Henna and Removing Henna from hair
How to apply henna and bad hair day tips for removing henna from hair
Want to colour your hair? Henna is a an ethical and often beautiful option – but it’s a permanent colour it’s best not to put chemical hair dyes on top of it if you have a henna hair disaster, so going for henna is a bold option, too.
Photo: Saturno Butto
What is henna?
Henna or Lawsonia inermis is a kind of private bush that grows abundantly in eastern countries. It has a natural, vibrant color that coats hair to add lots of shine.
Hennas have been used since 3400 BC and are well documented safe methods for dying hair (and skin). A henna can be modified with other ingredients like chamomile, rhubarb, coffee, and indigo.
Henna quality depends on which country it is grown in. For instance, Egyptian and Pakistan henna gives a weak orange. Iranian henna is very fine quality and it gives a vibrant red color. Obtaining Iranian henna is not simple, but UK gals can get it from Lush.
Henna is ethical
There is no need for a company making henna hair dye to test its products on animals, because henna has been used to condition and dye hair since Pharaonic Egypt – it’s already been tested on humans for centuries!
Henna is natural and beautiful
Henna is a natural colourant and strengthener, and has all sorts of other benefits such as the reduction of dandruff, elimination of ringworm and head lice.
Another great thing about using henna is that you can make a paste to suit your hair type. Some people who are concerned about their hair becoming dry add special essential oils to their henna paste. People add floral water, eggs and other natural dyes to their pastes in order to create the perfect paste.
Can henna damage my hair?
Some hairdressers will warn you that henna is not as safe as it claims to be, as it ‘has metallic salts and compounds that will damage your hair’.
For real (red) henna this isn’t true. The problem is that some dodgy henna brands contain metallic compounds that react with the ammonia activator in synthetic hair dyes. So if you’ve dyed your hair with chemical hair dyes less than six months ago then you dye your hair with a poor brand of henna then you might get henna hair disaster. This could include pond-green or brittle hair.
To avoid this, only buy henna from reputable sources (links below) or only use only body art quality henna from a reputable source to make sure you won’t be getting fried sludgy pond-green hair!
HOT TIP: Be warned, for there is no such thing as ‘blonde henna’. Some Blonde, Brown, Auburn, Mahogany, and other shades of what claims to be henna are mixes of amla, indigo, walnut, rhubarb, and Lawsonia, with other plant or synthetic dyes added, and may have metallic salts added. Many of these products have no henna whatsoever and are chemical dyes. Some commercial brands that claim to be 100% natural may include a bottle of ‘developer'; so watch out! This is a completely bogus addition as far as henna itself is concerned and is the biggest indicator that your product is NOT even close to being 100% pure henna!
Henna is a permanent hair dye!
You must think very carefully before you decide to put henna on your hair. It won’t fully come out for a couple of months. Henna is a permanent colourant and unless you spend a huge amount of money it can only be grown out or cut out if you do not like it. Also, you can’t ‘go over it’ with an ordinary chemical hair dye, only with another henna product. The reason you can’t dye over henna with a chemical dye is that henna coats the outer hair shaft, affecting the penetration of the chemical colourant. This coating of the outer shaft is why henna makes your hair gorgeous and shiny, but it’s also why it’s a complete pig to remove. What henna giveth, it taketh away!
Henna is super-special if you want a dramatic change and it does add superb shine to your hair but do think really carefully before going ahead.
We at Mookychick know that whenever a hair dye product says ‘do a strand test’ the idea of it is so boring that you can never be bothered (well, we never can), but henna is the one hair dye where we would be sure to do a hair strand test before we used it.
The problem is that both natural and chemical dyes are always affected by the natural colour of your hair. If you have dark hair, you won’t be able to go blonde without bleach. If you have light hair and you apply a light henna, it might look perfect – or it might come out the loudest shade of orange or sunset red you ever saw in your life. And this is a colour you will be stuck with for a month or two. Yes indeed, with henna it really does make sense to do a strand test to see how the henna hair dye will look on your own hair before going the whole distance!
What colour will the henna make my hair?
Henna hair dye comes in two shades – red and black. These are mixed by companies to offer you a greater range of colours. Actually, although people often refer to ‘black henna’, it isn’t henna at all – ‘black henna’ (a green powder that smells like frozen peas) is neither black nor henna. It is indigo, Indigofera tinctoria, but is a natural plant-y substance that dyes your hair so gets lumped with the same name as red henna and is often used in conjunction with red henna to give different colour ranges.
Red henna on its own is the most daring option, giving you powerfully flame-red hair.
Black henna on its own will give you dark, dark hair like a raven’s wing. If you allow the henna to air-dry in your hair when you apply it, the black henna will give your dyed hair a blueish tinge. If you wrap your hair in clingfilm after applying the henna rather than letting it air-dry then your final dark colour will have a warmer reddish tinge.
Black henna with some red with give you a brown effect.
Red henna with some black will give you a warm auburny-red effect.
HOT TIP: Boiling Henna in red wine instead of water will produce a more burgundy shade.
You can normally get pre-mixed henna ranges which is far safer than trying to mix the components yourself, unless you’re prepared to have your hair any colour, henna it a lot darker if you mess it up, or go for the ‘shave’ option.
As you repeatedly apply henna on your hair, the colour of your hair will get deeper.
As a rule of thumb, the colour you will get depends on your natural hair colour. Henna will stain your hair red-orange; but this stain is translucent and will combine with your natural colour.
Henna cannot lighten hair. On dark hair henna provides red and reddish highlights. When henna is applied on black or dark brown hair, the hair will be dyed auburn to burgundy with red highlights that will be visible in the sunlight. Henna will dye blonde hair red – be warned, that could translate as ‘crazy orange’. Henna on red hair will make the hair a deeper red. Henna will dye white hair a natural red or a deep red. An advantage of using henna is that it is natural and therefore conditions and colors your hair in a natural and safe manner.
So: If you have dark hair, your red will come out a dark red, and if you have very light or blonde hair, your red may well come out flaming red like Sonja the Barbarian! Everyone’s hair is different. Don’t always believe that you will be getting exactly the same color as portrayed in the box, or even the same colour your friend’s got if you’re using her henna product.
HOT TIP: If you mix up some red henna and it looks too orangey and you think it might come out too light for you, mix in some hot strong coffee until you get the right shade.
Removing henna from your hair if it goes wrong
There’s a catch. Getting rid of henna is rarely an option. Henna really is a permanent hair dye and in most cases you won’t be able to shift it for a good few months if you don’t like the effect. If you’re desperate, there are some things you can do:
Henna your hair with a darker henna
Did your hair come out too bright? Usually when people have a henna hair disaster and want to remove the henna from their hair it’s because they’ve got naturally light hair and have tried to apply a bright shade.
If you can bear it, one thing you can try is applying a darker henna, or mixing the henna product you used with hot strong coffee and re-applying it. If you still don’t like the effect, it’s time to think about getting rid of the henna in your hair – but it won’t be easy.
Help! Henna has made my hair go green!
If your problem is that your hair has gone frog-pond green, then the henna has reacted with chemical compounds in your hair left over from the last time you dyed it with a chemical dye – in which case read on.
Strip the henna with peroxide
Comics icon Tank Girl had most of her head shaved and hidden under a baseball cap except for a few lovely flowing multicoloured bits. She did it to be punk but we suspect her luscious punky locks might have been the consequence of a henna experiment gone badly wrong.
Stripping henna from your hair with peroxide isn’t a serious tip – it’s only going to be an option for you if you don’t mind damaged straw-textured hair or if you’re not afraid to shave it off if it goes wrong. But if you get some 40 volumn peroxide, douse your hair with it, and leave it on for too long while attacking your hair with a hairdryer, you might get the henna to become yellow as opposed to red. A risky option.
Removing henna with mineral oils
To be honest, mineral oils can’t remove the henna. But they might be able to strip enough henna out so you can go to the hairdresser, tell them what you’ve done and ask for them to chemically-dye your hair another colour.
1. Saturate hair strands with a mixture of 70% alcohol applied with sterile cotton balls. Avoid the scalp area, or at least leave it till last.
2. Follow 5-10 minutes later with a coating of mineral oil. Apply the mineral oil on top of the 70% alcohol. Avoid the scalp area.
3. Cover your lovely oily head with saran wrap or clingfilm. A plastic shower cap would also be ok.
4. Heat your hair with a blowdryer for 30 – 45 minutes. Heating hair is never good for it because it strips the essential oils, but in this case, you’ll just have to.
5. To remove the oil apply a little shampoo to the palms of your hands and then pat on the oil BEFORE you apply water. After you have applied the shampoo to the oil areas, turn on the shower and lather. Use a good cleansing or clarifying shampoo. You may need to shampoo more than once to remove all the oil and the henna. Repeat a couple of times if you need to.
6. Once you have removed the henna, be sure to perform deep conditioning treatments to restore moisture to the hair.
7. If your hair still looks terrible, it’s time to go to the hairdresser and tell them what you’ve done.
Go to the hairdresser so they can remove the henna
There is a theory that hairdressers hate it when you henna your hair because they think people doing DIY beauty for themselves will put them out of business. It’s a cool theory but it’s not true!
Hairdressers do worry when they have someone coming in with a henna disaster because dyeing hair is tricky at the best of times – every person has individual hair and if you’ve had a hair dye nightmare it’s hard for the hairdresser to do the right thing for your individual tresses and make sure that you go out of the shop looking better than you did when you came in. And they don’t want you to throw a hissy fit and try to sue them.
Let’s say you’ve put red henna in your blonde hair and you now have a hideously loud orange that doesn’t suit you. If you go to the hairdresser, they may try to remove the henna for you with a fruit-based colour strip (not a chemical one). This would take some of the colour out and might make it possible for your stripped hair to be dyed with a chemical dye to make it a nicer colour. This process would be tough on your hair and you would need to take really good care of it for a couple of months – your hairdresser could discuss what the next step would be for you to treat your hair.
The desired effect might be achieved in an afternoon – or over a process of months, and several trips to the hairdresser, where you might end up spending around $400 or £200.