You may only recognize henna as the ink used for temporary tattoos on the skin as often seen in Mideast cultures, but it can also double as a chemical-free hair dye. Henna has been used as a cosmetic hair dye for 6,000 years. In Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra and Nefertiti were known to have used it.
Henna is a plant containing orange-red dye known as lawsone in the leaves and petioles or the central vein. When the leaves are crushed and water or acidic fluid such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar are added and the dye is released.
There is no such plant as “blonde henna”, “brown henna” or “black henna”. The henna plant, has only one dye molecule, and that molecule is red-orange. Chemicals, metallic salts or other plant dyes must be added to henna to make any color other than red or auburn.
Some pre-mixed hennas have very little henna whatsoever. So remember, if you buy a box labeled henna, that claims to dye hair blonde, brown or black, there is something other than henna in that box. Hair bleach, permanent hair color, and permanent wave solution are a disastrous combination with compound (metallic salt) henna dyes. These can result in green, purple, or totally fried hair. You should always do a strand test before applying ANY new chemical element onto your hair.
Now don’t forget that henna has safely colored and conditioned woman’s hair for at least six thousand years and it does a lovely job. Henna also has tannin in it and the tannin molecules bind into keratin (hair) molecules and makes the fibers physically stronger. Some say that after you henna your hair is softer, stronger, it tangles less and split ends disappear.
At Dudley Beauty College in Washington DC instructors teach students to use pure henna in salons in addition to more common hair coloring methods. “People are going back to natural things from the earth and henna is one of those things,” says Shedonna Carpenter, Dudley’s Lead Instructor. It may offer other benefits for your hair, she said, “henna is for thin hair. There are three layers of hair, but African-Americans don’t have the medulla layer so the henna coats the hair and gives it thickness.”