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Thread: The basics of henna

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    Now-shorthaired mod Anje's Avatar
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    Default The basics of henna

    Henna is essentially the ground up dried leaves and stems of the plant Lawsonia inermis. When mixed with water or other liquid, this powder releases an orangey-red dye that people like to use to color their hair and/or make designs on their skin. It's a translucent dye, so the effect is like looking at the hair through a red-orange filter. As such, it doesn't lighten hair, though some dark brown-black hair occasionally can look a bit lighter with it in some lights. Multiple applications of henna tend to be darker and go toward more burgundy tones as the layers build up. On the majority of people, henna is permanent and cannot be completely removed without major hair damage, though it fades on a few rare people. Most folks find henna strengthening, conditioning, and shine-enhancing, though some also find it a bit drying and appreciate adding some oil or doing moisture treatments afterward.


    Henna tends to get mixed with other things (which get inaccurate names like "neutral henna" or "black henna") such as Senna italica (an older botanical name you'll often see for this is Cassia obovata) and Indigo tinctoria. Senna has a light yellow dye color that's usually temporary (typically fades over a few months) and doesn't show up much on hair that's not white or light blond, so it's often used to dilute the henna for lighter, more coppery tones. Indigo on its own is a gray-blue color; mixed with henna it can create brown tones. Layered over henna, it can make a dense black. Indigo is finicky -- sometimes it fades from hair, leaving the henna behind, other times it stays steadfastly stuck and resists all attempts to fade it. Additionally, peroxide and indigo often result in hair turning an alarming muddy dark green, so bleaching is strongly discouraged.


    Because henna-based dyes can be so strongly permanent, it's a good idea to strand-test them before applying them to your hair, and they're not suitable for anyone who does not want to commit to the color. Everyone has their own favorite recipes, but the most basic one is just to mix the plant powder with warm water to make a batter, let it sit at warm room temperature for a while until the henna can make an orange spot on the palm of your hand in a short period (this could be in minutes or a few hours, depending largely on where the plant was grown), then apply it to the hair. Cover your hair with plastic to keep it moist, leave it in anywhere from an hour to overnight, then rinse thoroughly (liberal amounts of cheap conditioner often help). The results tend to start out more vividly orange and settle down to a more natural-looking color within a few days to a week.

    ETA: For much more comprehensive information on henna, Nightshade's old article is a good read.
    Last edited by Anje; September 20th, 2013 at 03:41 PM.
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