I’m so excited to share this part with you. It was a lot of work! I truly hope that my experience may be useful to other natural redheads who are longing for their old vibrancy. I’m developing an entire, in-depth series on all of this. For this post, however, I will just share what I did, how I did it, and the results.
These are the steps I followed.
- Purchase quality henna and cassia, as well as needed supplies.
- Determine which liquid to develop it with.
- Create a “hairball” to test my color with. Mix up a small batch and await results.
- The night before applying, mix up henna and leave out.
- Next day: test henna for dye release.
- When ready, protect my hands, clothing, and bathroom before applying.
- Several hours later: begin the slightly arduous task of rinsing it all out!
Where I Bought My Henna + Other Supplies
I bought both my henna and cassia at HennaSooq. They have several varieties of henna. (If you have a lot of hair, or decide that you like it, you can buy a 6-pack from Amazon here for a great price.) Jamila is a commonly used and trusted brand. Most people recommend buying BAQ (body art quality) but I chose Henna for Hair because of its affordability. You can buy henna from a recent crop, or an older one. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s low-quality. It may have lost some of it’s lawsone content, which is the red-orange dye molecule. I purchased the older crop, which had an expiration date of one month from when I bought it. It worked great and I had zero issues!
Just as you mix chemical developer with conventional dyes, you need to develop the henna with something. You could just use plain water, but you have so many more great options! It’s best to use something acidic (or so the common knowledge says) such as orange juice, lemon juice, even tea. I chose chamomile tea for it’s mild properties, with a small amount of orange juice, which is supposed to intensify it a touch. (This is the specific brand of tea I chose.) I bought several jugs of distilled water. The hard water in my state is very bad, which can turn cassia dark, muddy, or green. I used the water to mix the henna, and to rinse most of it out at the end.
I also needed a ceramic bowl big enough for the mixture (I had one in the kitchen), mixing utensils (I used plastic spoons and a tint brush from Sally’s), and plastic wrap. You’re going to need the wrap both for your henna mixture and your head! But we’ll get to the application process in a bit. Last thing: I recommend buying nitrile gloves rather than latex. Some people have found that the henna can bleed through latex.
What’s a Hairball Test & Why You Must Do One
Okay, what’s this hairball thing? I can’t recommend this highly enough. Henna is permanent. You need to know what you’re getting into. Additionally, it’s a lengthy process. The color you immediately have isn’t the same as what you’ll have in a week. Henna oxidizes over time, meaning it will tone down and get darker. I can’t stress it enough: do this first. You’ll thank me.
After you’ve bought your henna and supplies, decide exactly what your formula will be. I had chosen 75% henna and 25% cassia. I mixed up a small bowl of that, along with my chamomile tea and orange juice, and let the dye release overnight. (More on dye release coming up.)
In the meantime, I gathered all the hair from my brush (while prepping for this, I didn’t clear any of the hair from my brush like I usually do every day, because I needed a good amount of hair) and rolled it between my palms until it became a manageable little ball of disgusting old hair. Yay!
Next, I laid out some plastic wrap. First I plopped some henna mixture on it. Then, I added the hairball. I put more henna mix on top of it, and smooshed it around really well. I wrapped it up securely, then placed it in a little box by my bed. Which made me feel pretty creepy.
Based on my research, I’d planned to let the henna develop on my head for about 6 hours. So, that’s how long I let Mrs. Hairball chill. Next, I rinsed the hair really well (over a small bowl, in case it fell out of my hands), dried it, and put it back into the box. OH, not before being shocked with the bright neon orange shade. I thought, “I am SO glad this isn’t all over my head right now.” Eek. However, I knew this was normal. Some call it the “henna blaze”. It just needs time to oxidize.
I checked on it every day, and after about 3 days it had toned down considerably. I could imagine where it would be in a week (average time to reach full oxidation is somewhere around 1-2 weeks max) and felt safe enough to finally put it on my own head. I was able to hold it up to my hair and see what it looked like next to my current color. (Sorry I don’t have a better photo, though.) And I’m skipping ahead, but I want to show you a comparison between my hairball right after being dyed, and my actual hair. IT’S SO ACCURATE. I know it takes a long time. But don’t skip this step!
Mixing Henna + Dye Release
Most boxes of henna that I’ve found contain about 100g of product. 100g-200g is enough for short-to-medium hair. Any longer than collarbone/shoulder-length you should probably purchase 300-400g. It’s better to have too much than too little, as I learned.
I had 100g of henna and 25g of cassia. Since my hair was barely collarbone length, I thought it’d be enough. I forgot that I have extremely thick hair. If you’re hair is thick or curly you might want to get more than you think you’ll need!
I poured the henna into my bowl, then my cassia on top. Cassia is lighter in color than henna, so it gave me an okay idea of the proportions. I took a photo but it’s a bit hard to tell. (I circled the cassia.) Next, I slowly mixed in my mixture of chamomile tea and orange juice. The tea was still a little warm, but that doesn’t matter as long as it’s not boiling. You’re aiming for a thick consistency like mashed potatoes – but not too thick. Just go slowly, mixing them carefully, until you get the right consistency.
Once everything was good and mixed, I pressed saran wrap onto it, and made sure there were no pockets of air or anything open on the side.
At this point, I had to let the henna sit out at room temperature to develop. I did this early on a Sunday morning, hoping it would be ready by the evening. After about 5 hours, I started to test it for dye release. I peeled back a very small sections of the wrap, used a chopstick to grab a tiny amount of henna, then rubbed that into my palm (the best place to test it!) for 30 seconds, before wiping it off. I was looking for a bright orange stain.
Initially, there was nothing. Henna’s not ready! I went back and checked in an hour and this time there was a good stain. I wanted to see if it would get more vibrant though. 20-30 minutes later, the patch test looked bright orange and I knew that it was good to go!
Protection, Application, and Rinsing
Over and over, I read about how messy henna is. It gets everywhere – on you, your bathroom, etc. I thought, “Not me! I’ll conquer the mess!” And I did.
I used 3 old bathroom towels to cover my sink, the floor, and the entirety of my toilet because it’s right next to the sink. I spread Vaseline all over my neck, ears, and hairline. Then I donned an epic costume. I wish I’d taken a photo, but I’ve recreated it with this super-professional Polyvore set! My aim was to protect my hands, arms, neck, chest…everywhere. I can be stubborn in peculiar ways. I was really determined to walk away with a clean face, body, and bathroom. It worked great. I wasn’t so worried about getting the henna everywhere, so the application didn’t take as long as it could have. AND I saved myself clean-up time. Efficient!
Everyone applies their henna differently. You can put it in a typical hair dye bottle, or use a brush (some people use small paintbrushes, even), or just your hands. For me, hands worked. My henna was thick enough that it didn’t go flying everywhere. It was simple and easy. I’d recommend looking for some YouTube videos on it – that helped me. I took a one-inch section from the top of my head, at the back, applied it thoroughly, then wrapped it into a little bun and kept working. With each piece, I wrapped it onto the ever-growing bun on the top of my head. By the time I reached the bottom of my head in the back, I was running out of henna!
I should have realized how thick my hair is. But it’s okay! For those last parts, I mixed up a henna gloss. I added some inexpensive conditioner to what was left, stirred it all up, and applied it. It’s not as vibrant as the rest, obviously, but it worked in a pinch and isn’t very noticeable.
I wrapped the henna really well with several layers of plastic wrap. I’ve heard many people recommend putting a swimming cap on over this, but I didn’t have any around and thought it sounded uncomfortable. Instead, I put a grocery bag over the wrap, clipped it with a small claw clip, and tossed on an old, loose beanie.
Now it was time to change out of my crazy clothing and hang out for 6 hours. Some people have issues with the henna dripping but mine was so thick I didn’t have that issue. I had a small amount of dripping in the very back, where I’d done the gloss. I just kept a hand towel around my shoulders.
Here was my concern with rinsing it out. Most people – like, everyone I’ve heard from online – say it took them an hour or so in the shower to get everything out. Since I have very hard water, which cassia doesn’t react well to, I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage it. I had jugs of distilled water, and I decided to alternate rinsing with my detachable shower head and with the distilled water.
I started by leaning over the tub and plopping my hair into a big bowl of distilled water. I let it rest, slowly working in conditioner to loosen the mud. I don’t know why my experience was so different, but it was really easy to rinse out. I’d rinse with the shower head, continue reapplying conditioner, rinse with some distilled water, alternating them about 10 times before it was completely out. Based on what I’ve read, though, you may not find it so easy!
At last, it’s time to go over my results. My initial hair color was really, really crazy. Especially under fluorescent lights and in sunlight. But I kept strong! I work from home and had several days before I had to go anywhere (other than a couple trips to the store) so it wasn’t so bad. Some people don’t mind the bright color. You can cover it with headbands, headscarves, hats, or an up-do which might make it look less intense than if it was all down, flying around. It’s up to you.
To remind you, this was my hair before:
Here’s what it looked like immediately afterwards, in a variety of lighting:
After 3-4 days, it was perfect:
It did darken more than I had hoped after about a week and a half.
But here’s the cool thing about henna. Sure, when it finally oxidized, it was darker than I wanted. Not a problem. I used a special honey mixture to lighten it and voila! I have the perfect color! I found the information through the wonderful website Long Hair Community. They have an extremely detailed thread on the process, which you can find here. I will say the process is very messy, as the mixture can be drippy, but it was worth it in the end.
Huge difference, right?! I am so happy with this color. I do need to wash my hair in the regular shower sometimes, to get it really clean, so I’ll probably use honey and vinegar occasionally to keep it bright and free from mineral build-up.
Do you have any questions for me? Comment below! I’d love your thoughts on what the next post in the henna series should be. Options to lighten and darken it? More about developing it and which liquid to use? Let me know!