Adventures in hair dye and henna

The below post has nothing to do with serious politics and it’s mostly about my hair

My natural hair colour is what I affectionately refer to as “poo-blonde”. It would go a warm auburn if I got enough sun to bring it to life, but I really, really don’t. With the ozone hole and a family history of melanoma, sitting in the sun all day for fantastically summery hair just isn’t an option.

So, I have been dying my hair since I was 12. Mostly red, but there have been





Which we shall not speak of.

The thing about red hair dye is that is sucks. Permanent or semi-permanent, it washes out quickly and leaves you with a watery ginger or pinkish colour, depending on what tone of red you used. After 15 years of this, I was getting pretty exhausted with monthly applications of stuff I knew was bad for my hair, only to have it stay a vivid red for two weeks tops.

I had heard about henna, but I’d also heard that once you used it, you could never use another dye until the henna had totally grown out. I think that’s what had kept me for trying it for so long. I mean, that’s one heck of a commitment.

But after lots of research about henna, I figured (Irish witch that I am) I wanted fiery copper hair for a long while yet. It also turns out that the warnings about not dying over henna were mostly false, unless you used really poor quality henna filled with chemicals which would react to the cocktail of crap included in most hair dye.

Henna has been used as a cosmetic for up to 6,000 years in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Near East and South Asia. White ladies mostly started using it in Europe in the 1800’s to keep up with the Pre-Raphaelite fetishizisation of red hair. It’s 100% natural, good for many people with sensitive skin, and by most accounts produces a long-lasting vivid red colour.

So with pages of printed internet thoughts on henna, I gave it a go.

My first experience was with Caca Rouge from Lush. It was, um, messy. You have to break the blocks down in a double boiler and add boiling water until it melts. I also found it kept thickening as it cooled so my amazing best friend Izzy (who volunteered in the interests of keeping me ginger) had to keep trying to adjust the consistency while applying it to my hair.  Which wasn’t super fun.

Henna smells like cow pats and grass. It also looks a lot like a cow pat, and feels a lot like a cow pat as it melts slowly on your head. I’m not going to pretend like dying your hair with henna is anything other than a messy process of smearing browny green stuff on your head and hoping for the best. It will also dye anything it comes into contact with. Your skin will be a fetching shade of orange for a day or so if you leave a blob of henna on it for too long. Your white towels will go green. It’s a weird time.

But by god does it work. Seriously. Look at my hair.


My first henna dye was in June this year. I have felt like I had enough regrowth to warrant another henna coat in September and December. That is a vast improvement on monthly hair dyes. And the only reason I need to apply more henna is for regrowth, not colour fade. The colour tones down slightly from washing and from sun but it’s still a really lovely vivid red, months after a dye.

I have tried a couple of different brands and I think I like Rainbow Research the best. It comes in a bunch of different colours (though apparently only red is pure henna, the rest have other herbs to create different colour reactions). I just use red.

Izzy and I have it down to a fine art now; I whack the henna powder in a bowl, add some cider vinegar and hot water, stir it and then we slop it onto my head with slightly less mess each time we do it. Then we gladwrap my hair and I leave it for several hours and wash it out. It leaves my hair feeling thicker but shinier all at once.

You can get pretty creative and add tea, lemon juice, coffee and other things to play with the colour and help the dye release into your hair. I’m still a bit nervous about playing around too much, but it’s nice to know there are options.

All in all, I think I will be using henna for the rest of my life. Even if I sacrifice a few towels in the process.