Henna hair dye often gets a bad rap, or a negative association. Our modern hair care practices and professional salons favor synthetic dyes with new technology and new chemicals being discovered every day. In the 1920s and 30s, henna dominated the U.S. hair dye market to the point that all hair dye was referred to as "henna". One of the most famous redheads of all time, Lucille Ball, used henna to transform her natural blonde locks to her trademark bright red coif.
Where did we lose our love for henna? Why did it become the scourge of hair dye - associated with "hippies", or stamped with the risk of "frying" or damaging hair?
A History of Henna Hair Dye
Henna comes from the lawsonia inermis plant, which grows in hot climates and is indigenous to North Africa, the Middle East, and India. Ancient Egyptians used henna during the mummification process, applying it to the hair and fingernails of the dead to ward off evil spirits.
Ancient Egyptian Queen Ses, Cleopatra, and Nefertiti used henna as a hair dye, and this trend of henna as hair dye continued in Africa, India, and the Middle East for generations after. In the 1800s, Turkey emerged as a major producer of henna, and Turkish women used thousands of pounds of henna every year.
A European fascination with "Oriental opulence" brought henna as an export along with carpets, teas, and other luxury goods from the Middle East. Turkish henna made European women feel glamourous. A famous Victorian opera singer, Madame Patti, further popularized henna in Europe, using it to attain her trademark hair (and cover grays).
The United States was not far behind Europe in adopting henna as a must-have beauty treatment to color hair. Importing true henna was difficult, however, and led to the development of chemical and coal tar based dyes. Henna was still the dye of choice, however, and mixes of henna and other chemicals began to emerge. The supply of real, true henna in the U.S. was unreliable and scarce, and despite the acclaim it received from Lucille Ball and others lucky enough to get it, gradually fell into disuse. The henna that was available was often a mix of lawsonia inermis and synthetic dyes, metallic salts, or other plant dyes. These additives would mask poor quality henna, and often reacted disastrously with synthetic hair dye - giving henna a new reputation as "damaging" hair, often turning it shades of green or purple, or worse. Copper in a henna compound can react with synthetic dye in a way that will melt or disintegrate hair!
No wonder henna lost its star power and received a less than stellar reputation.
Benefits of Using Pure Henna Hair Color
Today, henna is beginning to see a resurgence of popularity as we become more and more aware of the dangers of the chemicals in conventional dyes and hair products. A focus on natural beauty and desire to reduce the damage we cause to ourselves and our environment has led many people to reconsider henna.
Henna was originally prized for its ability to add not only vibrant color, but also thickness, body, and shine to hair. Unlike chemical and synthetic dyes which can cause hair to appear dull, and result in split ends and a damaged hair shaft, henna renews hair.
Pure henna is safe to be used on top of chemical treated hair, and is also safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women to use. Pure henna is all natural and chemical free.
How is Henna Made?
Henna leaves from the lawsonia inermis plant are harvested, dried, and powdered. Henna leaves contain a red-orange dye molecule known as lawsone. When mixed with a mildly acidic liquid, such as lemon juice, tea, or orange juice, henna will stain skin, nails, and hair with a red-orange pigment.
When a mix of lemon juice and henna powder is allowed to sit overnight, the cellulose from the henna plant is dissolved and the lawsone becomes available. When this "paste" of henna coats the hair shaft, lawsone gradually migrates from the henna into the hair shaft where it binds with the keratin that surrounds the pigmented hair core.
The result is different for every person and every strand of hair, as the translucent henna stain blends with your natural color. Hennaed hair shimmers red when light bounces off of the lawsone molecules in the outer layers of the hair shaft.
What if I don't want RED hair?
True henna leaves only contain the one molecule, lawsone, which is a reddish-orange color. However, henna is not just for those who want a red or orange-red hue on their locks. Combining henna with other natural, plant powders can give different results. Indigo has long been combined with henna in various amounts to make a range of brunette colors. Even blondes can safely use henna hair color to add shine and a golden hue. Cassia obovata, also called "neutral henna" can impart brilliant shine and an attractive gloss to hair.
Regardless of previous chemical treatments on your hair, and to obtain a range of colors available, henna can be used to restore vibrant color, thickness and body, and luster and shine.
Want to see what henna can do for your hair? Try Morrocco Method Henna Hair Color - an all natural hair dye available in eight different shades to condition and color your hair.