Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Beauty: Bollywood Hair

I dye my hair red with henna–the same stuff that women in India (and street artists everywhere) use to temporarily tattoo their skin. Though it appears extra-bright in photos, the color looks very natural in person and I’m asked at least once a month how I like being a redhead. (I usually say we’re the ones who have more fun).

I have dry hair, but henna has the added benefit of being a natural conditioning agent. Not only does it not fry my hair like chemical dyes I’ve tried, but it actually softens and defines my curls. It also doesn’t hurt that the total cost of a henna dye-job is about $8, compared to $50 and up for a salon visit.

They do make henna specifically for hair, which comes in a variety of colors, but basic bulk henna creates a reliable and vibrant red. My favorite purveyor of bulk henna powder is Lhasa Karnak Herb Co. in Berkeley, but any apothecary shop should carry it. Beware of cheap, boxed products from imports stores, unless your goal is traffic cone orange.

Before we get into specifics, a word of caution: henna is messy. It will stain anything it touches for more than a minute, so be sure to wear gloves and cover your work area with newspaper or rags. Also, don’t use any metal bowls or utensils to work with the henna because it can drastically affect the color.

Here’s how it goes:
1. Buy the right amount of henna for your hair length. I have very long hair, so I use 8oz for a complete coloring and 4oz for a root touch-up.
2. In a glass or plastic bowl, mix the henna powder with one part lemon juice to one part water until it reaches the consistency of yogurt. You may want to add a little perfume or scented oil to the mix because henna smells like hay.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it out over night (for at least 8 hours). Don’t refrigerate it. In the morning, you may need to add more lemon juice if the henna paste looks dry.
4. When you’re ready to apply the henna, divide your hair into manageable sections and brush it out. Put on plastic or rubber gloves and put Vaseline or cocoa butter around your hairline to keep the henna from staining your skin.
5. Enlist a friend to help you apply the henna, especially to the back of your head. Coat your hair from root to tip with the henna paste. Yes, it will be messy and you’ll get little flakes of it everywhere.
6. When you’ve used up all the henna and your hair is completely coated, tie it back and wrap a plastic bag around your head. You’ll have to leave the henna and the bag on for four and a half hours to let the henna set. This will be one of those catch-up-on-TV-shows-and-bake kind of days; you won’t be making any public appearances.
7. When the 4.5 hours are up, remove the bag and take a shower. Rinse your hair thoroughly and then shampoo and condition to remove the last bits of henna.
The red will be permanent and you won’t be able to dye over it with traditional chemical dyes. Dying on top of the henna won’t work because henna completely coats your hair shafts. But, henna for hair comes in many different shades, so you can always use more henna to switch back to your natural color. Some sites suggest removing the henna with alcohol and mineral oil, but I wouldn’t want to strip my hair that way to get rid of the color.

I wanted to brighten my ash blonde and I found the perfect solution. It’s pretty time-consuming and unglamorous, but I have no plans to go back. After all, who doesn’t want to be a redhead?


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