Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Adventures with Henna

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been contemplating dyeing my hair again. Don’t get me wrong, I like my natural hair colour (especially in summer - proper summer – when it gets decent golden highlights) but I miss my red layer. It was a statement of sorts, and it’s sad when everything is plain and boring again.

So, whenever I’m in a shop, I’ll pour over the hair dyes, particularly the Schwarzkopf Live range as it has the ultra violet colour I liked so much last year, and that I hoped to copy before my hairdresser wanted to bleach my whole head. Um. No. But that’s the problem with hair dye, it’s not really good for your hair. Even without the bleach, it’s still quite harsh. And frankly, my hair is in too much of a state. It’s the first thing to go to hell if I’m under any sort of pressure or in a state of emotional instability. I don’t really want to put more stress on it.

The solution appeared to be henna. So off I went to Lush to acquire some. They do a variety, including one that’s supposed to go properly red, but I chose the Marron – promising chestnut tones, nice reddish highlights in the sun (haha, sun. What is this thing.) Now when you hop on google to look up Lush henna, you’ll find all sorts of people moaning. This is because people suck. But we'll get to that.

I’m not going to lie to you – it’s a hellishly messy process. First there’s the issue of quantity, as Lush henna comes in a slab of 6 smaller blocks. The girl at the shop told me to use the whole lot but in the end I just went for three and a half blocks – it was more than enough (for those of you playing at home, my hair is halfway down my back.) To prepare it, you have to melt and mix it. The henna is a lot tougher than it looks, so I chopped it up into smaller pieces first. Then it went into a heatproof bowl over a pot of water (bring it to the boil, then turn it down) and then I gradually added boiling water to the henna, mixing it until it was a smooth paste. This didn't take nearly as long as I expcted it to.
That was the easy part.

Now it was time for application. It pays to be prepared for the worst. Seriously. Most importantly, gloves are a must. This shit stains like crazy. If it gets on your skin, get it off straight away (if it’s dried a bit, I recommend eye make up remover pads). I placed a towel over the surface I was going to place the bowl on, as well as on the floor. This was good foresight on my part. I also sectioned out my hair before the paste was ready as you need to apply it as hot as possible. So, starting from the back of your head, you pretty much just grab some paste and work it into a section of hair. The thing is, as the henna starts drying, it starts flaking, so you get little bits of it everywhere. Apparently if you add enough water, it won’t do this…but, you know. It’s going to flake at some point. It’s pretty much exactly what I’d imagine coating your head in mud must be like. Fun times.

I actually wouldn’t recommend doing this if you haven’t had your hair professionally dyed. Not because of colour issues (in fact, henna can react really badly with hair dye so it’s best not to do it if you have any chemicals in your hair) but just for the process. I’ve watched my hairdresser section and dye my hair many, many times, so I felt prepared to do this and deal with the mess. If this was your first introduction to hair dye, I think you’d be absolutely horrified by this whole process.

Anyway. Once I’d managed to coat my hair, and thankfully not my ears and face, in the stuff, I then wrapped my head with cling film. I have trouble with cling film at the best of times, so this was quite the adventure. Next time I am definitely getting a shower cap to put on too. The girl in the shop had advised that it was best to do this in a hot environment for best results. Where she expected me to find this in London, I do not know. So I just wrapped a towel around my head as well.

The packaging says to leave it on for 1-4 hours, and I’d read online that the longer you left it on the more vivid the tones. Because I’d only started the whole process around 5pm, I didn’t go for the 6 hours I’d originally planned but rather left it for 4. This is about of time it takes to clean up anyway so… No, no, I exaggerate. It wasn’t that bad. I had been careful. So I made dinner and read etc etc.

Now for the worst bit – getting it out. Actually, before I washed it out, I first used my hairdryer on it. I don’t think this is the recommended thing to do, but I know from experience colour always lasts longer if it’s been stuck under a dryer for a bit first *shrug* But yes, it was absolutely awful washing this stuff out of my hair. Foul. Plus I kept panicking about staining the shower, so I’d spent just as much time hosing down the walls as trying to wash my hair. It looks absolutely vile. If you're doing this, I recommend just closing your eyes and hoping for the best. Shampoo, condition, it’s not too much of a hassle to get out – it just gets everywhere.

In this whole arduous process, I didn’t stain a single thing. I am so proud of myself.

The difference it has made to my hair colour is negligible. My hair is dark brown so I can’t really say I’m surprised, most things in my hair are negligible, like the purple I put in it last year. I notice the difference, because I know it’s there. Simply, where I had golden brown bits before, it’s now red brown. I can see the red pigment when I look at it in the light. If I do this a couple more time, it’ll get more vibrant, until I have a red halo if the sun hits me just right. It’s nothing remarkable, nothing to write home about.

But! My hair feels amazing. I can’t remember the last time my hair felt this good. It’s so incredibly soft. And shiny. Sleek, even. And yeah ok, I never had frizzy hair, but still. It feels so healthy. And I even think I’m having less hair fall than I normally do, and it’s not getting greasy as quickly. For these reasons alone, despite the effort, I’d keep using Lush henna.

Which brings me back to the point about people sucking… nearly everyone online complains about the mess and effort involved in this, and often about the colour not being vivid enough. It’s a natural product, what did you expect? It’s about building up pigment, not dyeing really. So if you’re after some instant, noticeable-oh-you-dyed-your-hair results, this probably isn’t the product for you. But if something subtle will do, especially if it makes your hair feel awesome, then don’t let the effort involved put you off. Yes, it’s a lot of work, and it’s kind of gross and smells funny, but hey. Think of it as a mud mask for your hair, with a nice pigment-y payoff at the end.

I think I may actually try the Rouge variety when I finish the Marron henna. See how red that goes. Plus I think this will be a much less painful process when I get back home – someone on a forum somewhere suggested hosing it off in the garden and that sounds like a brilliant idea to me. I'm sure my dad will love assisting with that…

Music: Sweet Tangerine - The Hush Sound

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