I generally like to fool around with my hair color about once a year and I adjust my hair style on a fairly constant basis, but recently I was feeling up for a relatively big change. As I’ve slowly switched out some of my beauty and personal care products to more natural and healthy alternatives, I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that chemical hair dye is probably not something I should continue to use. After a lot of research and trepidation, I decided to give Lush’s Caca henna hair dye a try. Henna is a whole new world for me and today I wanted to share how it went!
In terms of my haircut, I basically asked to lose a lot of length. I’m in a process of “starting over” and growing out some of the big features I’ve been sporting over the past 6 months or so: a shaved side of my head, angled bangs that were very short at times, extreme layers, and a bad haircut I got in Asia that left my style looking downright unbalanced and confused. My hairstylist suggested an asymmetrical length for the cut, since the left side of my hair has a lot more growing out to do than the right side. Anyways, I wanted to take a moment to just explain that the cut is a work in progress.
Here’s a look at the haircut (really, not terribly different except for the length), as well as my natural hair color in both natural and artificial lighting.
I like to color my hair quite a bit, but eased off of the salon sessions due to finances. It actually made a lot of sense to ween myself off of hair dye this past year, both because of an effort to save money as well as the anticipation of a shifting lifestyle and several months of traveling over the summer. Consequently, I haven’t dyed my hair in over a year. Especially now that I’ve chopped so much length off, my hair was completely back to its natural state.
I’ve had a lot of colors in my hair, from platinum blonde to rich brown, and while I’ve had reddish-brown hair before, I had some anxiety over whether vibrant red from henna would suit me. Ultimately, it was an experiment and it felt like a good time in my life to take a risk.
There are a lot of places where you can buy natural hair color, and I tried to learn about some of the brands that offer them. Through this research, I learned that Lush offers henna hair dyes, which I never knew! Some people swear by straight-up pure henna powder (which I believe I’d have to buy online), but Lush puts it in bar form by mixing it with cocoa butter to condition hair and some other natural ingredients to increase shine and make the heated henna smell a bit better than it otherwise would. I usually have good luck with Lush and tend to turn to them first for natural alternatives to more traditional products, and followed suit here.
Henna is a traditional plant-based dye that’s been used for thousands of years in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, the native home to the plant Lawsonia inermis. It temporarily stains skin and permanently dyes hair, though it is unable to lighten hair and can only add pigment to it. Using it straight produces a vibrant red on lighter hair or an auburn glow on darker hair, and it can be mixed with other things like coffee or indigo to produce other variations of rich brown.
Lush offers four varieties of Caca: Rouge, Brun, Marron, and Noir. Rouge uses straight up henna with no other colorants, and Brun, Marron, and Noir are formulated to create other shades of brown, auburn, and black. The Lush sales associate also told me I could mix coffee into the henna myself for a custom shade, if I wanted. The advice I had seen online that made sense to me was that if you’re unsure of which color to choose, it’s easier to start with a lighter shade and work your way deeper until you get what you like. It’s harder to lighten henna dyed hair because although it might fade over time, it’ll permanently reside in your hair. That helped guide me to trying out the Caca Rouge for my first experience with henna.
And, yeah, caca is French for “poop”. Lush refers to their line of dyes as “les Caca” which I can only assume is inspired by how the henna looks once it’s been heated up.
The Dying Process
The biggest downside that people note about dying hair with henna at home is how messy it can be. I really enjoyed The Fine Art of Dying Your Hair with Henna by Crunchy Betty, which is a very funny look at everything that can go wrong throughout the process. She used a powder from a different brand, but the risks are the same.
Like I mentioned, Lush’s version is sold in the form of a solid bar. The nice thing about my new haircut is that it meant I needed less product to do the job, so I mixed up half the bar which turned out to be the perfect amount.
The steps are pretty simple: you’ll need to melt the henna in a double boiler and add hot water until you get the consistency of brownie mix. Apply to hair and wrap in plastic, and leave in for however long you like (Lush indicates 1 hour for light color to 2.5 hours for full color), and you can leave in for longer than the instructions say, as henna conditions the hair rather than damaging it like chemical dyes. You’ll see immediate color after rinsing, but the tones might adjust for a few days afterward as the henna oxidizes.
If you’re used to coloring your hair with box dye, then this process probably will seem pretty easy. I’ve never dyed my hair at home so I was prepared for a learning curve, and to be entirely honest, I’m not sure it would have turned out as well if I didn’t have my boyfriend at home helping me out.
One more note about henna that I see posted on the internet but not on the instructions from Lush or some other producers online: apparently henna reacts with metal, so you shouldn’t use a metal bowl or spoon with while you’re heating it. I’m honestly not sure whether this is true for pure henna or if it has something to do with added chemicals and metallic salts that might be present in lower quality henna dyes, but I followed this tip anyhow. We’re in the process of moving and didn’t have all of our kitchen tools at hand, so my boyfriend cleverly suggested I just line a pot with a big Ziplock bag and use a disposable plastic fork. In a bind, you could also try wrapping a spoon with some plastic wrap (which is what I nearly resorted to).
Melting the henna is easier if the pieces of the bar are broken up, so I cut up half the bar with a knife before putting it in my plastic-lined pot. I had a little water heater nearby that I heated up and diluted the henna with hot water until the desired consistency was reached. I brought it to the consistency of brownie mix, though I could have diluted it a little further as it thickens up as it cools. It ended up being a little stiff as I was trying to apply it, but it wasn’t a huge problem. If the henna is diluted too much you might experience some dripping as it sets, but I don’t believe it affects the final result. The henna has a natural sort of smell that I didn’t find to be offensive or particularly strong, but it does persist throughout the melting and dying process.
I coated my hairline, ears, and neck with coconut oil so that the henna wouldn’t stain my skin. You can use a balm or Vaseline, too. As you prepare to apply the mixture to your head, wear gloves to protect your hands from stains. The instructions suggest applying by working from back to front, and focusing on covering the roots before coating the rest of the lengths. I covered the floor in paper anticipating a mess, and I was glad I did! I found this be more difficult than I expected, as hair seems to turn into a tangled mess the moment henna is introduced. Having a second pair of hands helping me out was invaluable, but hopefully with practice I can master it.
You can let it sit in just a hair clip, but it definitely crumbles as it dries so I’d imagine this method is extremely messy. You can also wrap it in plastic, and the heat that it traps over the time you let it sit will help the color be more vibrant. I left it on my hair for a long time. I applied it in the evening which gave me enough time to leave it on for a couple of hours before going to bed, and thought I might sleep in it but wanted to leave myself the option of washing it out if I wasn’t comfortable with it in. I decided to go ahead an sleep in it (and ended up leaving it in for 12+ hours), though I’ll admit I slept kind of terribly. The other thing I’ll say is that while I placed an old t-shirt over my pillow, I didn’t properly protect the bed from a mess. The henna on the very back of my neck and right by my ears got in a couple of places on the pillowcase and sheet, so next time I’ll know to be more cautious.
I rinsed it out in the shower and found that it didn’t take a ton of effort to get the grit out of my hair, but if you have a tangly mess on your hands I hear that conditioner helps rinse it out. The henna rinses down the drain pretty well, though I did take a moment to lightly wash out the tub afterwards anyway because there was a slight golden tinge near the drain.
The Learning Curve
A few notes about precautions and things I’d do differently when I try this whole thing again:
– Gloves, newspaper, and a helping hand are very valuable
– Remember that the heated mixture of henna will thicken a bit as it cools
– A plastic comb would have come in handy for application
– Coconut oil worked flawlessly for protecting my skin from stains. Win! I’d recommend coating skin thoroughly, as I even managed to get henna in my ears during application. Wiping it off before it has a chance to sit on skin for too long also seems to work fine.
– Knowing that the coconut oil works, next time I’ll coat the hair right next to my ears more thoroughly. I had been a little conservative in that area out of fear.
– I think I need to grab either a fabric cap or disposable plastic shower caps. And I could have done a better job covering the back of my neck and area around my ears.
– Next time, I’ll protect my bed linens better. Besides avoiding stains, I think it also might help me sleep more comfortably because I won’t feel like I need to be as careful.
– After rinsing, dry hair with an old towel. Some of the of the dye will probably continue to come off for a wash or two.
I think I ended up with pretty vibrant hair. I was a little scared of it at first! My hair ended up more vibrant near the front of my head and darker near the back. My hair was a little extra highlighted from a summer of traveling and plenty of sun exposure, plus I’ve recently started to gray near my hairline and the white hairs really pick up the bright color. As many people say about henna, I found my hair felt nicely conditioned afterward and acquired a little extra body in the process, so that’s definitely nice. I do think the tones changed slightly over the next couple of days, but I’m not sure if it’s the kind of change that anyone else besides me would notice.
What is Henna? A lot of henna sellers have good FAQs on their websites, and this intro to henna by Henna Color Lab is nice and thorough.
The Fine Art of Dying Your Hair with Henna, a really funny post by Crunchy Betty laying out her very messy experience with natural hair dye.
And my more recent posts about using henna powder and a comparison to Lush Caca Rouge and The Henna Guys henna dye in Medium Brown.
I had a good experience with Lush’s Caca Rouge ($25.95) for a first attempt with henna. Have you ever tried natural hair dye before? Am I crazy for going red?