I spent the summer doing fieldwork in India. One thing led to another and I ended up delving in the world of henna... This is my story.
I'm writing this blog entry with a bag on top of my head and crusty brown mud-like goop on my nails. When I wash it all off in a few hours, my hair and my nails will be super shiny, moisturized and... red!
My adventure with henna began this summer in India while I was conducting fieldwork in low-income areas of Bengaluru. The best part of doing ethnographic fieldwork is just getting to hang out with people. In my case, these people were women living in the areas I was doing my research in. One thing lead to another, and before I knew it my nails were covered in henna paste... and then a pretty burnt orange/red colour. The woman who applied the paste also mixes it and sells the cones, so I bought a few from her to maintain it. I've since run out but have been making my own paste here. It's a great, inexpensive, anti-bacterial, and natural way to colour my nails... and also an excellent way to treat myself when I'm feeling the stress of university life.
I've also recently (as in - this week!) started to henna my hair. I'll show you how I've done both below. :)
There are ways to mix your own henna, but I decided to use the premixed henna bars from Lush to make things easy. Although I'm keen to have a little red, I'm not prepared to have full-blown Ariel mermaid coloured hair just yet... so I went with the auburn Caca Marron bar instead. The Lush bars are set in cocoa butter so they're super moisturizing and are mixed in with other natural oils and dyes (eg. indigo in this one). I have short hair, so I only needed to use to squares (1/3 of the bar) for my initial application.
The first thing I did - as the picture indicates - is cut the bar into smaller pieces that can be easily melted. I then put them in a wide mug (once again, because I have short hair I didn't need anything better - most people use a bowl) and slowly added boiling water to the mix. I mixed it with a wooden chopstick (apparently using metal is a bad call with henna) and kept adding water until it was the consistency of runny yogurt. I tried it originally at a much thicker consistency but this led to uneven coverage... so I definitely recommend making the mix a little bit runny so it's easier to apply.
Once mixed, I placed the mug in a pot of boiling water so keep it warm while I applied it (the hotter the henna, the more rich the colour). As you can see from the photo above, it's not the most aesthetically pleasing... they don't call it caca (poo) for nothing!
I rubbed coconut oil around my hair line/ears to keep them from being coloured also, put a bunch of kitchen towel out on my floor, stripped down, and then leaned over the towel to apply the henna with gloved hands. Definitely make sure you're wearing gloves, as henna stains the skin as well as your nails and hands!
Since my hair is short, I had an easy time applying it. I started by rubbing it into my roots and then worked outward until my entire head was covered. I then put a bag over my hair (to protect everything in my house!), cleaned up, and wiped off any henna that ended up on my ears/face despite my best efforts.
Henna takes a lot longer than chemical dyes to set - hence why I'm sitting now with a bag on my head. After about four hours I'll wash it out. You can see me at the studio to see how it went!
Note: henna apparently doesn't mix very well with chemical hair dyes. Rather than penetrating the cortex, it creates a cover over each strand of hair. This makes your hair extremely shiny and builds a natural looking colour but also prevents chemical dyes from doing their jobs getting into the cortex later. Definitely do some research on henna before you experiment if you've chemically treated your hair or plan to chemically treat it in the future.
For my nails I picked up a box of henna powder, a bottle of lemon juice, and an angled eyeshadow brush.
I mixed a small amount of henna powder (a little goes a very long way), mixed it with the lemon juice until it became the consistency of a muddy paste, and then left it overnight to set.
This morning I applied the paste onto my toe nails and finger nails with the eyeshadow brush and waited about five minutes for it to dry before touching anything. I plan to leave it on for about 4 hours (or until I wash the henna out of my hair). You can leave it on for a shorter amount of time (~10 minutes) - but if you do this you'll likely need to do multiple applications to build up a rich colour. Alternatively you could leave the paste on overnight for a super gorgeous colour - but be weary of doing this if you sleep with your hands by your face!
The more you apply henna (both to hair or nails) the more the colour builds into a burgundy. You can do as many or as few applications as you'd like!
Remember that henna is permanent - you'll need to grow out your hair and nails to fully remove the colour. If you plan on maintaining it or are willing to deal with growing out the stain, go for it! It's a really fun and natural way to experiment with colour. :)