Is Henna Good for Your Hair? Pros and Cons

Henna is a natural dye derived from the leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant. It has been used for centuries as a hair dye, proposed to have many benefits and some potential downsides. In this article, we will take a closer look at henna and provide a comprehensive guide about henna hair dye, its benefits, and disadvantages in order to help you make an informed decision regarding its application for hair care.

What is henna?

Henna is a plant-based dye that has been used for hundreds of years in many different regions of the world, mainly North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, for coloring hair, skin, or fabric. Henna is believed to be good for hair, serving as a natural way to improve its health and appearance. A study published in the Journal of the Korean Applied Science and Technology reported that with an increase in natural henna treatments, hair thickness and curl retention improved. The study also reported that hair elasticity and flexibility were enhanced, thereby reducing the risk of hair damage.

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One of the active compounds in henna is a molecule called lawsone, which is reported to bind to the keratin in hair, skin, and nails, producing the coloring effect.

There are two main types of henna products available:

  • Natural henna. This is the natural and pure form of henna, made exclusively from the dried and ground leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant. Natural henna gives a reddish-brown color and is considered safe for hair coloring.
  • Commercial henna products. These henna-based hair dyes contain extra ingredients like metallic salts, synthetic dyes, or other additives.

In order to make an informed decision, now we will take a detailed look at its potential benefits, disadvantages, and techniques to use it.

Benefits of henna for hair

Henna is a natural hair dye that may not only promote hair growth but also contains vitamin E, proteins, and antioxidants that may help overall hair health. It gives hair a vibrant, reddish-brown coloring that can last for several months. This natural dye gradually fades back to the original hair color without causing damage. Unlike chemical dyes, henna's natural pigments bond with the hair, offering a long-lasting color and, according to laboratory studies, may not cause damage to the hair shaft. Henna is also proposed to help enhance and reinforce hair strands, reduce breakage, and stimulate general hair growth. The proteins in henna are hypothesized to repair and strengthen hair, making it less prone to split ends.

Henna is also reported to have antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, which may help in addressing scalp-related issues like dandruff and excess oil production. Henna is also promoted to act as an herbal hair conditioner, enhancing the texture and manageability of the hair, thereby improving the overall health and appearance of the hair.

It is important to note that research on henna is quite limited, and there are very limited studies conducted on humans. Most of the benefits are based on traditional beliefs.

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Disadvantages of henna for hair

While henna can provide various benefits for hair, it also has potential disadvantages reported by individuals who have used it. Henna has limited color flexibility because it can only provide a reddish-brown or black color. It works best for darker hair shades, and it isn’t suited for lighter, blonde, or ash-toned hair. Once applied, henna can be challenging to remove or change as it deeply penetrates the hair cuticle, making it a long-term commitment. Dyeing henna-treated hair with other chemical dyes may lead to uneven distribution of hair color.

Henna can also leave behind dry hair, especially when it is not mixed with moisturizing ingredients. This can result in increased frizz and brittleness, which may require additional conditioning treatments to manage.

Some individuals may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions to henna because of skin sensitivity. Therefore, it is important to conduct a patch test before applying henna to ensure there are no adverse reactions.

How to use henna hair dye

If you decide to apply henna to your hair, it’s important to observe the proper technique to obtain the best results and minimize any potential side effects associated with it. A step-by-step guide for the application of henna is given below.

  • Perform a patch test. Before making use of henna on your entire head, it’s recommended to perform a patch test for any allergic reactions. Apply a small amount of henna mixture to a small area of the skin and wait for 24–48 hours to check for any inflammation or redness.
  • Prepare the henna paste. Mix the henna powder with an acidic liquid, such as lemon juice, yogurt, or apple cider vinegar, to create a smooth and spreadable paste. Moisturizing elements like coconut oil or honey can also be added to help counteract the drying effect of henna.
  • Apply the henna. Divide hair into sections and put on the henna paste, beginning from the roots and going right down to the ends. Cover your hair with a bath cap or plastic wrap to ensure that henna remains moist.
  • Allow the henna to process. Depending on how much color intensity you may want to have, apply henna and leave it for 4–6 hours.
  • Rinse and condition. Thoroughly rinse the henna out of your hair with cool water, ensuring you get rid of all strains of the paste. Follow up with a mild, sulfate-free shampoo and a moisturizing conditioner to help restore the hair’s natural balance.

It's important to note that the dye application process and results may vary depending on your hair type, texture, and the specific henna product you use.

Avoid henna during pregnancy
Most experts recommend dying your hair after the first three months of conception. Although external application of henna paste to hair or skin does not appear to have any adverse effect on healthy pregnant humans, there is some evidence that exposure to henna extracts may affect the ability to propagate. However, limited studies have been conducted on the use of henna in pregnant population.

Alternatives to henna

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Some other natural and organic hair dye alternatives to henna are given below.

Indigo

Indigo is a plant-derived dye derived from the Indigofera tinctoria plant, also known as the indigo plant. It can provide a deep and rich brown-to-black color. It's commonly mixed with henna for a more vibrant result.

Cassia

Cassia is commonly known as neutral or colorless henna. Its dye is faint golden or slight yellow. It is a plant-based dye derived from the cassia plant that adds shine and conditions hair without significantly changing its color.

Coffee

Coffee can be brewed and applied to the hair to provide a subtle, natural-looking color enhancement, especially for those with darker hair. Caffeine in coffee may promote hair growth, help protect against UV damage, and topical use of coffee may serve as a natural dye, with limited studies showing its effectiveness against hair thinning and loss. Caffeine may also improve the blood circulation of our scalp, which in turn may allow for nutrients to reach our scalp more efficiently.

Henna is a natural dye that is proposed to provide several benefits for hair, however, it may also have some potential drawbacks. Before using henna, it’s essential to understand the merits and risks associated with this form of hair treatment and to take necessary precautions to ensure safe and effective use. By following the steps mentioned in this article, you can make an informed decision about the usage of henna for your hair care and achieve the desired results.

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