Henna, the crushed leaf of the Lawsonia inermis plant, has been used since the Bronze Age for dying and conditioning the hair, nails and skin. Hand cultivated in the terraced gardens along the Drâa river valley, the henna grown at the sacred Rissani oasis in Morocco is famed for its high dye content and reduced dying times for hair. This henna in 100% pure. Grey hair becomes fiery-red and dark hair shines with red highlights. This henna is also highly recommended for traditional Berber and Mehndi body art.
In dyeing the hair, henna imparts a deep metallic sheen and creates a range of tones from a fiery red-orange on gray hair to red highlights on black hair. This henna does not fade. However many women henna their hair on a monthly basis, or more frequently to cover grey hairs. On the skin and nails, henna leaves an orange-brown colour which endures for about three weeks.
Original hair colour – Colour after henna
Grey – Fiery Red
Blonde – Red
Light brown – Red/Auburn
Medium Brown – Auburn
Dark Brown – Reddish Brown
Dark Brown/Black – Red highlights
100g short hair, 200g collar length hair, 300g shoulder length hair, 500g waist length hair
A Basic Recipe for Henna Hair Dying
Mix 100g henna powder in a bowl with approximately 300ml of water which has come off the boil. Mix into a smooth paste. Allow to stand until an orange fluid is visible in the meniscus at the edge of the bowl and the top of the henna mixture starts to darken which means that the dyes are activated. It only takes a few minutes to activate this henna. Use the henna mix straight away or freeze the mixture for future use. There is no need to add lemon, vinegar or oil to this henna, it just doesn’t need anything else. Also vinegar or lemon can be quite drying on the hair. I am getting the best results on my fine hair with just henna and water and lately, seaweed extract in place of water.
How to dye the hair with henna
Cover the floor and delicate surfaces with newspaper or go outside. Wear old, dark coloured clothes. Place an old towel around the shoulders. Apply a fine oil, fast absorbing oil such as argan oil to the forehead, ears and neck to help avoid staining of the skin. I have found that I get much less staining, or none whatsoever when using argan oil as opposed to other oils or moisturizers. I guess the argan oil penetrates more deeply?
Wearing gloves, apply the henna to clean and wet/damp hair. Section long hair on the head and apply henna to the hair at the crown of the neck first with the corresponding hair, gradually working over the crown of the head to the forehead, the sides and finally the nape, ensuring that every hair is coated right down to the roots.
Then cover the hair with an old scarf, a shower cap, plastic bag or cling film and wrap the hair for between 2-4 hours to ensure coverage of gray hair. Keep the head warm with a washable hat to encourage dye release. Wipe any drips from the skin immediately.
Some women apply the henna before going to bed allowing the henna to release the dye overnight. In these cases they always add argan oil or a herbal oil formulated for the hair to the henna mix, to keep the hair in good condition and of course they cover their hair well and their pillow. I have never tried this myself – it is not necessary with really good quality henna!
Then rinse the hair thoroughly in warm water until the water runs completely clear. It helps to wash the hair in some rhassoul clay at this point, to remove any final traces of henna and to leave the hair super shiny and soft. Rinse and wash the towels straight after use to reduce the risk of staining. The full depth of colour will appear in the hair over the course of a day or so. This henna is permanent and very slow to fade.
I never comb my hair after dying it until the hair is dry. If you comb the hair while it is wet, you will stretch the hair and damage the hair. Wait until the hair is dry before combing it, and go steady!
Henna can be mixed with other herbal ingredients to alter the colour: Add saffron to the henna to give blond; walnut powder (unsuitable for people with nut allergies) to give brown; woad to create chestnut brown and indigo to give black. You would need to experiment with the mixes and times by testing on harvested hair.
How to Turn Your Henna Session into a Deep Conditioning Treatment with Seaweed
Using seaweed extract to hydrate the henna turns the hair dyeing session into a deep conditioning treatment too and the results are remarkable. Seaweed detoxes, nourishes and conditions the hair giving superb hair quality. I always mix the henna with seaweed extract now.
By using the seaweed extract to hydrate the henna, expect:
Easier rinsing of henna – with minimal hair loss due to the conditioning nature of the seaweed.
Super conditioned hair soft, which is shiny and protected.
Best of all, once the hair is dried, and you comb the hair, it is less tangled – again with less hair loss.
You can see the results in this video…
Learn more about the benefits of using seaweed on the hair and learn how it can promote quality hair growth.
How to decorate the skin with henna – Mehndi Art
Henna creates an orange-brown stain on the skin. Make the mix as above, but include 1-2 tablespoons of brown sugar to give a smooth sticky consistency necessary for piping and to slow down the drying time of the henna.
Cover the bowl and leave the mixture to mature as described earlier. During this time the plant cellulose will dissolve, liberating the lawsone dye. Some people like to leave the henna in the sun while it is maturing. Once the surface of the henna mix has turned brown, the dye has been released and the henna is nearly ready to use – just add a little more lemon juice if the mixture is too thick and mix until a smooth consistency is obtained. Sieve the henna to remove any lumps and place the paste in a piping cone to allow a thin, continuous line of henna to be extruded. Using either templates or working free form, pipe the henna onto the skin.
To make the henna pattern darker and more enduring, while the henna is drying make the ‘sealing mixture’. Just cover some sugar with lemon juice in saucepan and bringing the mixture briefly to the boil. Once it has cooled, carefully dab this mixture onto the lines of henna paste and cover the skin in oiled gauze or plastic wrap, with further covers to retain the body warmth. Apply the seal indoors to prevent attracting wasps and other insects. Under wraps, the henna will dry more slowly and aided by body heat, the result will be darker still. Leave the henna covered, on the skin for 6-8 hours. Then remove the wrapping and wash the dried paste off the skin. The design will darken further over the course of the next few days, and then fade over the course of several weeks. A mehndi artist, or in Arabic, al Hanaya is highly skilled. If you are going to practice on yourself, traditional designs can be found on the internet.
Do not use henna on people with a Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency also known as a G6PD deficiency as this can result in a medical emergency.
Do a patch and strand test before use if you have any concerns about allergic reactions or if you want to check the final colour on your hair or skin.
Henna use FAQs
How do I do a strand test?
If you have not used henna before, or if your hair has been chemical dyed or treated, you might be curious or concerned about how your hair will turn out. It is easy to find out: Harvest some hair from your comb or hairbrush and press three balls into the mature henna mix. The remaining mix can be frozen until the test is complete and then defrosted (never in a microwave) before use. Take one ball of hair out of the henna mix after 1/2 an hour, rinse the hair ball and allow it to dry. Assess the colour and condition of the dyed hair in both natural and artificial light. Repeat with the remaining balls at half hourly intervals. Bear in mind that the hennaed hair will darken slightly over the course of three days.
How do I do a patch test?
Allergic reactions to henna are rare, but if you have not used this product before, it is wise to conduct a patch test. Place some henna paste onto the inside of the forearm. Cover and leave for as long as the henna will be in contact with the skin during the course of hair dying or while the mehndi paste is kept damp on the skin. Cover to prevent evaporation. Remove the henna paste once the time is up or sooner if there is a reaction. Examine the condition or the skin.
Can I use henna if I have already dyed my hair with synthetic hair dyes and used chemical treatments?
Yes you can apply henna to hair which has been dyed, bleached, streaked, highlighted, relaxed and permed, but it is best to wait for at least two weeks before using henna. Henna does not react with the ammonia activator used in synthetic hair dyes.
Can I remove henna from the nails?
No. Henna stains the nails permanently. The colour will only vanish as the nails grow. The toil nails can take a year to grow.
Can I remove henna from the skin?
Not easily. Before dying the hair with henna, apply a fine oil such as argan oil to the edges of the face to help prevent staining. Wipe any drips away immediately. When henna is used for mehndi art, the colour on the skin gradually fades over the course of a few weeks, as the skin is exfoliated. Henna binds with the proteins in skin and the pattern vanishes as the skin renews. Henna fades from the thick skin such as the soles of the feet over the course of 12 weeks.
Can I remove henna from the hair?
Henna acts as a permanent dye on the hair and can not be removed.
Can I use synthetic hair dyes and chemical hair treatments after using henna?
No. Using synthetic and chemical hair treatments after dying the hair with henna gives very unpredictable results and the hair will certainly be damaged. You can not switch from using henna back to synthetic products unless you want to cut the henna treated hair. Using henna is a lifestyle choice.
How do I store the henna powder?
The preserve the quality of the dye, keep your henna powder in a dark, cool and dry location. Or if you if you are not going to use the henna powder for a while, keep it in the freezer.
How do I store the henna mix?
You can keep the henna mix in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze the henna mix. Defrost the mix before use in a bowl of hot water.
Ethics of henna use
We supply premium quality 100% pure Moroccan henna containing no additives whatsoever. Infact we have laboratory tests to show that our henna is pure enough to eat! Although we sell it only as a dye and we don’t consume it ourselves.
The henna plant is very pest resistant and pesticides are not used at all in the Rissani henna gardens.
The henna plant needs very little water to flourish and produce high quality henna powder preserving precious water resources.
The henna crop is vital in sustaining the livelihoods of farmers through episodes of drought when other crops such as the palm harvest fails.
An increase in the demand for henna in Western countries is giving rural farmers in henna growing regions long term security and helps to prevent rural depopulation.
The use of henna does not cause pollution to the environment at the time of production or use.
The use of henna does not contaminate the human body with synthetic chemicals. Often when the brains of women who use chemical hair dyes are exposed in an autopsy, the outside of the brain tissue is stained by the chemical dyes. Hair dressers who used chemical dyes are greatly increasing their risk of bladder and breast cancer, as are users of chemical hair dyes. Women should never use chemical hair dyes when they are pregnant or breast feeding.
Henna has been tried and tested on humans and their favourite animals for thousands of years.
The whole of the henna plant is valued: The flowers make a wonderful perfume, the roots are used in traditional medicines, and the stems for fuel. The crop of henna leaves for henna powder production really represents the thinning of the plant, and the shrub continues to grow for many more years before the shrub is replanted.
Did you know?
Henna helps to repel insects, gives resistance to mildew and has some antibacterial properties.
People who habitually walk with bare feet paint the soles of the feet and toe nails with henna to protect from fungal infections.
Henna has a cooling property and helps the hands and feet and scalp to feel cool in hot climates.
Henna acts as a sun block and the skin directly under a henna design will not tan.
Henna is traditionally used to dye leather, silk, wool and wood.
Henna was widely used in Europe during the Medieval period for use in the textile dying industry.
Still in Morocco, henna is also used to dye the legs, tail and manes of Arabian horses and sacred animals, like the horse in the picture above.