Tag: henna

May 29

Hair and Now

Am I the only one who caught an ear worm from that title?  Luther Vandross?  1989?  Here and Now?  Pretty sure it was played during at least one of my proms.  Anyway, I’m showing my age, time to move on….

Today’s post has nothing to do with Mr. Vandross or with music of any kind.  This one’s about … how’d you guess it?  Hair.

My hair has a long history of crimes and misdemeanors: frizz, dryness, notoriously awful haircuts (some committed by yours truly), extreme brassiness when mixed with the wrong colorants, etc., etc., etc.  These days, though, it’s behaving much better.  Why?  I think it’s mostly because I’m treating it right.  While I’m no expert on haircare, I’ve done plenty of research and loads of experimentation (a.k.a. cruel and unusual punishment), so I’m pleased to share the route I’ve found to happier, healthier hair, here and now.


Behold the Sandalwood Comb, in all its glory


Can I make a confession?  I’m a little in love with my brush and even more with my comb.

My brush is made with boar bristles.  (*Some companies sell humanely-harvested versions.)  Can you say volume??  After flipping my hair over (brushing outward from the nape of my neck), I flip it back again to admire my spot-on impression of Sideshow Bob.  Despite boar bristles’ ridiculous effect on me, they’re very kind to hair; they spread out oils to reduce dryness and frizziness, while adding shine and improving texture.

My comb–ah, my comb.  It’s wide-toothed, so it can be used on wet or dry hair.  My favorite part, though, is that it’s made of lovely-looking, lovely-scented sandalwood.  It’s great with detangling, doesn’t cause static, and its nearly-invisible seam won’t catch in my hair.  I use it both before and after brushing, to rid my hair of tangles and also to help bring out my hair’s waves and shine.  Plus, did I mention?  Sandalwood smells divine.  Trust the comb-sniffer on this one.


Let’s talk process.  So, you think you know how to wash your hair?  Could be.  Depends on how well you follow instructions.  I’m talking the whole “Lather, rinse, repeat” bit.  Do you do this?  If not, do.  Do do it.

Also, when working the shampoo into your hair, focus mainly on the scalp.  Your first wash will loosen sebaceous oils; your second will send them packing.  *Bonus: massaging your scalp stimulates blood flow, increasing the health of hair and scalp, while encouraging hair growth.

You may have heard some talk about low poo or no poo–yes, we’re still talking about hair.  This is referring to the shampooing spectrum.  It exists, really.  I’ve seen graphics.  I won’t go into too much detail, but basically, at one end, there’s traditional shampooing and at the other end, there’s no poo, or a “wash with water only” method, which–let’s be honest–I never intend to try.  In between, there’s a “wash with baking soda/rinse with apple cider vinegar” method, which also sounds a little too hard-core for me, and a “wash with shampoo bars” method, which I have tried with little to no success.  (Granted, I did make my own shampoo bars, which could have been an issue, but the apple cider vinegar-rinse didn’t work for me, either.  Every time my hair got wet, I smelled like a salad.)  Moving on up, there’s the “natural shampoo” option, which is where my hair and I are currently living–very happily, I might add.  I’ve even dragged my husband and kids into the natural-shampoo zone and, I promise, we’re all very well adjusted.  Which reminds me: if you want to join us in natural shampooing, it will take some time for your hair to resume its natural balance of oils.  After that, it should be all smooth–and shiny–sailing.

In case you’re wondering what I mean by “natural shampoo,” I also like to call them “NO” shampoos.  (Really clears things up, doesn’t it?)  As an example, my current bottle of Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Shampoo has this list on its label: No Sulfates, No Parabens, No Phthalates, No Paraffin, No Propylene Glycol, No Mineral Oil, No Synthetic Fragrance, No DEA, and No Animal Testing (yay for this!).  All these negatives add up to a great big positive, if you ask me.

Oscar Keys

Image via Unsplash/Oscar Keys

Bad hair day. Don’t look at me.

Dry Shampoo for Oily Hair

In the past, I could not–I repeat, NOT–skip my daily shampooing.  Now, though, my hair loves its in-between washing days.  Nonetheless, if any surprise oils do crop up, I have another natural tool in my arsenal to deal with them: dry shampoo.  I work a small amount through any oily areas (moving from the scalp, outward) and brush it through my hair to blend.  Since dry shampoo can be costly, I’ve been making my own:

1/4 cup arrowroot powder or non-GMO cornstarch

1/2 TBSP colloidal (finely-ground) oatmeal (optional)

2 TBSP cocoa powder (optional–I use this to darken the powder for my brown hair; it can be left out for lighter hair)

5-10 drops lavender essential oil (optional–I use it for its fresh scent, but other skin/hair-safe essential oils can be substitued, such as peppermint)

Argan Oil for Dry or Frizzy Hair

Warning: a little goes a long way!  I keep some argan oil in a little spray bottle, scented with 5-10 drops of lavender (or peppermint) essential oil.  If my hair is frizzy or dry, I wet my hands a bit, spray a very, very small amount of the oil solution into the center of my palm, rub my hands together and then lightly pat my palms over any dry areas of my hair.  Keep in mind, though, my hair is curly-ish, so to avoid making straight hair look greasy, it might work better as a night-time, pre-wash treatment to bring the extra shine.

FreeImages.com-Ewerton Thomeu

Image via FreeImages.com/Ewerton Thomeu

Fight the Frizz!

More Hair, Now

Well, maybe not now, but soon.  In searching for ways to help thicken my fine air (and to help my husband’s hair regrow where it was thinning), I researched natural ingredients.  These are reputed to encourage hair growth and/or maintain the health of hair and scalp: castor oil (cold-pressed and cold-processed is best), rosemary essential oil (**NOT to be used by pregnant women, children, or those suffering from epilepsy or hypertension), lavender essential oil and dry nettle.

They can be mixed in a glass bottle (about 2 oz. castor oil, 5-10 drops each of rosemary and/or lavender essential oils, 5 or so capsules’ worth of dry nettle).  Gently massage a small amount into scalp, leave on for a while (overnight works well), and later shampoo from hair.  If it’s hard to remove, work in some conditioner first to loosen the heavy castor oil, before shampooing.  That’s it.  Easy, peasy.  After using it, my hair seems thicker and, as my husband’s barber, I can attest to seeing more hair where, previously, there had been less.  (*The Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Shampoo I mentioned earlier is also a great one for promoting hair growth–no, I’m not affiliated with the company.  I just love their products.)

Grow, grow, grow your hair….


Due to health concerns and the fact that chemical colorants don’t like my hair, I switched to coloring it with a combination of henna, indigo and amla powder.  I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the color, which is a warm brown/auburn, and my hair is shinier than ever.  For more details on my henna experience, please check out my previous Henna Gabber blog post.

Image via Unsplash/Ashley Bean

The goal: hair zen.

So, there you have it, my tried-and-true methods for pampering my hair the best way I know how: naturally.

If you give any of these methods a try, it would be great to hear whether or not your hair falls in love.  (I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that it does!)  Also, if you have any other methods you’d like to share, it would be great to hear that, too!


**A FINAL NOTE ABOUT ESSENTIAL OILS: It is always best to check health warnings before using ANY essential oils and I NEVER recommend ingesting essential oils or applying it neat (undiluted) to the skin.  Use EXTREME caution when exposing children to any essential oils (diffusers, etc.) and NEVER use with children under two years of age.  Here’s a good post on essential oil use with children, in case you’d like to learn more: http://naturopathicpediatrics.com/2014/09/08/essential-oil-safety-danger-essential-oils-seizures-children/ and one for adults: http://www.aromaweb.com/articles/safety.asp


Feb 17

Henna Gabber

Sorry for that title, there was a Hedda Gabbler reference there and I had to take it.  (The college professor who taught my senior seminar on Henrik Ibsen would be proud.  Nah, he probably wouldn’t.)  Anyhow, I seriously digress…

So, I come to you today from my sofa with my head coated in grassy-scented, brownish goop, wrapped in plastic and topped off with one of those mohawk-looking knit caps.  Why the hat?  Because if you must have your head covered in goop and plastic wrap, why not go all the way?  Besides, I need to keep my head warm at the moment (read on to find out why…) and this hat is just too ugly to be worn for any other occasion. Never mind the hat or the plastic wrap, though.  It’s the barnyard-reminiscent goop we’re focusing on today: henna.

Despite how I’ve just made it sound, henna is lovely–lovely–lovely.  (More apologies, Mr. Ibsen.)

Image via Unsplash/Christopher Campbell

How not to apply henna

Since I’m relatively new to the world of henna, I sought some advice from someone who has been coloring her hair with it for years, my cousin Kristie, who is far lovelier than henna or Hedda combined.  Kristie was kind enough to share some words of henna wisdom, and stressed, first of all, how important it is to buy your henna from a reputable source, making certain it contains only the dried and powdered leaf.  I couldn’t agree with her more.  Kristie uses a company called Henna for Hair, which sifts and tests all their products, and I’ve had some success with Morrocco Method, who likewise promise that their henna products are 100% plant material, free of chemical additives or irritants.  I’ve heard people recommend the hennas sold by Mountain Rose Herbs and hennasooq, as well.

What is henna, anyway?  Henna refers to a powder made up of the leaves of a tropical shrub, Lawsonia inermis, which acts as an orange/reddish dye to color the hair or skin.  It has been used for this purpose and for dyeing various fabrics since ancient times.  I’ve heard claims that Cleopatra and Nefertiti dyed their hair with it, and if it was good enough for them…

Why is henna good enough to color the hair of queens?  I won’t bash chemical colorants here; I’d prefer to focus on henna’s strengths, instead: rather than chemically changing the hair structure and weakening it, henna binds with the hair’s keratin, to condition and prevent weakness.  Hair quality generally improves with use.  It’s also able (along with some other plant-based colorants) to produce a variety of shades, as I’ll discuss below.

How long does henna last?  It’s a semi-permanent colorant and should gradually wear off in 8-12 weeks. However, each time you use henna, if you reapply to the same areas (rather than only the roots), it will have a darkening effect over time.

Can you achieve results other than Lucille-Ball Red?  You bet.  For blondes, cassia (like henna, but without the dye), is an option, and when combined with other plant powders, like marigold and chamomile, can produce a pretty blonde.  Indigo (another plant, used for dark blue dye) can be combined with henna in varying ratios to create anywhere from light to dark brown hair.  Amla powder comes from another plant and can be used to bring out cooler tones in henna, enhance its bonding with the hair, and prevent relaxation of curls or waves.  *Beware of anything labeled “Black Henna,” as Kristie pointed out, which may use heavy metals to achieve this color.  It’s important to do your research regarding this.

How does one go about henna-ing?  Simple. Follow the instructions recommended by your particular henna supplier. Usually, there’s quite a bit of sit-around-and-wait time, while the henna does its thing.

Image via Unsplash/Tim de Groot

Do we think henna is worth its weight wait?  I think Kristie would answer that with a resounding, “Yes.”  She did say, however, that it can take up to three days for the henna color to oxidize completely, so if you look like a Weasley for a couple of days, don’t freak out.  I didn’t press for details: her hair has obviously darkened and she’s happy with the results.

I don’t know yet if my hair will have the same degree of henna-success as Kristie’s.  It’s too early to tell, because I see my henna experience in terms of a Three Act Story (there’s the Ibsen connection, after all).  The First Act opens with me, unhappy, searching for salvation from my chemical colorant and its brassy-tinted results.  Enter henna, to the rescue!  Exit, brassy tones!  Actually, they haven’t completely vanished–the henna color is brighter where the brassiness was strongest, so I’ll be happier when the last traces of my chemical dalliance are gone.  Which leads me to …  Act Two: all henna, all the time.  I’m looking forward to this part of the story, when the last vestiges of my chemically-damaged hair have been clipped away and I can relax in my healthy, happy, warm brown-ness.  Act Three: I don’t know when or if I will reach this act, but my long-term plan is to let my hair go au naturel (sparkling strands of wisdom and all), once I’ve tired of henna or its plant-based colorant buddies–if I ever tire of henna and company.

What review would we give Henna?  If Henna were a play, I think Kristie and I would each give it four stars.  It might even deserve a standing ovation–I’ll let you know my feelings on that once I see how the story ends.  Hopefully, it’ll come to a much happier conclusion than Hedda Gabbler did.


* As always, this blog post is meant to act as a reference only.  If you decide to start coloring with henna, please do your research, find a reputable dealer, and then follow their specific instructions.  Also, if you’ve been using a chemical colorant on your hair, it is highly recommended that you wait at least 6-8 weeks before using henna.  If, on the other hand, you’d like to switch from using henna to a chemical colorant, you should again wait 6-8 weeks or more to do so and be warned: since the henna can wear off gradually and at uneven rates, the chemical colorant’s results may be unpredictable, especially if it’s combined with something else, like indigo.  (Hint: indigo + bleach = green hair.) I don’t plan on returning to using chemical colorants, so I’m not too concerned about this part.  Whatever you decide, good luck and happy, healthy hair to you!