Natural Healing: Henna

Use henna, an ancient herb, to dye your hair and adorn the body.

| March/April 2001

Cleopatra used it. Lucille Ball used it. Should you use it? Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is the red-colored plant that yields a dye used for centuries in the Middle East and India to color hair, skin, and nails. Henna has also been a staple in many products sold in the United States since the 1970s.

Most chemical dyes strip some of the outside layer of the hair (cuticle) and then permeate the hair shaft, lodging color into the inner matrix of the shaft (cortex). Plant dyes such as henna coat the exterior of the hair, staining the outside layer of the hair shaft.

“Natural henna will actually thicken your hair. Each layer will add some diameter to the hair shaft,” says Michael Wright, president of Logona, a natural products manufacturer in Chico, California. Wright feels that big manufacturers have penetrated the beauty industry with propaganda about henna and that this false information has given the plant- derived product a bad rap.

“Henna actually improves the quality of the hair by coating its cuticle with a natural protecting layer. The result is radiant, shiny hair,” says Wright.

Choosing a henna product

Henna comes in one color—bright red—but the color can be adjusted to match the individual’s preference. Henna colors include chestnut, brown, blonde, plum, a variety of red shades, and auburn. Henna can darken your hair and change its tonality, but it can’t lighten the color.

“Chemical colorants open the hair shaft and oxidize the natural pigment away. Then a synthetic dye is deposited into the hair shaft. This is pretty heavy artillery to use on your body. Henna is a security envelope that coats the hair but doesn’t change its natural pigment,” says Wright.

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