swamp monster chic

When we were kids, my mom told us about these henna parties where she and some women would sit around in a circle coating each other’s heads in this mucky, muddy paste. That was how I imagined it, anyway, all communal and smelling of wet-dirt henna smell and eucalyptus oil.

At some point in high school I started feeling adventurous. I found myself standing by the kitchen sink with a plastic bag wrapped around my head, trying to keep henna clumps from falling down my shirt.

Dying your hair with henna is kind of like mud wrestling. You just have to embrace it for all its primal glory, and then find yourself having fun, even if you look like a swamp monster. Its experience value aside, henna is a great option for several reasons:

-No Sharpie-smelling chemicals
-Good for your hair
-Not typically tested on animals
-Can cost less than $5
-Fades slowly, preventing the dreaded grow-out line that requires so much maintenance
(FYI: if you’re going from blonde to black, don’t expect this benefit; henna deposits color, it doesn’t change genes.)

I should also mention to use caution when using henna on chemically-dyed hair, or using chemical dyes on henna-dyed hair. Consult your stylist and the internet for advice on this matter.

For simplicity’s sake, I won’t go into all the tricks of the trade. Every woman makes henna differently–just check out YouTube for a few examples. Here’s how I do it, for those of you who would rather take a nap than read about the color-enhancing properties of red onion peels and goat urine (just don’t even ask).

Step 1
Buy a cup of dry henna powder. You can get different shades–blonde, red, chestnut, dark brown, etc. If you are worried about how it will turn out, get a little bit and dye only a strand of hair. I get my henna in bulk from a small herb/tea shop, though you can also find it at Indian or natural food stores. If you must get it online, look at product reviews to make sure you’re not getting anything with weird additives.

You’ll also find body art henna when you go shopping. Though you could technically dye your hair red with this henna, it is typically finer and significantly more expensive.

Step 2
Mix your powder with 1 egg. Whisk in hot water slowly until you get a toothpaste consistency. Reserve a bit of powder to add in case it gets too runny. Add a few drops essential oil and it will smell a bit better.

Step 3
Let the mixture sit in a warm spot for an hour or so, covered so it doesn’t dry out. Go take a shower and wash your hair, but don’t condition it.

Step 4
Time to apply! Put on an old shirt you won’t have to pull over your head to take off, such as a button-down. Wrap an old towel around your shoulders and apply henna to wet hair with gloved hands and a spatula, fork, hands…really whatever you find works best. You can skip the gloves if you don’t mind getting your hands a little red, but do wash them quickly after application. It will lend a tint to anything it touches. I put a bit of lotion on my ears and around my hairline before starting, which keeps it from soaking in as much. Work it into your roots and then down to the ends. This part will take some practice. Just try to get the paste on as much hair as possible before it starts drying. Pull your hair up and wrap it in a rag or a small grocery bag. Wipe off any henna paste on your face and neck, then go hang out in a warm place for 1-2 hours. The longer it sits, the deeper the henna color will generally be.

Step 5 
Wash the henna out in the shower. Wait until you’re in the shower to loose your hair–otherwise, all those little clumps end up everywhere! Be careful if you have a white shower curtain. You will need to rinse your hair really well to get it all out, and even then you’ll probably shed some “henna dust” as your hair dries. Cover your pillow in an old towel that night, just in case.

Step 6
Enjoy your new hair! It will fade the most in the first few days, then fade very slowly over the next few months. If you experience a henna disaster, mineral oil is supposed to help remove the color. Hopefully, like me, you never have to test this theory. Have fun! Please feel free to post your results or recommendations in the comments section. 🙂

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