Slowly in the process of converting an exceptionally large stash of beauty products to a more manageable, eco-friendly and cruelty free selection, I’ve been putting off finding an alternative to the demi-permanent red I’ve been using since high school. I was looking for something that was gentle on my rather fragile curly hair, which was prenaturally fine and dry even before I started dying it. When I heard that LUSH, one of my favorite beauty companies, produces a henna based dye, I was thrilled. I have had great experiences with other products and am a huge fan of the bright, pigmented effect henna has on skin and hair.
Henna hair dye is usually sold in a powder, to be used as a treatment or dye depending on the length of time it’s left in the hair. LUSH’s Caca Rogue product comes in a block, formulated primarily with ground henna and shea butter. Caca Rouge is unusual in this respect, and the prep may throw you off a little bit, but I didn’t find it to be an issue. I did the treatment once on my own, and once with a friend’s help. I definitely recommend a second set of hands if you can get them! As part of my review, I’ve included some more detailed tips on applying the dye to the best effect.
Preparation: In addition to the included gloves, dye block, and the required double boiler and boiling water, you’ll need a sharp knife, some Vaseline or coconut oil, and a comb. You may also want an old towel to cover your shoulders and dry your hair, a gentle shampoo to help loosen the henna, and if you’d like, a plastic grocery bag to cover your hair while the dye sits. I also used some newspaper to cover the floor, so I wouldn’t stain it.
You want to cut the henna up in chunks—the smaller the chunks, the more henna you lose as powder on your cutting board. I used roughly quarter-sized chunks.
Heating the henna on the double boiler was a lot of work, but it smelled amazing—like grass and chai spices and shea butter, which is the second ingredient. If you don’t have a double boiler, just place a heat-safe bowl on top of a pot with 3–4 inches of water, which should be just boiling.
The paste takes a while to melt into the brownie batter consistency LUSH recommends, maybe between 5 and 10 minutes. I tried to get as many lumps out as possible, to make it easier to spread in my hair. I added a little boiling water at a time, stirring fairly constantly, over a low to medium flame.
Make sure to scrap the sides! When the henna is a smooth consistency, move it off the stove but keep it on the double boiler. Keep the henna as hot as you can stand; the warmer the henna, the richer the color, but you don’t want to burn yourself.
Applying and Setting the Dye
Before you apply the henna, rub Vaseline or coconut oil along your hair line, ears and neck. This will keep the henna from staining your skin. It takes a couple hours for henna to noticeably dye fair skin, so just do a quick check when you’re done applying. It’s easiest to have a friend help, but if you dye your hair regularly you should have no problem managing it alone. It makes quite a mess on the floor, so be prepared. You may want to lay down a sheet or newspaper to protect delicate surfaces.
Apply in sections, just as you would any dye. The texture is gritty, so you may want to use your fingers to apply it. Afterwards, wrap your head in a plastic bag to seal in the body heat and keep staining to a minimum.
The henna should sit a minimum of two hours but can be left on as long as eight! I got fidgety around five and a half hours. I wore a beanie over my plastic bag and went about my day without anyone being the wiser. You could also wrap an old, damp towel your head, if you don’t use plastic, but you’ll have to keep it warm and damp, and worry about staining yourself, your towel, and anything around your head.
Lastly, remember that unlike traditional dyes, henna can be a pain to wash out. The best way is to get in the shower and massage the dye gently to loosen it. Don’t worry about staining the tub or yourself- just give everything a quick extra rinse afterward. You may want to sleep on an old pillow case to prevent staining, as I found that even a week after the color could still stain linens, especially when hair is wet.
I had trouble capturing how vibrant my hair is in the morning until I stepped into a sunbeam. My hair was silky, bright red and bouncy. All it needed was a bit of coconut oil, which is all I use as a leave-in conditioner and style product. The next few days that immediate vibrancy has faded a little but my hair is still a bright and flattering shade of red. I still have another half block of dye to use, which I will use to build on this color whenever I’m ready. One of the great things about henna color is that it’s cumulative, and you can use it as often as you want as both a hair treatment and a dye. I would definitely use the dye again, as it functions as a gentle demi to permanent dye, depending on the health of your hair.
Would you / have you tried henna? Let me know!
Also by Haley: 4 Ways to Digital Detox for Calm and Clarity
Photo: Ivy Shim via Unsplash (top); Haley Houseman (rest)