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Henna for Hair

Can I bleach henna out of my hair?

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.

My mostly natural hair color before henna

My mostly natural hair color before henna

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?

This is the result of two years of consistent, full-head henna coloration over blonde hair.

This is the result of two years of consistent, full-head henna coloration over blonde hair.

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:

After the henna was bleached out

After the henna was bleached out

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.

Henna on Eyebrows

So a few people have asked about henna on eyebrows. I actually rememberd to take photos of the results the last time I did it. 🙂 It took me a few tries to perfect it — you really need to take care to keep water from lightening it up too much for the best results.

First photo: A few hours after taking the paste off. It’s a little orangey. In the shower, I put beeswax lotion (courtesy Darcy) on my brows, because normally, a shower will significantly lighten them.

Second photo: The next morning (over 24 hours later). It’s more of a henna red color, and stays this way for a few days. I did the beeswax lotion again this morning to maintain the color.

I used to glob it on and clean it up with a Q-tip. Now I just outline my eyebrows with a cone and then fill it in. I use a heavily molassessed paste, because it stays soft, making it easier to get out of your eyebrow hairs after it’s been on there for a few hours.

Oh, and a tip: Don’t go to the DMV to get a new liscence photo taken the morning after hennaing your eyebrows! It looks kind of funky to have uber henna hair with these weird orange eyebrows, lol.

Challenging the norm

A lot of interesting things have been going on in my blogging absence! Here’s an attempt to keep you guys up to speed.

The UK-based henna artist Cat Hinton, who has a background in biology, is running a series of henna experiments that challenge the Western notion that lemon is the ideal liquid for henna mixes. She hypothesizes that lemon juice inhibits enzymes from breaking down plant cell walls. The dye in henna, lawsone, is in a plant cell wall. So, lemon juice might actually inhibit staining, rather than make it darker and better. Her experiments deal with lemon juice vs. papaya and pineapple juice, two fruits that have an abundance of enzymes. The nitty-gritty comes to this: Henna Tribe artists are discovering that mixes with plain water stain way better than lemon mixes.

For those of you who find tap water less than romantic, try substituting plain water for your favorite tea. You may need to add more sugar to your mix, because lemon juice has a certain amount of fructose that makes a lemon mix need less sugar for the right consistency than a water mix — around a tablespoon or two per 100 grams of henna, as estimated by Henna Lounge artist Darcy Vasudev. And don’t forget your terps!

In the world of henna for hair, results are similar. I’ve pared down my henna for hair recipe to henna mixed with hot chamomile tea. (You can also use hot liquid in your mehndi mixes if you want to use them sooner rather than later.) I also learned that there’s no need to shampoo it out. Henna is a natural cleanser and conditioner for hair. Drawing a bath and soaking it out is a wonderfully relaxing experience, and leaves your hair clean and silky-soft. (You may have to scrub your tub with some baking soda to get any residual henna stains out, but don’t worry — it won’t permanently stain your tub.) No conditioner is needed, either.

However, if you do want to condition your hair, a few drops of oil (olive, coconut, or a hair oil like Weleda’s rosemary hair oil), you just need a drop or two combed through your wet hair. For a deep conditioning treatment, saturate your hair with oil, wrap with a scarf, leave on overnight, and wash out in the morning. (Beware that coconut oil starts to smell sour after 5-10 minutes; if it bothers you, you might want to use a different oil.)

I should be doing more henna as spring and summer come into full-force, so look for more updates soon. Until then, happy hennaing!

Third time’s a charm

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Okay, so this is my third before-and-after of my henna-head. I think my hair has reached maximum henna saturation, because this application blended in my roots but didn’t seriously affect the overall color!

Today’s recipe:

  • 100g henna
  • 1.5c double-strength chamomile
  • 2T olive oil (…garlic flavored, yuck! I didn’t have anything else on hand)
  • 2T Herbal Essences Intensive Blends conditioner

I left it in for only about 3 or 3.5 hours this time (instead of a full 4). I also slopped it on right after mixing it (with lukewarm chamomile), without waiting for dye release. I did this because I’ve heard that hair takes henna so much more easily than skin that you could use water, mix, and apply immediately with good results.

I applied it to my roots first, using a condiment dispenser I got for 85 cents at a kitchen store down the street:


I always had problems before with getting the henna near my scalp, though obviously it didn’t harm the final outcome. If you just goop it on, it doesn’t really saturate your entire head — it just sits on the clump of hair you lathered it over. So, with this dispenser I could part my hair in segments all over my head and just squeeze a big line of henna into the part. Then I glopped the rest on over that and massaged it into my scalp. I so love the cooling effect the henna has on my scalp!

I used the olive oil and conditioner in this batch because I had problems with a larger-than-usual amount of hair falling out when I rinsed the henna out. Others have reported alleviating this symptom by adding olive oil, which is really good for your hair anyway. This batch worked just as advertised — I only washed out the normal amount of hair I shed in the shower every day.

I hadn’t added olive oil before because I heard somewhere that it kept the henna from staining as well as it should. But others reported use of a moderate amount of olive oil with no problems. I guess it’s the same with terps — a little is fine, too much ruins stain. On a side-note, I used vegetable oil around my hairline, applied with a cotton ball, to deflect the orange halo you can end up with if you don’t apply the henna very carefully. Worked like a charm!

I didn’t add any essential oils this time around, either. But come on, I already have a mixture of chamomile, garlic olive oil, and Herbel Essences on my head — adding another scent to the mix would probably have been nauseating!

And so, there you have it! Here is my hair before the most recent application (which is the shade of two mellowed-out applications of henna over the past two months):


My hair immediately after combing it out with conditioner, rinsing it really well, and blowdrying:


As you can see, there’s really not much difference in color. The red might be just a little bit redder. My roots are nicely blended in. And my hair is wonderfully soft and strong! The reason it doesn’t look so shiny in the second photo is because a) I didn’t use the flash on my camera or have direct lighting, and b) I didn’t shampoo my hair before applying henna this time around, so it’s all greasy and nasty. 🙂 Sorry.

Since I seem to have reached the conclusion of this experiment, I’ll put all my findings on one easy-to-reference page — hopefully sometime in the next few weeks. I’ll blog on any other interesting developments I might have, but otherwise, I won’t bore you with my now monthly henna-head routine!

Suffice to say, I think I’ll be hennaing my hair for a long, long time to come.

So many compliments!

So yesterday I got like fifteen compliments on my hair in less than two hours as I was running around town doing work stuff. I figured I should include a pic of how it’s looking, since it’s apparently so stellar!


It’s not a week and a half since application, but it’s getting pretty mellow. When I lather up in the shower, though, I still get orangey suds.

As much as I love the softer, thicker hair and groovy red tones, I think I’m happiest that I have a unique hair color now. People no longer confuse me with my coworker Loren (though I always take that as a compliment, because she’s cool and hot), more security guards remember my name and where I’m from, and more receptionists open up to me via comments like, "Wow, I love your hair color — it’s so rich!"

Also, I had to include a pic of my new piercings. 😉 It’s a long story, but I’m extremely proud of them, and highly recommend Braindrops for piercing, antique/tribal pierced jewelry, and as far as I know, tattoos as well (though I don’t have any of those… yet).

Peak color

Out and about this morning, I must have gotten a dozen compliments on my hair in less than two hours. I guess it’s at its peak color — just four or so days after reapplying it!

It’s weird, I’ve never gotten so many comments on my appearance before. Sure, one or two people usually tell me they like my jewelry, but every single receptionist and security guard I’ve spoken to today?

It actually makes me pretty happy, because nobody’s mistaking me for my coworker anymore. ("You’re… Loren, right?" Wrong! Though I usually take that as a compliment, because Loren is cool and hot.)

I’ll see if I can add a photo to this post later today.

Fire-engine red!

So last night I decided to henna my hair again, because the roots were starting to show. As reported by other henna heads, the second application layers over the red tones and turns out absolutely gorgeous. Not a hint of orange to be seen! It is pretty bright — almost fire-engine red — but that will mellow out, and for the next few days, I think it’s going to be pretty fun!

Click here for the results of my first henna application, as well as a photo of my natural hair color for comparison’s sake.

This is my hair immediately before my second application:

Aaaand here’s my hair immedately after washing it out and blowdrying it!

Damn, I love it. And while last time it was orange on washing it out, this time there’s hardly any orange to be seen — just a groovy, groovy red.

The mix this time was slightly different because my yogurt went bad and I was too lazy to get more. I used:

  • 100 g henna
    (my hair has gotten longer — and I was running out of henna in my last batch, which was only 80 g — and I didn’t add any yogurt, which adds volume to the mix, making it so that you can use less henna)
  • 2 T lemon juice
    (for highlights and what-have-you)
  • About 1.75 c double-strength chamomile
    (I made two cups, but didn’t need to use all of it)
  • 1 drop lavendar essential oil
    (I used several last time and the strength of the smell almost made me woozy)

I mixed the chamomile in while it was hot, and left the henna out to cool for about an hour and a half, instead of overnight. I still had dye release — must’ve been the heat. (Though I hear that henna dyes hair so well that you don’t even need to wait for dye release.) I left it on for just shy of four hours and washed it out by combing generous amounts of conditioner through (but no shampoo). Blowdried it, and I’m not going to wash it until tomorrow morning.

I forgot to put veggie/olive oil around my hairline, so I ended up with a little bit of an orange halo, but it was mostly gone by this morning.

And my hair is oh-so-silky once again, which is amazing, because it was pretty darn silky before.

I’ll post another photo of the mellowed-out color in around a week and a half, and I’ll probably do this experiement one more time to see how three layers of hair henna look as compared to one (or none!).

Final Hair Results

I realized that I never posted all of my hair photos. Now that it’s nice and mellowed out, in its final color, I think I can! I hear that repeated applications deepen and darken the red color, but if you’re a blonde (like me) and you henna with chamomile and a bit of lavendar (like I did) this is what you can expect!







I love the final color, and I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on it! Now, almost a month later, I’m starting to see my roots, so I might reapply in the next week or two. I want to add one to three more photos to this log — the color a week and a half after the second application, and the third, etc., to see what kind of color buildup I get using this mix.

I guess I should also note — even though I’m a blonde, reddish hair runs in my family (from my maternal grandma), so I’ve been told numerous times that red hair really compliments my skin tone. In fact, my closest friends have historically described me as a natural redhead, even though from my photo it’s pretty obvious that I’m totally not. 😛

I originally didn’t notice much of a change in my hair texture, but now that I’ve been living with it for a month, I can say that it’s made my hair thicker. I used to cut down on the conditioner in the shower so it wouldn’t weigh my fine hair down, then spritz it with a light leave-in conditioner and a thickening spray. Now all I do is comb through a slightly more generous amount of my "heavy" conditioner and let it air dry! It’s never been softer, and I have no issues with it being too fine. I think it’s a little less wavy now too, but I bet I could still emphasize the wave with some hairspray and a diffuser if I wanted to glam up.

And the shine? Amazing! I actually have friends asking to touch my hair after seeing the sunshine play through it. As for me, I really have to cut the habit of feeling my hair up throughout the day (it’s just so soft! :P) and checking out my reflection in car and shop windows as I pass. Geez, you’d think I’m self-absorbed or something! ("Aren’t most bloggers?" Touche, touche.)

In conclusion, this experiment has been a roaring success! I may never want to go blonde again. 🙂

Eyebrows, Poste-Paste

Wow! It turned out pretty good. The skin color is no better/worse than filling in my eyebrows with powdered makeup, and it matches my hair color better than the brown eyeshadow I usually use anyway, even during the orange stage. I can’t tell for the life of me if it actually stained the hairs red. We’ll just have to see how it matches up with the hair on top of my head after a couple days.

So there you have it! Henna works well on eyebrows, too!


Groucho Marx

I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.
-Groucho Marx

Okay, I’m going into very unknown territory here. My eyebrows were so not-red as compared to my newly-henna’d hair that, well, I henna’s my eyebrows.


This is with the paste on, obviously.

My logic went something like this:

  1. I’m bored.
  2. My grandma tatooed her eyebrows… what’s so different about using henna on ’em?
  3. Facial skin is too thin and oily to stain very well. So, my eyebrow skin shouldn’t be orange for too long. I hope.
  4. I’m bored.

So I took out my last cone of slimy-ass mehndi henna that I used on my hand the night before. (I had already decided to throw the batch out because, while the staining power was fine, it was a nearly unworkable texture and bled like hell overnight.) I coned in each of my eyebrows and cleaned them up around the edges with Q-tips. Then I put my hair back with a band to keep it from sticking to my eyebrows and took a photo for you all to giggle at. I’m gonna pray for four hours that this wasn’t a really, really bad idea, then wash it out and take another picture for y’all.

Wish me luck!