Natural wonder

HR-shutterstock_150375950The organic and eco-friendly beauty solution henna has a host of hidden benefits, discovers Tricia Wanjala

I want to introduce you to an ancient, clay-like powder. For centuries, millions of men and women in India, Africa and the Middle East have used it. If you were to ask them, you might be astonished at the benefits they would list:

1 It produces ornate body art designs for celebrations and weddings.

2 It strengthens your nails and conditions your hair, adding shine and lustre to it while protecting it from the sun.

3 Men use it to dye their greying crowns, moustaches and beards.

4 It reportedly restores the pH of your scalp while fighting dandruff, eczema and psoriasis.

5 It has natural cooling properties, so desert people use it as a clay mask on their hands and feet.

6 This hay-scented botanical substance is cheap and easily available.

7 Many consider it safe for use during pregnancy, and even use it to create ‘belly art’.

Top Tip – don’t fake it!
Make sure you choose body art quality 100% henna powder. Some brands of henna are ‘fake’ and contain a mix of toxic chemical ingredients. These have given henna a terrible reputation on the hair dye market. Read the ingredients carefully.

Indian tradition has it that for as long as the bride has henna stains on her hands she doesn’t have to do any housework. Apparently, dark stains on the wedding day mean a nicer mother-in-law and a better marriage.

Its scientific name is Lawsonia inermis. The ancient name, from the Sanskrit, is Mehndi. Most people know it as henna.

Why has this traditional dye suddenly gained popularity in the West? Nowadays health-conscious individuals are eschewing chemicals for a more holistic lifestyle, incorporating organic and eco-friendly beauty solutions. Henna has thus become a natural alternative to ammonia and bleach-based hair dyes.

If you buy the right type and apply it properly, henna works well on all types of hair and all ethnicities. Because it coats the actual hair shaft, it adds weight to your hair, which results in a straighter, shinier, more voluminous appearance. According to seasoned henna users this added layer protects the hair shaft from sun damage and wear and tear from hair dryers and straighteners.

Q What results should I expect?
If your hair is black, henna will not turn your hair red. After repeated applications, you will develop reddish auburn highlights in the light. If your hair is grey or blonde, you will become a redhead. If your hair is brown, it will appear burgundy or chestnut brown. To achieve a black shade, you add indigo as the next step in the henna treatment.

Q How do you apply it?
It is not as simple as sitting in a salon chair. Ethnicity and hair type affect the way it is applied. In India it is customary to boil water with the herb amla, black tea and cloves. When the water cools slightly, the henna powder is mixed in to form a mud-like paste. It is then applied to hair in sections and covered. For deeper conditioning benefits, some individuals mix it with Ayurvedic herbs such as amla (Phyllanthus emblica), shikakai (Acacia concinna) and cassia.

When you mix henna with black tea, lemon or vinegar, the acidic medium helps release the natural dyes. Women with curly hair omit the acid and add natural oils or coconut milk to their henna because their hair tends to be dry. Henna is also available in pre-mixed bars with added shea butter and essential oils.

In Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Egypt and the Middle East you will find that straight- or wavy-haired individuals apply the henna and leave it in overnight. To obtain optimal results, you do need to keep it in your hair for two to eight hours.