I come from a family of beauty-obsessed women. My mother and grandmothers took great pride in taking care of themselves. They used dried orange peel on their skin, sprayed rosewater in their eyes, massaged cold cream into their feet, and applied hair oil thrice a week. My mother started started colouring her hair in the ’90s, but after a decade or so of regularly using commercial colours, her skin started reacting—badly. She developed chronic urticaria, which troubles her even years after she stopped tinting her hair. While a number of safe alternatives are now available in the market, henna is a good option for those who are looking for a natural way to get an overall colour. Looking for the best way to use mehandi on your hair? Read on.What is mehandi and how does it help hair health?
Typically used as temporary tattoos for the hands and feet, henna has roots in various parts of the world (like Middle East and Africa), but it is best known as a pre-wedding staple throughout India, and is now a symbol of good luck and prosperity for brides. The usage of this terracotta hued dye is documented from scriptures and was popular because of its cooling and detoxifying properties. It is thought that tribes living in the desert realised that covering their limbs in the crushed leaves of the henna plant gave them a respite from the heat, after which they began making intricate designs with the paste in lieu of just applying it in layers. “Henna is basically a leaf and its characteristics are is that it gives colour, cools the skin and causes dryness,” shares Suparna Trikha, owner of Delhi-based salon Aaveda and mehandi brand Hot Henna. “In the old days it was used on the feet to keep them cool and deodorise them with its drying properties.” She explains that the biggest complaints of orange colour and dryness are its inherent qualities that cannot be changed.
The use of mehandi as a hair colour dates back to 5,000 years ago—people have always wanted to colour their hair, and during the ancient civilisations, people used an infusion of roots, herbs, leaves and animal byproducts to do so. Henna is much more than a dyeing agent. Multiple studies have proved its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal prowess, which means that mehandi works on both strand and scalp health. Before I began regular usage, I would usually get a flaky scalp with the onset of winter. Consistent application of henna and subsequent oiling has ensured that my scalp is always healthy, despite change in seasons. Henna also forms a coating on your hair with repeated use. For those with fine hair, mehandi can thicken the follicles and even weight them down—my hair has gone from curly to wavy after I started using it regularly. In fact, my hairstylist Laurent Visco, who cuts and styles at The Oberoi, Gurugram, finds it a bit of nuisance, because cutting the thick strands ruins his scissors.
Many ‘natural’ brands in the market are fairly synthetic. I know this because my mother would get the same reaction from henna as she did with an in-salon colour. “If it’s completely natural and organic then henna is a good thing,” shares Dr Meghna Gupta, founder Delhi Skin Centre. “But most of the powders contain synthetic dyes and preservatives, which can cause side effects such as contact dermatitis. When it comes to hair colour, people assume that it is safe to just go ammonia-free.” Dr Gupta talks about PPD (para-phenylenediamene), the other toxic ingredient in dyes, adulterated henna and ‘natural’ hair colour. PPD also causes severe reactions including urticaria, small bumps around the forehead and swollen eyes. “Even if you’re looking for a natural hair colour, look for one without PPD,” she says.
Mehandi only coats the cuticle, which is the outermost part of the hair shaft, and doesn't penetrate the cortex of the hair (which is where the hair's protein and moisture is housed). Henna hair dyes are a great alternative to synthetic hair dyes because they do not change the structure or texture of the hair at all.How to apply henna so it works best for your hair
“Most women choose to apply henna when their hair is the dirtiest—this prevents the colour from getting hold of the follicle,” Trikha says. Unlike hair colour, henna must always be applied on a freshly washed hair so that it can tint every strand. “Secondly, henna works by coating your hair, so if you’re worried about the orange, then in the first month you must apply it once every week.” In the second month you can apply it every fortnight, and later every 21 days. The more you coat the henna, the darker the hair becomes. However, if you have mostly white hair, hairstylists suggest that you avoid henna, as it will not reach that dark burgundy hue. Additionally, if you plan to go back to traditional hair colour, mehandi can make it difficult for the colour to set because it coats the hair follicle completely.
After applying henna to your strands, just rinse with water in lieu of a shampoo and conditioner routine. To darken the colour further and ensure your strands are soft, always oil your hair the next day. While it works for most hair types, those with super dry scalps and strands may find henna irritating, so oil massages are key. Trikha recommends a warming oil such as bhringraj, brahmi amla or mustard, but not cooling oils such as almond, coconut or olive. “A warming oil also enriches and darkens the colour of the henna while keeping it conditioned.” A good henna mix will contain several natural ingredients that will darken the henna. “For instance, amla, which when burnt into ash, it will always darken hair more,” she says.
The most important part? Making sure to pick a henna that is actually 100 per cent pure. Those adulterated by other powders can leave hair feeling over-processed and unmanageable, so doing your due diligence to pick the right mehandi is key.
Vasudha Rai is a certified yoga teacher and has been writing on beauty, health and wellness for 15 years. Find her at Vbeauty.coAlso read:
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