Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My switch to all natural Henna - Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

Henna Gods, I am truly impressed. Granted, my mantra has been, "the Indian women have such beautiful hair..." so the results had to be good.  But even so, my hair looks awesome. A more natural shade of red than the chem dye- slightly lighter than my natural brown tone (is that possible? is that from the chamomile?)- than I've ever had in the four years that my stylist and I have been tampering with tubes of colors like Michelangelo. Not wine red, not Redskins red, not Mahogany-Obsidian red.  I had been shooting for my mother's red. Scottish/Irish red, a dark Ginger. I think I'm finally there, or damn close.

So how'd we get there? Here's the last 48 hours:

10pm Monday
Large ceramic bowl
Mixed 300g of fresh organic Rajasthani Indian Henna powder with 3.5c of warm chamomile tea from distilled water, steeped for 20 minutes and cooled with 6 cubes of ice
Covered with plastic wrap, left on counter

9am Tuesday
No "red" leaking from mix (dye activation) so I put the bowl on the heating grate and cranked the heat
Tested dime size on my palm for 20 seconds, turned palm orange (it's activating!)

Put bowl in the sun to quicken the activation (mild heat does so)

Arrive at Mountain Hair Studio
Mix 30g Organic Indigo powder and 25g Organic Amla powder with 1c warm water and let sit 45 min
Teresa uses clarifying shampoo to remove last remnants of synthetics on the hair follicles, no conditioner
Comb out hair (ouch), trim hair (removed 4-5" of very dry, splitting ends)

Add Indigo and Amla to Henna and mix well
Add 1/4c DivaCurl Conditioner and mix well

Begin application (it took one full hour)

Plastic wrap entire head with small pieces, then one large encompassing piece
Wrap head with old long sleeve shirt, pack up my good and head home

Freeze remaining Henna mix, about 100g

Lay old shirts on pillows and go to bed

3am Wednesday
Wake up with sore neck and the "I'm over it" feeling
Don the plastic gloves, grab the bottle of conditioner, and rinse under gallons of running water
Tub looks like a pottery studio sink; mud is no longer green, it's a deep reddish brown, but cleans very easily, no staining on tub
4 rinses with conditioner, and still running slightly orange water, but too tired to continue
Wrap head in dark blue towel and return to bed

Take a full shower, one application of DivaCurl deep conditioner, leave in 15 minutes while showering
Rinse, then rinse with COLD water (ouch) to lock it in, stops bleeding orange
Dry, and apply about 1T coconut oil and essential oils to hair ends and scalp evenly

Initial Comments:
Yes, it's a long process.  But so is gardening with all the seeds and nurturing and planting and watering and harvesting and canning and putting the garden to rest, and it's well worth it. I feel the same way about this.  As Teresa said, it takes a lot of "client participation," and no, you don't have to use a stylist to apply it, but my hair is so thick and I am so inexperienced and clumsy when it comes to applying dye (trial and error many years ago), and you have to apply the mud-like henna mixture so thick and arrange the hair just right, that it was worth having her do it.

The total cost the products was $45 for the 600 total grams of Henna, Indigo, Amla, and Brahmi (the last of which is for a rinse for the psoriasis, not for the dye portion) and shipping, but next time I will only spend $14-25 on Henna, occasional repeats of the others (don't got thru them quick), as well as maybe Cassia for the summer, and shipping. Add that to what I pay Teresa for shampoo, trim, and application and it's still pretty darn cheap.

I loved the smell of it, but it took a bit to get used to; we all spent the hour trying to place the smell. It's earthy and weed-like, like steeping nettles or sweet grass clippings. And its STRONG. I still smell it, despite the 1/2 cup of conditioner and essential oils.

My scalp plaque psoriasis is usually pretty aggravated after we color my hair. I expected it to wake me up in the night even with all that mud on my head for hours. It didn't (it was the weight of it and the plastic wrap that woke me up), and in fact, when feeling around my scalp, I can't feel any plaques, and itching doesn't yield any skin!

My reasons for the formula I chose: 
Chamomile: a lot of recipes suggest lemon or apple cider vinegar to both bring up natural highlights and activate the color, but both are reported to dry out your hair. Chamomile is gentle, and will help bring out the natural highlights.
Indigo-10%: most recipes suggest 25% Indigo but I knew I could always go darker, and I wanted my roots to blend in evenly. I was surprised the Henna lightened the rest of my hair, I was prepared to and had anticipated for doing a darker mix if I had to, but I'm pleased with the color. Indigo tends to be gritty and hard to rinse out, so I wanted to use less of it.
Amla-8%: the Amla amount shouldn't matter, but I've read anywhere from 5-20% mixture of it with Indigo if you want to retain your natural curl while enhancing and darkening the effect of the Indigo. Because I was using so little Indigo and because I wanted to retain the waves (Henna can slightly straighten your hair), I went with the Amla addition.
8 hrs processing: I was shooting for 12 but didn't make it. I've read anywhere from 4 to 12 hours and the longer you leave it on, the richer and deeper the color gets.

I've read that it'll take a few days for the ginger tone to calm down (I almost hope it doesn't!), and I'm sure that once I use shampoo (not supposed to for at least 3 days) my scalp will be a normal color, although its not that noticeable, and not any more tinted than it ever was from synthetics.

Overall I'm extremely pleased, and sold on Henna!  Because it's so good for you, I will likely do Henna more often than I did synthetics (9-10 weeks), 6-8 weeks or when my roots begin to show, and then only trim my hair every other time.

A big thanks to Teresa for being such a good sport in trying something new!

More to come on the between-dyes rinses with Brahmi, oil treatments, natural shampoo and conditioners I'm trying, and other Ayurvedic hair care!  (Read Part 3)

Monday, October 22, 2012

My switch to all natural Henna - Part 1

DisclaimersA) The topic Henna is clouded by volumes of misinformation, and B) I'm no expert.

BackgroundI have been on a quest to go 100% "all natural" (in all aspects) for a decade, and hair color just happens to be my last chem standing. I have been DIYing bathroom and kitchen stuff for inside and outside the body for a very long time... but specifically within the last 4 years I have been doing so to manage- and hopefully remedy- two conditions I have developed, one recently, one a long time ago: psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. I have tried gluten free, grain free, vegetarian, sobriety, urban farming... I have made DIY lotions, washes, cleaners, salves...  and because I believe others could benefit from what I've studied, I have been writing along the way (arthritis, DIY, gluten free, grain-free, psoriasis, see list on page's bottom left for more).

So after a month's worth of extensive research on Henna, here's what I've found. The reason I am finally making the switch from chemical dyes, is that I recently realized my psoriatic arthritis showed up shortly after I started dying my hair to cover the gray. Coincidence? We'll see. 

Henna powder

Where I started my research was at because these girls care deeply about their clients and their products, are thorough in explanation and research, and committed to buying, using, and selling only 100% natural and organic Henna that is from a fresh crop of the plant.  They have dozens of great testimonials, an informative blog, monthly discounts and specials, and each product page in their store has an extensive description of how to work with that blend of Henna. What I also love about HennaSooq is due to their dedication to whole health, they are donating products to women battling breast cancer through the Breast Cancer Awareness Month of October. Super awesome.

But I have been to a dozen other websites, and I have learned more about Henna that I ever cared to, although I'm glad I did.  

Henna, also known as Mehndi, is an all natural flowering plant that it strengthens and fortifies the hair, and despite being green in color, dyes both the skin and hair red. It has been used for thousands of years, so its a trusted, reliable and valued beauty product in nearly every country across the globe. It is native to semi-arid climates of Africa and Asia, and Henna's coloring properties are due to lawsone, a burgundy organic compound that has an affinity for bonding with protein. 

Henna plant

The "misinformation" that I started with was that Henna is difficult to work with, it's messy, lumpy, didn't always work, isn't really "all natural," is an all-day or overnight process, isn't permanent and dyes your hair orange.  While none of this is true, the immediate myth worth dispelling is the naturalness of Henna.  Pre-formulated Henna in a box - even from the healthfood stores- isn't 100% natural, that IS a fact. It's likely old, and therefore won't dye right or at all, and it still has some additives that aren't natural, and will counteract with whatever you already have on your hair (such as metallic or acid additives that will turn your hair green)(1). So as with anything, when you decide to go all natural, know your ingredients, use as few as possible, and mix it yourself. HennaSooq only gets their Henna straight from India, made from recent crops only, and vacuum sealed for freshness.

As for the rest of the myths, if it's messy or lumpy, you aren't mixing it right.  If it dyes your hair orange, it isn't natural or you have totally white hair and you haven't blended it with the appropriate herbs to adjust the color. As for timing, you can either make it an all day process or use faster activating Henna if you're too busy to.  And last, Henna is relatively permanent, but after three applications, it's locked in for good.

More on Henna's history, it is a staple in Ayurvedic hair care. Even if you don't want to dye your hair, the Cassia Obovada, Amla, Brahmi and Bhringraj plants are amazing strengthening and supplementing herbs for the hair and scalp. Brahmi is even used for psoriasis and eczema.  For tones, all Henna stores sell several varieties of Henna for reds: organic Jamila Henna from Pakistan is lighter, Rajesthani Henna from India is darker burgundy, Yemeni Henna from Sana for deep reds that cover gray very well, or Moroccan Henna. You add Cassia for more copper tones, Indigo, Katam and even walnuts for brown tones, and a two step Indigo process, also with and coffee beans or teas for blacks. Many people also add chamomile, cinnamon, paprika, and other herbs to the process for health and tones, and essential oils for health and aroma as Henna is known to have an earthy smell to it.

As you may know, Henna is not only used on the hair, and many know it for its impermanent skin art history.  But Henna's properties are so holistic that it has been used historically on the body to help treat wounds, soothe burns, remove fungus, improve the nails, purify the blood, loosen the muscles, relieve backache, repel insects, and plenty more. It can be used as a poultice, a rinse, and a salve, but it should never be ingested.

Hair Dying with Henna
A big plus for hair dying is that Henna, specifically the all-natural organic kind, is all-covering, IE it will blend well over previous chemical treatments, blends existing colors and roots, and covers gray well. Everywhere I've researched, all reports tout these benefits. However the reverse is not applicable - if you try to chemically treat your hair after applying Henna, the dyes will not take (which I found interesting).

Switching to the process of Henna comes with only one foreseeable drawback to me:  It is unquestionably a longer process. 
1. The Henna must be premixed and left to activate and release its dye either for several hours, even overnight. This process can be quickened with low heat (for instance if you left it on the radiator), but it's still going to take a few hours. 
2. Then your hair needs to be prepped (you can apply it dry, but it's better if it's been washed, not conditioned, and trimmed). 
3. The Henna is then applied, another lengthy process that can take up to an hour, and the head is then wrapped with plastic and left to continue to activate for up to eight hours (I've found that many users just wrap it very well and sleep on it). I've read conflicted reports about application, most state that they start with a strand at the crown chakra and build a bun clockwise to the hairline, applying piece by piece. One report I read said that this bun action can cause the hair to be pulled, so for some who have delicate follicles, this can cause slightly more hair loss just after the process.
4. Last, the removal is no easy process either. Users discuss many ways to rinse, either with whole bottles of conditioner and gallons of water, swishing endlessly in the tub, or standing for 30 minutes under running water.  Either way, it requires a lot of water.
5. You don't want to wash the Henna'd hair for 3 days, but the color you're left with upon rinsing will be much brighter than the color that settles into your hair be the end of the week, and during that time, you will likely have bleeding. 

Keep reading Part 2...