Since this past fall, I have been using henna in my hair in the form of Lush’s pre-mixed Caca Rouge and have really enjoyed the results. When I was in Morocco this spring I decided to buy some pure henna powder to take back with me and experiment with, and I recently dipped in for the first time. This required me to mix up some kind of recipe, and so I wanted to share what I did, what the results were, and how it compares to my previous experience with Caca Rouge.
If you want some basic information about using henna as a hair dye, I wrote more on that in my Caca Rouge post and I won’t focus too much on the application of it here, I’ll just be concentrating on my recipe and results. The one thing I’ll say is that the application process has gotten a lot easier for me, and that after I got the first two applications under my belt with my boyfriend’s aid I felt comfortable enough to do it all by myself and have been doing great ever since, if I do say so myself!
The henna I purchased in Morocco ended up coming from the grocery store because it’s packaged in airtight bags within little boxes, and I thought it would be the best way to ensure that it was fresh and easy to pack in my luggage, plus it was significantly cheaper than fixed-price market stalls were selling it for. Though they’re pretty, seeing herbs and spices displayed in open baskets in markets always seems a little questionable to me because of the exposure to air and other elements. That’s just me. At the grocery store, I purchased two 200g boxes for $1.89 each. If that isn’t a budget-friendly hair dye, I don’t know what is.
Regular old henna isn’t specifically for hair, and it has no other colorants added to it to adjust the shade. On its own, henna is always red, but you can add tea, coffee, indigo, and other natural products to adjust the shade if you like. I’ll be fooling around with other colorants in the future, but this time around I used it straight-on.
According to my research, henna powder needs some time to steep in order “activate” or “release dye” before using. Different sources say anything between 2-12 hours, with most people suggesting right around 8 hours. Henna will eventually start to go bad once moisture is introduced, so if you let it steep for days you risk losing potency, but it sounds like sticking it in the freezer prolongs its life by several months. Once the henna has had a chance to activate, you can apply it and let it set on the hair for around 4 hours and then rinse out with the aid of some hair conditioner, which for whatever reason I’ve found works a lot better than shampoo for getting rid of all the mud and won’t wash the dye out.
My basic research suggested that maybe 100g of henna would suit shoulder-length hair, so I used half of one of my 200g bags. Ultimately this gave me much more than I actually needed, as I ended up with enough henna for approximately 1.7 applications. I saturated my whole head the first time around, refrigerated the rest and used it about 4 days later where I re-applied to the majority of my hair, focusing on the hairline and top portions and skipping the area above the back of my neck.
In addition to steeping the henna over several hours, a lot of people suggest that you need to add some acid (I’ve seen lemon juice, orange juice, vinegar, and beer suggested) in order to encourage the dye to release. Though, I think it’s also worth mentioning that people in Asia and North Africa just add water to their henna and leave it at that, and they do just fine. You can add water, tea, or coffee as the main liquid, and then you can also add some moisturizing ingredients if you like, especially if you’re adding lemon juice as well since that can definitely be drying.
I didn’t do any measuring and basically just added liquid until I reached the right consistency, so I’m using the word “recipe” here lightly. I first squeezed the juice of 3 small lemons into the powder. I added some water slowly from the tap, then realized maybe I could try some tea so I added about half a mug of black tea and stopped when the consistency seemed right. I finished by adding a good squeeze (about 2 tbs?) of honey, hoping it would help moisturize the hair a little.
I let it the mixture steep in the bowl for about 8 hours and noticed that there is a visible color change in the mixture over that time. It starts out looking green, and slowly turns into a more brownish red color. I reached a pancake batter-like consistency, though that ended up being a little thinner than it needed to be. After it warmed up on my head it did drip a little, so I think maybe aiming for more of a brownie mix consistency next time may work better. I kept it on my hair for 4 hours before rinsing.
I neglected to take true “before” photos, so I apologize for not getting more of my head in the shot. Here, I have 6+ week old henna that’s faded somewhat, as well as root re-growth and some gray hair sprouts.
After using henna powder (4 hr. set time):
Honestly, I was pretty thrilled with the level of color I achieved from the henna powder. The color was rich and vibrant, and as usual, my hairline (where my hair is naturally lighter) takes the most intense color. It seemed like I got an even deeper red than I’d previously been achieving. The thing that most impressed me was that the virgin hair at my roots looked completely even with the rest of my hair, rather than taking slightly brighter color – the brighter roots were something that could happen to me with Caca Rouge. I wonder if the color took even better this time because the powder was fresher, possibly since it had not previously been moistened as Caca Rouge had in the process of being turned into a block. Just a guess. I did add a little black tea, but it’s hard for me to believe that the small amount made a noticeable difference.
I will say that the henna/lemon/honey mixture did kind of make my hair feel dry. The henna adds body to my hair and makes it seem naturally well-behaved and tangle-free, but it did look a little frizzy after rinsing. In comparison, Lush’s formula has a heavy dose of cocoa butter in it which makes it a great conditioning treatment for the hair. In the future I’ll have to experiment more with adding hydrating ingredients to the henna powder.
Henna will develop over a couple of days after applied, so the tones can change a little. Here’s a photo of what it looked like two days later and after shampooing once. I think you can see the intensity of the color, particularly toward my hairline:
Now, I mentioned earlier that I had way more than enough henna for one application, so I refrigerated the rest with the intention of using it in the next day or two. I ended up not having time those next couple days and worried that the potency of the henna would have died a bit, but 4 days later I put some of the henna on the palm of my hand to get a feel for its staining power, and it seemed perfectly fine, so I applied the rest of it. I had enough to cover about 70% of my head and made sure to cover my hairline and top of my head, while just leaving the hair above the back of my neck alone. I applied that henna for 3-4 hours.
After that second application, the vivid color was toned down and the lighter hair toward my hairline looks more similar to the rest of my head. The color looked a little darker overall and more auburn, and it deepened the vibrant red sections at my hairline, but my natural highlights still have a really nice dimension against my darker hair.
As I see it, here are the pros of using the pure henna powder.
– Cost. Depending on where you get it, it’s a really cheap herb. I still have yet to suss out where to buy it in the US, but airfare aside, the cost of my Moroccan henna cost me like $0.50 per use. Lush’s Caca Rouge costs me $13/use since I use half of a bar at a time.
– Temperature. The pure henna can be applied at room temperature or even at a refrigerated temperature, which I thought was pleasant. Caca Rouge has to be melted and used hot, and thickens as it cools. The other side of that coin is that I found the henna powder started to melt a little after around 2 hours on my head because my body heat warmed it up.
– Smell. While henna will always have an herbal scent to it (it kind of reminds me of alfalfa), I found the pure henna powder to smell a whole lot less than Caca Rouge. Caca Rouge has fragrance to it and I don’t mind the way it smells, and I assumed that they’re trying to disguise the henna’s natural scent, but in actuality Caca Rouge just smells a whole lot more than my regular henna did.
Here’s what I like about Lush Caca Rouge.
– Convenience. It doesn’t require any thinking. You can add other colorants to it if you like, but they’ve already added rosemary and lemon to enhance the color. I can also run out to any Lush store to repurchase les Caca when I need to, they offer 4 basic shade choices with other ingredients mixed in, and they’re still pretty affordable.
– Hydration. One of the primary ingredients is cocoa butter, and it leaves my hair feeling super healthy and smooth. I’m sure I can achieve the same effect with a henna powder recipe, but it requires experimentation and probably means I have to go out and buy some other ingredients.
– Time. Regular henna powder requires time to activate, whereas les Caca have already been brought to that state. You’ll need to melt them in a pot, but that requires maybe 15 minutes, not 8 hours.
Freshness is a concern no matter where you buy your henna, and buying pure powder also comes with the added question of quality. I generally trust Lush’s quality of ingredients, so when I buy from them I worry about that less, but I assume it’s very possible to find a reliable source for good henna powder, as well. It’ll just probably be from an online store.
The henna powder yielded somewhat stronger and more even color than Caca Rouge, though I can’t say for sure why. It could be that the powder, having been stored dry, remained fresher, or perhaps that my mixture had a greater concentration of henna than the block of Caca did. Regardless of the particular henna you use, it will always nourish the hair and color it safely (as long as there aren’t any added dye chemicals or metallic salts). I find that it adds rich color while still maintaining the natural dimension of my hair color, and it has also been fantastic for covering my grays.
As I work through the rest of my henna, I’ll try out different recipes and see what works. I’m working on collecting tips and tricks for the application process, too, so look out for that in the future.
Have you used henna before? Is it something you’re considering? I’d love to hear your thoughts!