Q: I've been dyeing my hair with products from the health food store, but found out they contain chemicals, and I find they leave my hair dry and damaged. I have a bit of grey hair. Is there something natural I can use? What about henna?
A: When it comes to products sold in health food stores, we have to keep in mind that they are not all "natural" and certified organic. For example, potassium sorbate is an additive that is often added to olives. It is also true that beauty companies do not have to divulge all the ingredients used in a product, and we should be aware that in order to make such products shelf stable, i.e., that have a long shelf life, chemicals are used. When it comes to hair dyes, chemicals are certainly added, regardless of any marketing or the word "natural" on the box.
There are a few herbs that will dye your hair naturally. They are henna, indigo and cassia.
Henna dyes hair red (used alone on black or brown hair, the effect is not that noticeable, but will dye grey hair red and create highlights). As with any herb that can be sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, look for organic and body art quality. High quality henna suppliers will note the source (where it was grown) and the year the herb was harvested. This ensures the herb will color well. Take this point into account, as there are well-meaning companies that sell henna in a box (or mixed with indigo/cassia in various shades), however quality may be compromised as you have no way of assessing how old the herbs are in the package. Bear in mind that herbalists regard herbs ground into a powder, such as henna, to oxidize more quickly and give a shelf life of 6 months to 1 year. Also bear in mind that henna must be stored in the freezer in order to maintain its freshness and potency.
By "quality" you will notice a difference when you mix henna in a bowl: old henna will be lumpy when liquid is added and clumps may form, making it hard to stir into a uniform paste. Fresh henna will not have this issue and will smell stronger and fresher. Old henna will still dye your hair, but perhaps your hair might be more coppery or brassy or perhaps the color will fade more quickly. From personal experience, you will get consistent results using high quality henna. Older henna (or those sold in boxes) will still work, but results will vary.
Indigo dyes hair black, while Cassia dyes hair blond. Again, look for high quality suppliers, noting when the herb was harvested and that it is organic. Henna, indigo and cassia can be mixed together in various combinations to make shades of blond, brown (light/dark) and red (auburn/ mahogany). Sometimes other herbs are used to enhance the effect of these primary herbs, such as hibiscus tea/powder, coffee, and amla (a berry).
You can buy henna, cassia and indigo separately or make your own combination. Recipes are available online for you to experiment with, such as This One.
The main caveat about using these herbs is that they are messy and take more time (a few hours) for the color to take. The advantages, nevertheless, outweigh the disadvantage:
Concerning that last point, here are a few ways to get you into a routine of "keeping it clean:"
---> Wear an old sweater and place a towel over the area where you are going to apply your dye. Use a salve ("it's not petroleum jelly") on your forehead, cheeks, ears and neck to prevent the color from staining your skin. Use disposal gloves, and apply the color. Applying the color is no different than other dyes: you want to make sure all the roots and strands of the hair get covered. Then, don a shower cap and get some housecleaning chores or other work done while you wait. You'll find that rinsing your hair in the sink is a lot cleaner than in the shower. You can use shampoo and conditioner OR just conditioner, as you prefer. The dye will continue to be in your hair for a few days, so use a separate towel the next few times you wash your hair (you'll see color on the towel, but it washes out). Wear a bathing cap if you go swimming.
For dry hair:
----> If you find your hair gets dried out with henna, you can use a hair mask prior to using henna OR add in some conditioner or honey with the henna. You can obviously deep condition hair any time after dyeing hair with henna. An easy recipe is to puree 2 avocados or bananas in a food processor, with 1 tsp of honey or maple syrup, if desired, and apply to hair. You could also add in 1-2 tsp of melted coconut oil instead. Let sit 2 hours then rinse out.
A few recommended products & places (none of these are affiliates):
Individual herbs (these are both excellent resources): HennaCanada & Mehandi
where you'll find how-tos on what acids to use to mix with the herbs (i.e., lemon juice, apple cider vinegar), how thick the dye paste should be, how long it should "cure," etc.
One last point: if most of your hair is grey or white, then do a mix of indido/cassia/henna that matches your natural hair color. Dye your hair and then if you want to change it (e.g. go more red), you can then play around with other herbal combinations (or just use one herb, e.g. henna).
To bright hair days ahead,
is a Health Practitioner with a Background in Chinese Medicine. Get in Some of her Savvy Adivce When She Answers Your Health Question.
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