’s mostly my natural color; I intermittently got a highlight here or there, but they mostly all faded and grew out and got bleached by the sun. It’s pretty dry, especially at the ends.
And this is what my hair looked like after doing henna on it for two years (full-head applications each time — so the ends have probably been treated with henna a dozen or more times). I didn’t maintain that length the whole time, by the way; it was collarbone length for a while. Nice and shiny, eh?
Now don’t get me wrong, I was in love with my henna head. I loved the color, the conditioning, taking time to do something nice for myself every six weeks or so.
But moving back from San Francisco to Reno, I was in for a surprise. In the Bay Area, henna made my hair silky soft and shiny. In Reno, time and time again, it would dry out my hair for days afterwards. Olga, a HennaTribe friend from Germany, has said multiple times that henna gave her hair the texture of straw. I had no idea what she was talking about until I started hennaing my hair here in the Nevada high desert.
I modified my mix, but to no avail. My hair was inconsolable.
The only theory I could come up with was humidity. What if henna absorbs moisture? In San Francisco, it would absorb it from the air and transfer it to my hair. In Reno, though, the air is bone dry. Perhaps the henna drew moisture from my hair and transferred it to the air? Or, perhaps the henna residue that coats your hair for a few days post-coloring wasn’t able to remain very supple without that ambient moisture to support it. I should note here that my hair softened up after a few days, and it was still incredibly shiny. But that first week or so, I was not liking it at all.
Anyway, henna wasn’t doing my hair any favors here in the desert, so I decided to make an experiment out of it and see if I could get it bleached back to blonde.
Very important note: If you don’t know exactly what is in your henna for hair paste, DO NOT BLEACH OVER HENNA. Lower quality or mass-produced henna sold for hair often contains metallic salts. Metallic salts plus bleach will melt your hair. You will leave the salon bald. My stylist described it like using a hot curling iron on a synthetic wig. Not pretty.
Anyway, I’m not good with chemicals at home, so I went to my stylist to see if she could help me out. She was extremely reluctant to try it because she didn’t want to melt my hair. I told her that I would take all responsibility for any negative results, so ahead we forged. I always bought my henna from Darcy at the Henna Lounge, using body-art quality henna for my hair, so I knew I didn’t have to worry about additives.
It took us three major bleach applications in a row to get the henna out. This was not a very pleasant experience, because I have a pretty sensitive scalp. I left the salon with chemical blistering on my scalp and hairline (ouch!). Also, if you’ve ever used bleach on your hair, you probably have an idea of what it did to the texture of my hair. My notes from that day:
So it is possible to bleach years and years of henna back to blonde. However, I wouldn’t recommend it. The morning I took this photo I was crying because of how much my hair was breaking. However, I’m fixing that with hardcore deep reconstructing and conditioning treatments!
Long story short, here’s the result of bleaching out my henna:
It was damaged enough that I ended up cutting it, but lots of deep conditioning treatments helped while I let the damaged parts grow out.
It’s been about two years now since I bleached out my henna, and I’m just now growing my hair back out. I missed the color a lot, though, so I recently went to an Aveda salon and got demi-permanent red. Leaving the salon, I looked in a mirror and got so incredibly nostalgic! The Aveda red is like a naturally toned-down shade of henna red, and the Aveda products did make my hair noticeably softer. I’ll have to post a photo for comparison’s sake soon.
Thus ends the frightening tale of a head of henna, a move to the high desert, and three industrial applications of bleach.