Eight years ago, I was ready for a change. I wanted to dye my hair, but didn’t want to damage it with chemical dyes. Henna seemed to be the perfect solution, and it’d give my hair a gorgeous red hue.

I have used henna every couple of months since then, and will never look back. Henna really is an amazing product. But what is henna, actually?

Curious to find out more about this natural red dye, I did some digging. Do you want to know what henna is made out of and what its effects are on hair and skin? Keep reading to find out!

Henna powder


What is henna made out of?

The green henna powder we can find in health food stores comes from the henna tree, Lawsonia inermis. The plant grows in Asia, Australia, and Africa. It’s a tall shrub that carries small, white or red flowers.

The leaves of this henna tree carry a molecule called lawsone, a reddish orange dye commonly referred to as hennotannic acid. But the leaves alone can’t be used to dye anything, the lawsone has to be released first. In order to do so, henna leaves will undergo a drying process.

You can crush those dried henna leaves and add water to release the dye. However, in order to create a dye with a nice and even consistency, the dried leaves are ground into a fine powder. This fine powder is what you actually get when buying pure henna powder in the health food store or on a market. Lawsonia Inermis Schematic drawing


What is henna used for?

The application of henna on the body is commonly referred to as Mehndi in Hindi. For as long as 5000 years, henna has been used in Africa, the Middle East, and India. Even Cleopatra used henna cosmetically.

Henna dye is commonly applied to palms and nails to stain beautiful patterns on our skin. It can be used as a hair dye, like I have been doing for years now.

Additionally, henna was used as a cooling agent during hot weather, applied to feet and palms.


What are the effects of henna on hair and skin?

I obviously introduced this post saying how much I love henna, so if I were to answer this question from the bottom of my heart, the answer would be ‘wonders’. Henna really does wonders to your hair. But let’s go back to the technical aspect and explain the effects of henna on hair and skin.

The hennotannic acid found in henna powder functions as a red orange dye. When henna powder is mixed with the appropriate wet ingredients, the dye will release and stain your hair. Now this information might not be new to you, but do you know how it works, exactly?

The lawsone molecule – the component of henna that dyes your hair – reacts with keratin. In turn, lawsone and keratin form a strong chemical bond together. Luckily, our hair, skin and nails contain the protein keratin. The colorful compound thus literally attaches to the body parts on which we apply it. As the lawsone-keratin reactions happen over time, the color of your hair or skin will darken and intensify for 48 hours after removing the henna.  

Depending on your original hair color and skin tone, the reddish tone will be either a sheen or a bright orange popping color. For my hair, it falls somewhere in between!

henna dyed hair and bamboo comb


How long does henna last?

Since the hennotannic acid forms a chemical bond with proteins found in your skin or hair, it is a natural long lasting dye that you cannot wash out. Henna tattoos on hands and other areas of skin however usually last for just two or three weeks. This is not because the henna gets washed off though. It is because our skin renews and sheds off the old dead cells to which the henna is attached.

On our hair however, it will not fade much at all. It will solely decrease in strength due to the fact that some hairs fall out and new hair with your natural color will mix in as it grows.

But this question can be interpreted differently, too. Henna powder itself has a long shelf life if stored in an airtight container in dry environments. However, when it is mixed with a liquid, lawsone will release from the powder for an approximate two to six days. After that, the product will no longer stain your hair or skin. You could mix the dye to your preferred consistency and store it in the freezer for a few months. The low temperatures slow down the deterioration of lawsone.

Mehndi henna art on hand

Have you used henna before? How do you like this natural dye?

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