Lawsonia Inermis: The Wonders of Henna Hair Dye
Spring has arrived at Wesleyan, and with it the seasonal barrage of brightly colored clothes, rain boots, jewelry—and hair. Several of my friends have dyed the undersides or tips of their hair blue, purple, green, pink, or some combination, and one does not have to look very far—just glance around Foss Hill—to see a veritable garden of spring-time colors adorning the heads of countless Wesleyan students. Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Ke$ha, and many other pop idols all have caved to this trend as well.
My first foray into hair dye was freshman spring, exactly one year ago. I decided to dye a strip of my hair bright purple, but as my hair is dark brown, it required bleaching. The color came out bright, bold, and very noticeable. It got rave reviews, but the purple soon seeped out. When I tried to re-dye it, the color was awful. I bleached the strip out again, and did not attempt to add more color.
However, the brassy, bleached strand continually cropping up in my ponytail began to annoy me. I found it discordant, jarring, and just a little obnoxious. In addition, I am working in a government office this summer, and I doubt they would approve of such a rebellious hairstyle.
Which is why I turned to henna, or Lawsonia Inermis. For years, I have heard of the beneficial effects of henna dye on hair. According to hennapage.com, “an educational resource devoted to the history, traditions, techniques, science, and art of henna,” this natural dye is a “colorant and hair strengthener, and has all sorts of other benefits such as the reduction of dandruff, elimination of ringworm, and head lice.”
Although I wasn’t so concerned about eliminating ringworm and other parasites, the other effects—particularly the color—appealed to me. I would be getting stronger, smoother, silkier hair. In addition, henna does not change your natural coloring; the same website told me that it only adds pigment. This was just the right amount of change for me. And depending on how it turned out, I might even decide dye my entire head—radical, I know.
I recruited friend and henna expert Sophie Riffkin ’14 to help me, and we made a date for Saturday afternoon. On Thursday, I realized I didn’t have henna dye—problem number one. Problem number two—I didn’t know where to find any. I walked frantically to Main Street, searching for a store that would sell henna. The one place I knew that sold it, East/West Imports, was closed. I walked into a wig store and asked for henna dye, but no luck. About to give up, I thought of It’s Only Natural Grocery Store. A long shot, but since henna is supposed to be all-natural, I thought I might have a chance.
Success! If you are looking for henna locally, this is the place to go. Not only were there multiple brands, each brand offered several color options. I chose Mahogany, based on the color chart which told me which hue of red my bleached and non-bleached hair would turn. Instructions, gloves, and a shower cap were also included in the box.
Saturday afternoon came bright and sunny—perfect for an outdoor hair dyeing session on the Bayit’s front porch. Following the directions, I had shampooed, but not conditioned, my hair and toweled it dry. I was also glad I had asked a friend to help; I needed assistance piecing out the bleached hair from the not-bleached hair, as well as choosing a small strip of non-bleached hair to test. Sophie had also heard that henna works better in the sun, so I ignored the box’s warning that told me to stay out of the sunlight. After donning my gloves and pinning up my hair, I eagerly opened up the bottle and broke the seal. Sophie tipped just a little bit of dye on to my fingertips.
We quickly realized that I would need a lot more dye. Instead of strategically applying the dye using the bottle’s top, we dumped the henna liberally into my hands. While I ran my fingers through my hair, Sophie discovered that she could also use the hair dye like the kind made for skin; the bottle applicator top worked perfectly for drawing henna designs, something Sophie has been doing since high school. We worked simultaneously—Sophie drawing intricate designs on her leg, me rubbing in as much dye as the chunk of my hair would absorb.
Unfortunately, the dye was too liquid to function well on the skin, and it didn’t harden like skin dye does. However, Sophie’s intricate, paisley design, and my simple circle and arrow (I went basic—my henna skills do not extend past kindergarten-level geometric shapes), managed to stay on without smudging for a good twenty minutes. After we washed off the runny dye, a lovely light brown stain remained in the pattern.
The skin-dyeing was a fun way to distract ourselves while we waited for the dye to sink in to my hair, but the timer on Sophie’s phone went off, and it was time to reveal the results of our hour’s hard work.
Bright red, tinged with orange, now peeks out from under the top layer of my hair. “Cherry-wood” is how I heard someone describe it. “Light rust-colored” was another. It looks much more natural than the purple or the bleach, and I appreciate the more subtle tenor.
Not only do I love the color, but my hair feels great. Bleached hair is rough to the touch, because the hair follicle has essentially been opened up and the pigment ripped out. The henna softened the bleach and made it silkier, just as promised. However, I couldn’t really see much change in the non-bleached strip I dyed; maybe a little extra red sheen, if anything.
Moral of this story, however, and why I wrote an Argus article: henna is great. If you are looking for a fun afternoon activity, are bored, or simply want a change—but nothing too drastic—henna is the way to go. It’s natural, permanent, and great for your hair. It’s also subtle, and will grow out less obviously than an dramatic streak of bright blue. Depending on your normal hair color, it will change the color from grey to fiery red, from blonde or light brown to a reddish auburn, or simply to reddish highlights, if your hair is dark like mine. Also, because you control the dyeing process, you can do as much, or as little, as you like—from a total color change, to just a gentle sheen.
Summer is coming, and it’s time to celebrate with a color that honors the warmth of the season. And what better way to represent your Wesleyan spirit than with a little bit of that cardinal red in your hair?