What Is Henna And How Can It Be Used?
When you hear the word “henna”, you probably think of intricate temporary tattoos and/or reddish brown hair dye, but:
What is it exactly?
Where does henna come from?
How is it made?
Are all henna products organic?
If you care about the products that you put in and on your body, and how they affect your wellness and the environment, you’ve probably asked yourself these and many more questions.
We have all of these answers and more.
Read on and find out everything you need to know about henna, what it is, where it is grown, and how you can use it.
WHAT IS HENNA?
Henna dye, as you’re familiar with is derived from the henna plant (scientifically called Lawsonia inermis).
This plant is a tall, leafy shrub or small tree, depending on its cultivation.
Leaves of the henna plant are dried and crushed into a powder, which can then be made into a paste and used to dye hair or create henna tattoos.
Before mixing it with an acidic developing component, henna powder has a muddy, brownish green color. Once mixed, though, as the components combine and oxidation takes place, the dye paste changes color to a rich brownish red.
This color change lets you know that it’s ready to apply.
Most people are well aware that you can use henna to dye your hair a beautiful reddish brown color, but that’s not the only possible result.
In fact, when mixed with other organic ingredients, henna can actually produce varying shades of red, brown, or golden locks, depending on your natural hair color and the ingredients you add to the dye.
We’ll get to how you can achieve different hair colors with organic henna in just a moment.
First, though, let’s discuss where it comes from and what exactly it’s used for.
WHERE IS IT GROWN?
Native to southwest Asia, northern Africa, India, and some parts of Australasia, henna tree thrive the best in semi-arid and tropical zones.
The plants that yield the most dye from their leaves are grown in areas with a temperature range of 95-113 degrees Fahrenheit (35-45 degrees Celsius).
Therefore much of the henna you come across is from either northeastern Africa (predominately Egypt) or from India.
In fact, some of the very best henna in the world is found in Rajasthan, India.
The temperature and dryness of the climate there is perfect for yielding taller henna trees.
This results in more leaves, all of which produce abundant amounts of henna when crushed into powder form.
Henna plant can also be grown as a houseplant provided it gets abundant sunlight.
It can grow up to a height of 8 feet!
WHAT IS IT USED FOR?
Henna is actually used for a number of purposes, from temporary ceremonial tattoos to hair dye, and it even has medicinal uses, as well.
You might be surprised at how useful and diverse henna powder can be.
First of all, you’re already aware of the most traditional use for henna: temporary henna tattoos, called Mehandi.
These gorgeous, intricate designs are applied to women’s hands, feet, arms, and other parts of their bodies for decoration and to bring luck in marriage, maternity, and more.
Whether you are spiritual or not, you can appreciate the beautiful nature of these tattoos.
Next, women in search of an organic, environmentally friendly means to cover gray hair or just to enjoy a different hair color have the perfect solution with henna.
As we mentioned earlier, though, it can be used with a few different ingredients to achieve the color you’re interested in, all without resorting to using any chemical additives that can be harmful to you and/or the environment.
Pure, organic henna will only yield a red or reddish brown color, the intensity and brightness of which is highly dependent on how light or dark your hair is naturally.
That said, many manufacturers do use these chemical additives in their pre-packaged henna dyes, so be mindful of ingredients lists or just purchase organic henna powder instead.
Finally, henna is also used to help heal the body in a number of ways.
It’s not just used for decoration but also has medicinal properties, as well.
We’ll get into some of these lesser-known uses for henna a little bit later, but first let’s discuss the different results you can get when dying your hair with henna and how you can achieve them.
ACHIEVING DIFFERENT HAIR COLORS USING HENNA
Now, before we get too far into natural and organic techniques for achieving different hair colors with henna, we should warn you about something.
If you purchase a pre-packaged henna hair dye that claims to give any color than reddish brown, it is definitely not pure henna.
Pure henna can only dye hair red or reddish brown (depending on your natural color).
The leaves’ staining effect occurs due to the presence of the tannin lawsone.
If you are ever around a henna tree, you’ll notice that your hands don’t get stained by touching the leaves, but when the leaves are dried, crushed, and made into a paste, the lawsone molecules are released and will stain skin, hair, or fabric some shade of red, again depending on the original color.
That’s why we don’t recommend purchasing most pre-packaged henna dyes.
They will claim to be henna-based, and this may be true, but they will often also contain a number of other chemicals to achieve the color they advertise.
However, you can get a whole range of colors just by mixing henna with other organic ingredients that are easy to find and environmentally friendly.
Here’s how you can achieve different colour using pure henna and other natural ingredients:
- For natural-looking red hair – If your goal is red or auburn hair, using organic ingredients and no harsh chemicals, you can combine henna powder with lemon juice and water to create your dye paste. Let it sit for about 12 hours or until it has completely changed color from greenish brown to reddish brown before applying.
- For neutral brown to chestnut brown hair – In the same way that henna leaves contain a natural dye component, so does woad. While woad will dye fabric blue, it has a slightly different effect with hair and is very color-fast, so it will maintain good color consistency for a long time. Woad neutralizes the red in the henna dye and results in beautiful brown hair.
- For golden hair – Saffron is used to naturally dye fabric a yellow, golden, or orange color. When used with henna, it results in golden-blond hair that looks sun kissed and gorgeous.
- For dark, rich, chocolaty brown hair – Karchak is made from castor bean, and vashma is partially fermented indigo. These two components help to darken henna dye and give you a rich, deep brown color without losing the warmth of henna’s redness.
- For glistening, dark black hair – The blue-black color of indigo mixed with henna creates a beautiful pitch black that covers greys and gives your hair the shine you want.
Now, again, we must emphasize that your results will vary when dyeing your hair with henna and other natural ingredients.
While lemon juice will act as a developer for the dye and can even lift the natural color of your hair to a certain degree, it will not strip your hair of its natural color the way that harsh chemical dyes that contain bleach will.
The end color result for any of these combinations of organic ingredients will depend a great deal on your hair color.
Thus, if you use henna and saffron on dark hair, you may get some lighter highlights and a rich, shiny glow to your hair when you walk outside, you will not achieve golden-blond tresses.
Using henna and other organic hair dyes and cosmetics is all about working with your own natural beauty.
If you want to boost the rich, dark color and texture of your hair, for example, you’ll love the results of using henna, karchak, and vashma.
HENNA FOR THE BODY
In addition to its dyeing capabilities, henna is also rich with medicinal substances that have been proven to aid the body in a number of ways.
For example, henna can be used to treat painful stomach and intestinal ulcers.
Some of the medicinal used of henna are:
- A paste made from henna flowers can also be applied to the forehead if you have a headache and used as a cool poultice for instantaneous relief.
- Mixed with water and bound to the feet or hands, henna leaves can also reduce prickly heat, burning or itching feet, and even rheumatoid arthritis.
- Henna leaves can also be used to relieve ulcers and blisters in the mouth, and a leaf decoction can be gargled to alleviate the pain of a sore throat, too.
And, unlike other medications, you can safely use henna while pregnant or breastfeeding, and it’s safe for those undergoing chemotherapy and for children over the age of twelve, too.
YOUR GUILT FREE CHOICE
With so many wonderful uses for henna, you can see why we love using pure henna instead of pre-packaged hair dyes and other products.
With pure, organic henna, you can mix it with other natural dyes and use it to color your hair in a range of shades, or you can use it to create beautiful, temporary designs on your skin.
If you’re interested in henna tattoos, you can use your henna powder to create a paste to paint beautiful designs on your skin.
And, if you want to create these designs in a color other than henna’s natural deep reddish brown, you can just mix in some indigo, karchak, or vashma to change the hue you’ll be painting with.
Pure henna is 100% organic, friendly to your health (as you can see from all of the ways it can be used to heal your body), and friendly to the environment, too.
It’s your guilt-free, low-carbon footprint way to look and feel beautiful and healthy.
You can learn more about henna hair dyes, all about mixing and applying them, and everything else you’d like to know about henna on our blog.
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