My long-winded post about red hair color – chemicals vs. henna

At least once a week someone (often a random stranger) compliments me on the color and shininess of my hair. I almost always respond with a thank you and letting them know how the color got that way.

Most are extremely surprised to hear that I use henna on my hair to get that red color.

Until 2008 I would have been just as surprised to hear it.

If you’ve known me before I moved to California you remember me with blonde hair. Well, I got tired of the blonde shift more and more to a dirty/dishwater color and decided that I wanted to try out being a redhead. For 7 years I proceeded to attack my hair with various brands of chemical color and even treating myself to salon color when I could afford it. My hair went through so many shades of red that I can’t even remember them all. During this time I also noticed something…

My hair seemed to never make it past my shoulder blades. Oh, I knew it was growing. I would periodically cut my bangs and then let them grow out. But the mass of hair never seemed to get longer. My scalp also became increasingly angry at me no matter what type of chemical color was used. There was yet another drawback to being a chemical redhead:

Red is the color that seems to bleed the most.

Woe to the chemical redhead who washes her hair and then puts on a white shirt while her hair is still wet. You’ll have a very unhappy surprise later when you see the back of your shirt with its red/orange streaks.

Not to mention that because red bleeds out fast that means your color fades fast as well. If you enjoy washing your hair in warm/hot water you’re going to lose that color even faster. I ended up adapting to cold showers when washing my hair. Trust me, that was not enjoyable in the winter. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a redhead (and I still love it). I just hated all the mess involved with coloring and upkeep.

And so it went for 7 years for me.

Toward the end of 2007 I was talking to some friends on LiveJournal who mentioned that they used henna to color their hair red. I knew what henna was but I’d only ever thought it of it terms of using it on one’s skin. It had never occurred to me that you can use it on your hair (and it’s been used on hair since ancient times). So I decided to look into the web resources she sent me and made the choice to stop coloring my hair for awhile to let it rest and try henna.

The last time I applied chemical color to my hair was in October 2007.

Due to events that took place in the beginning of 2008 I ended up putting off the first try with henna until June of that year. Reading that henna will only make your existing color darker I decided to try to yank as much chemical red out of my hair as possible. Two bottles of Color-Oops later and I was a blonde again for the first time in 8 years. It was actually kind of freaky. Luckily since henna is a plant and very healthy I could apply it the next day. And so we did.

Don’t be mistaken. The process of applying it to a whole head of long hair takes AGES. (Touch-ups to roots are much quicker.) It’s also messy. I mean, you are applying a bowl of mud to your hair in tiny tiny sections. After it was done we wrapped my head in saran wrap and put a towel around it to keep in the heat. You see, you mix the henna the day before to allow for the dye release. After it’s applied, you keep it warm to help the dye set. The longer you leave it on the darker your color will be. (and the color varies depending on the region your henna is grown in) I usually let mine set for 5-6 hours. That first application was killer on my neck since I was essentially carrying a block of concrete on my head.

4 days after henna

4 days after henna

After I washed it out I took a look at it in the sun and was pleased. Over the next couple of days the color darkened a bit more. I decided I wanted more of a red-red and we did another whole head application that week. (unlike with chemicals it’s perfectly safe to apply henna to your head again that quickly) After that I was very happy. Another thing I noticed about henna is that you never need to reapply it to the rest of your hair if you’re happy with the color. It never fades. After the initial washing, once the water runs clear it won’t bleed onto your clothes, towels or skin. It really is permanent. Goodbye cold showers and stained clothes!!

Since then I have a friend help me henna my roots about once every few months. It’s always a fun night of movies, music, drinks and laughter. The process takes about an hour or so to get it on the head and then we’ll hang. I usually take a nap after they leave, wake in the wee hours of the morning when my alarms goes off and then wash out the henna before going back to bed.

The end result is that my hair started getting longer again. It’s slowly reaching for my waist and I’m thrilled about it. The color is a lovely red that shines red/gold/ruby in the sun and feel wonderfully healthy to the touch. (not to mention I can proudly say that yes, this is a color that occurs in nature) I’ve even gotten two friends to try it and one uses it for highlights, another made the happy switch from chemical color like I did.

Me with henna

My happy henna color years later (taken by Ray+Wendy)

Doing your hair with henna is not for the incredibly impatient or for folks who hate a bit of mess. It does take time, there is some mess (it’s playing with mud, people!) and you need to have patience. Still, the result is totally worth it. I woudn’t go back to chemical color if you paid me to. My hair is much happier this way and I’ve gotten many more compliments on it since henna than I did with chemicals.

If you’re interested in trying it out, I suggest the site where I first got my henna and continue to get it even 3 years later: Mehandi. They have guides, suggestions and everything you’d ever want to know about henna and how to do your hair with it. Check them out.


~ by rumielf on February 3, 2011.

3 Responses to “My long-winded post about red hair color – chemicals vs. henna”

  1. I love being a redhead!!! I never have a problem with my chemical colors, but I am a VERY different shade of red than you. If I ever go dark red I am absolutely trying henna!

    • It’s all about hair type. 🙂 Mine just decided to quit liking chemical color after so many years. 🙂 Though henna isn’t always the dark red like mine…we gave Dani a really awesome Irish Red that she’d been wanting. 🙂

      And I love your shade of red! It looks wonderful on you. 🙂

    • That reminds me! When do you want to nab those hats?

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