A Walk on the Wild Side

Enhance your hair and your life with henna.

| April/May 2002

Henna, or Egyptian privet (Lawsonia inermis), is a plant with a rich and varied history. Its use dates back to time immemorial. Originally found in North Africa, Australia, and Asia, henna has spread and naturalized in many areas of the world, including the subtropical regions of the United States.

Though we generally tend to think of it as a colorant, henna has a long list of medicinal properties and is still used in many parts of the world as an astringent for headaches, as a gargle for sore throats, and to treat stomach upset and pain. Though I’ve used henna primarily as an external coloring agent for hair, I’ve long suspected its powerful medicinal properties.

Choosing the right henna

It is essential to get henna from a good source. Poor-quality henna will not yield the dramatic lights that a good-quality product will. Undoubtedly, there are several good hennas that I don’t know about, but I have found that Rainbow henna and Persian henna are consistently good.

The basic shade of henna is red, and all henna has a whisper of red in it. But by carefully blending different parts of the plant that are harvested at different times, a whole range of colors is created.

Blond hair. I don’t recommend using henna on blond hair unless you want to go red. Even then, I would exercise caution. Since all henna—even the neutral and blond shades—has an undertone of red, blond hair and other light shades will pick up this red shade. And so-called blond henna doesn’t necessarily make blond hair blonder. It often makes the hair redder or darker. So if your hair is a light shade of blond, do not expect henna to lighten your hair—even if the package says blond henna.

Dark-blond to light-brown hair. You must be careful when selecting henna for light shades of hair, because the hair picks up the henna tones readily. If you want to just highlight your natural color, choose a shade that best describes your hair. For example, if you have dark-blond hair, use blond henna. If your hair is light-brown, use light-brown henna. A color selection that seems to be everyone’s favorite, and the one I certainly like the best, is a mixture of shades that creates a warm, coppery glow. I mix the following shades, but remember to adjust for your own natural coloring.

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