Over the next few weeks our resident scientist, Jc will be examining products and ingredients that are popular in the natural hair world — not to disparage them, but to provide a well-rounded view of them.

The word natural is not the same as the words safe, good or beneficial but many us do associate these words together. I think there needs to be more open dialogue about natural products and we should not automatically award them angel wings purely because they are natural. Every decision we make about ingredients needs to be carefully weighed in terms of benefits and risks.

First up is the natural colorant henna

Benefits

1.  It is plant based, relatively easy to process and obtain.

2. It is known to build up on hair and some women note that it gives hair additional thickness

3. It is permanent and with regular application, easy to intensify the colour especially on grey hair.

4. It can be mixed with other natural dyes such as indigo to give a non-red result.

Risks / Negatives

1.  The weight of henna build up can cause curls to loosen which is a benefit to some but for ladies with loose curls to begin with, henna may cause loss of these curls.

2. It is permanent and difficult to cover over. It is generally difficult to use permanent hair colour which is lighter than henna (i.e dark brown/black/dark red are generally fine) with good results on hair that has been previously treated with henna.

3. Some people do report dry hair after henna use but many often remedy this using a conditioner afterwards.

4. The dye responsible for henna‘s colour is called lawsone and it is a known mutagen (i.e it can cause changes to DNA in cells)*

*Changes to DNA in cells are in part responsible for cancer – Please note that henna is not directly implicated in causing cancer, but in the EU there is no safe level for it due to its ability to mutate cells.  The long and safe history of henna use especially in India is possibly the reason why its mutagenic properties are not usually seen as a cause for concern and despite there being no safe level for henna, it is still widely available.

Ladies, have you encountered any of these pros and cons? Share below.

Previous articles on henna:
Henna vs Protein Treatments: Which is Better for Strengthening
Henna vs Commercial Dye
To Henna or Not to Henna

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117 Comments on "The Pros and Cons of Henna for Hair"

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argan oil organic

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Cataract Surgery Recovery

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red hair styles

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Pucelle
1) For those of you worried about Henna being a known mutagen in laboratory studies… don’t drink, avoid the sun, don’t take birth control pills, and be wary of pure “air”. Alcohol, estrogen-progesterone, UVA/UVB, and oxygen (O2) are all known carcinogens (cancer causing). Since pure henna as a topical application hasn’t led skin leathering, scalp lesions, or any other kind of human mutation in the hundreds of years its been in use in India; it’s not something to worry about. If that is your only reason for not using Henna, I’m sorry but that’s just silly. There are far more… Read more »
cygnet
Point taken, and thanks for the clarification. As I finished writing that, it did occur to me to wonder what other factors besides quantity might factor into the experiments done on it. I’ll have to check the link you provided for the EU report; thanks for putting that out there for us :-). As for me personally, I’ve been a hennahead since 2007, but I’ve now decided to back off a considerable bit, not because I think henna is dangerous, but because repeated use over time has turned my golden-almost-strawberry-blond tresses a rich, medium-dark red that, while highly complimented by… Read more »
cygnet
When I was a health communication specialist on what used to be the CDC National STD/AIDS Hotline, one question I frequently answered was, “How long can HIV live outside the body?” The answer I always gave, based on information available on the CDC web site, went something like this: “A laboratory experiment was done in which HIV was exposed to air and observed to see how long it would live. At the longest, it took about 30 minutes for all the HIV to die. Be aware, however, that the amount studied for this experiment was considerably more than has ever… Read more »
The Natural Haven
I agree with most of what you wrote and I love your analogy. I do want to clarify that it is not a case of quantity. According to the EU scientific report no amount of lawsone (the dye in henna) is considered safe. To quote the report ‘No safe threshold for Lawsone can be established.’ I do agree with you that since people in India (notably) have used henna for hundreds of years and that usage has never been linked to cancer (either cause or increase) then there is an argument to say that despite lawsone being a mutagen it… Read more »
cygnet

Thanks, Jc. I made a reply to you that I accidentally put as its own comment, please see below. I enjoy your blog entries, by the way :-).

The Natural Haven

Thank you so much, definitely always happy to quote where my information came from 🙂

lee

Bought some henna recently from Mehandi. Never used it and after this article and some of the comments I am skeptical about whether I should or not. When I see the big C word I always get a bit leery.

Honey

Ok, so I have tried Henna multiple of times, either straight just henna, henna gloss meaning with conditioners, henna with tea and henna with amla and brahmi, but everytime I use it, my hair is very dry and even though I do a deep conditioner and then mosturize with a super duper mosturizer it still feels dry….I have stopped using it just because of those results. Has anyone else experienced this or is it just me? If this is normal results of the Henna then I won’t panic so much. 🙂

The Natural Haven

There are many people who get this same reaction where hair always feels dry even if they have conditioned afterwards – try googling +henna +dry +hair +forum and you will find some accounts of others.

Dre

Henna gave me a really bad headache

Maxi G

Appreciated all of the comments. It will help with my decision to try the pure body art quality henna. I do have one question, though, can you put henna on top of semi permanent hair color or should I wait until it’s touch up time? Colored my hair mid-August 2011. Thanks.

The Natural Haven

You can put henna on top of semi permanent hair colour, however do bear in mind that once you do use henna, the colour of subsequent semipermanent colours will be influenced by the red tint of henna.

If you use henna regularly it may become difficult to get a good colour result with a semi permanent.

Hana

Other examples of places where henna has been used for centuries by men, women and children alike for centuries:
The Middle east, asia and African countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morrocco etc.
Its used for body art, for burns, for hair colouring, and for hair treatments/thickening.

One of the things I love about BGLH and the natural hair community in general, is that it has shown me that the tried and tested methods used to look after hair in my culture, by my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents alike, are still effective for my hair in 2011. So beautifully simple.

Uh Huh Yeah

“The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Some of you guys with obvious reading impairments should have applied for funds from the United Negro College Fund because she clearly DOES NOT state that henna causes cancer. She is an objective reporter on this issue: she objectively reports on the possible pros and cons without imposing her own beliefs. Sheesh…

honeybrown1976

ha!

I love my Jamila henna. I’ll keep on moving!!

dani

i REALLY REALLY REALLY want to color my hair next year when it warms back up. like.. a copper…. or blonde… something BRIGHT and vivid. henna seems like my only option if i don’t want my hair to fall out… where’s the best place to get some that will turn dark (curly 3C) hair very very light?

The Natural Haven

Henna does not lighten your hair and cannot make your hair blonde unless you have grey hair. If your hair is dark, it may not appear.

You should definitely look up honey lightening of hair on the long hair community although it is not a guaranteed process and generally people with lighter hair colours to start with have better success.

dani

thanks.

Asea
I was in love with henna for a few months. It seemed to make my hair strong and seemed to add thickness to my fine strands. My hair felt awesome after rinsing it out. BUT then my hair started getting soooooo dry. And I admit that perhaps I wasn’t conditioning enough, but the process itself is so messy, long and tedious and having to spend more time deep deep conditioning to counteract the dryness just didn’t seem worth it to me. Sadly, I had to cut back on henna. Ande I don’t really like the color. I like my hair… Read more »
Mai

Like the article said, it’s been used for years and years and that’s what I base many of my beauty care on. If my ancestors’ ancestors used it, and they were fine, well then I’m pretty fine too.

Dlynn

Hello All! I’d also like to know how long should one wait to do a protein treatment after henna?

anastasia

Many people believe once you henna you can forgo protein treatments, but I dont, I just alternate. Check the mehandi hair forum or FAQ’s or check out JC’s Blog: The Natural Haven which is loaded with great info =)

Ebony

Guys, y’all should stop taking the article as a personal attack on your henna use. Nowhere in the post does she say “stop using henna or your hair will fall off and you’ll die.” It’s good to be informed of all the benefits AND costs of anything we use. Personally, I love shea butter. It’s in just about every product I use. If someone comes along and shows it has some negative results, I’ll take those into account and decide if/how I want to continue use. We all have that discretion.

June

Ha! Well here is one for you: shea butter has latex in it so if you have a latex allergy you need to be careful.

Something about shea butter 🙂

geeze!!!

I know im late, but dang!! thats y my scalp is always itching??? thanks for the heads up!!!

Ebony

Thankfully I don’t have a latex allergy. =p But thanks for the info!

LaToya
HERE WE GO AGAIN… I’m not shooting the messenger but can someone please tell me why NATURAL DYES are studied to “death” and ALWAYS are reported to cause some genetic mutation? I have my reasons for staying away from henna so I looked into staining my patch of gray hair with black walnut hulls instead. Why is it that when I received my package on the front cover this was written: “WARNING: Prolonged use is not advised due to the presence of significant amount of of juglone, a known MUTAGEN in animals.” How come NOTHING is reported about the risks… Read more »
The Natural Haven
LaToya commercial dyes actually have greater numbers of studies. They can cause very severe allergic reactions which could lead to death. This is why a good colorist would never dye your hair without a patch test. Dyes in general need to be studied because they are able to bind and change proteins. This is something that people forget, hair is a protein and protein is a major component of living cells. So while hair outside the follicle is dead, the rest of your body is not. Dye finding its way into your body and binding to that protein is a… Read more »
anastasia

I guess everything in moderation, but at the end of the day,”fatten some companies’ coffers….” possibly is the strongest motivation behind fear-based tactics.

Off topic but-
I remember seeing an ad from the 1940’s/50’s touting the great health benefits of white sugar for children, seriously…crazy, right? Coincidentally, an organically-based clean food revolution had started around the same time as T.V. dinners loaded with fat, salt, and sugar were touted as the ‘civilized’,healthy, and time-efficient way to eat.

Sieta

How many weeks after henna can one do a protein treatment on their hair? I haven’t henna’d since August.

Antoinette Stewart

Interesting because I just did a henna treatment yesterday~
I used to do it once every 2 months since February, but I sort of fell off… I’m not happy with this Jamila powder, it was difficult to rinse out my hair, and I am still getting flakies!

TT

Please support your info. We need papers of research done to be able to “believe” you. Henna had been used in the past for many years and it never ever caused any problems. I googled henna and read a million reviews of people who have used it for years and no one came with stories of it causing cancer. Please send prrof and reputable papers to read.

The Natural Haven

No problem TT – here is the full EU report for you, it is available free online

http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/sccp/documents/out254_en.pdf

The Natural Haven

Side note – Lawsone is the chemical dye found in henna that actually colours hair.

Honestly I do wonder whether you read the article fully TT because I actually stated that the long and safe history of use of henna is why it is still used and widely available……

Nick

OMG what’s up with peole’s reading skills. She never said henna causes cancer. She said some of them MAY contain a component that has been linked to mutations! Why do you need her to provide papers. Take what she said and go look it up for yourself as you should do with any info provided.

JoJoFree

I don’t understand why all of a sudden henna could “possibly” cause cancer when this dye has been used since Biblical days! Interesting…

mediumbrowngirl

I am not sure if the ancient-ness of a product or practice ensures that it is not a potential health risk. maybe they didn’t have the scientific knowledge or technology to diagnose cancer in biblical times.

There lots of naturally occurring substances that are potential health risks depending on the manner and frequency of exposure.

Not trying to say that henna is guaranteed to do anything to anyone! But felt compelled to challenge the logic of your argument.

Leena

Can you read? She didn’t say it will give you cancer. She said it can cause cancer, there is a difference.

Talan

lol did you read what she wrote? She asked what you just said.

lola b

lol@ leena trying to be smart and ended up looking like a silly mean girl instead! i didn’t know that henna could mutate dna. how freaky. in fact i’ve always seen it pushed as a conditioning treatment with the added bonus of coloring your hair. i’ve never thought to combine it with other ingredients either. how safe is indigo, and where would one even get it?

anastasia

I got my indigo from mehandi.com

(purchased the Henna for African Hair Black, which is simply a pouch of henna and a pouch of indigo-I did the two step process which turned out fab!)

aliya

Body art quality henna is the only kind to use. It has no additives and is safe. I get my henna from a website called mehandi.com where they sell pure henna with no additives. They also sell henna attar, indigo, and cassia which is also called neutral henna. They even have henna that is so finely ground that its like powder, marketed for African-American American hair, its wonderful! I have been using it for years on my Locs with no problems.
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Jchemela
One of the reasons I love BODY ART quality henna is that it downturn have ppd. I love the stain you get and I can allow my 12 to use it in her hair with-out the same risk of other she and conditioners. If you are not getting a powder to mix you have the wrong stuff. Hey FYI Lucille Ball used henna to get the amazing red color she had. I know I can’t go that red,I refuse to bleach, but whoa mama to be able to get that without strong chemical smells………YEEEES. Besides while your wait for your… Read more »
Dena

What exactly are you saying?….gosh!

Bas Ura

Maybe it’s a bad translation??? I understood her. I think “downturn” = “doesn’t” and ppd may be referring to the pico henna discussed above. “12” refers to her 12 year old daughter. Also, I didn’t know Lucy used henna. Thanks for the info, Jchemela!

Miosha74

YES, Lucille Ball used Henna in her hair, she was a natural blonde…

byoteenapp
Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is a chemical substance that is widely used as a permanent hair dye. PPD is a colourless substance that requires oxygen for it to become coloured. It is this intermediate, partially oxidised state that may cause allergy in sensitive individuals. Reaction caused by the use of hair dye in mild cases usually only involves dermatitis to the upper eyelids or the rims of the ears. In more severe cases, there may be marked reddening and swelling of the scalp and the face. The eyelids may completely close and the allergic contact dermatitis reaction may become widespread. Long term… Read more »
June

It does seem like a translation issue. I think people can be so rude sometimes; not everyone in the world is a native English speaker and this website is read by people around the world.

anastasia
=) big-ups to Bas Ura and June!! With regards to topic: I do enjoy the results henna has provided. I’m a 4abc lady and henna has certainly made my hair appear fuller but curl loss is not something that I’ve experienced in absolute terms (b/c I have more kinks than curls), but my hair is easier to manage and much stronger. I use to purchase henna from the local halal market and for a change recently ordered from mehandi, and OMGoodness-what a difference!!! Richer stain, easier to rinse, and va va voom big ol hair! I do enjoy the application… Read more »
June

I have never used henna alone, I have always mixed it with amla, brahmi, maka and hibiscus tea, and I really like the results. I also haven’t experienced any loosening of my curls, in fact it tightens similar to when I do a protein treatment. The mixture leaves me with shiny, stronger, and more tightly curled hair. I like it.

I only do it once a month, but I may need to look into the mutation thing……

JoJoFree

The amla is why your curls have not loosened. How much amla do you use? My curls were starting to loosen until I began to an amla. I use 2-3 TB. per 100g of henna.

June

I use about 33grams of henna (I have coarse hair so I am a little scared of using too much), and 25 grams each of amla, brahmi, and maka. I also add a little honey to that mixture.

Véronique

I have read that henna can cause an allergy to hair dye. But if you’re already a fan of henna and won’t change than you will not notice a thing. Otherwise, think twice before dying.

The Natural Haven

This is only true for henna which contains a specific additive known as PPD. It is referred to as pico henna or black henna. It can give a very severe allergic response

Pure henna itself very rarely causes allergic reactions. Body art quality henna is what people should purchase.

Angie

Loosening of curls is what I need!

Jaeda Barbie

You would have to henna a lot to do that. I bet your natural hair texture is beautiful!

Anon

A texturizer would be more effective than henna…

Minimalist Beauty

Actually henna is much better than a texturizer! Texturizers chemically break down the hair cuticle while henna deposits conditioners and strength to hair while weighing down curls. Texturizers also don’t give hair shine like henna. I’ve been using henna monthly since March 2010.

Coco M

Loving the Rajasthani henna I just used from Henna for hair! The dye transfer was amazing. I used apple juice to mix it and used it the next day. Very high dye content!

Goddezz

I am HIGHLY allergic to hair dye: temporary, semi, or permanent. I did a patch test with henna a few years back and had a bad reaction to it as well. I don’t know what ingredient(s)I’m allergic to. Does anybody know of any henna that would be considered hypoallergenic?

Kristina

I’m allergic to henna as well from a botched temporary tattoo. The ingredient that most people react from is abbreviated PPD. It is found in some artificial henna to make it black (black ‘henna’ is actually indigo, real henna is red). That being said, mehandi like was said before is a good start. If you don’t have the time to be mixing your own henna and whatnot, just go for LUSH’s henna bars. Very effective, and just as messy and natural.

cygnet
If PPD was in your henna tattoo, it wasn’t body art quality. In addition to darkening the henna as you said, some henna artists will mix PPD into the henna to also intensify the staying power of the tattoo, because as well known as it is for staining, the stain is quite temporary, and it seems to be more temporary on some body parts than on others. What happened to you happens to a lot of people because of unscrupulous artists mixing in PPD and not telling people it’s in there. It seems, from a couple of articles I saw… Read more »
Goddezz

I want black, I guess indigo. Do you know if all indigo has PPD? I’m researching online but I’m not seeing anything in the ingredients. Also will henna/indigo fade dramatically after every wash?

The Natural Haven

I do not know if you had a patch test with pure body art quality henna. This type of henna should only contain the crushed leaves of the plant. Other types of henna can contain various additional ingredients to intensify the colour.

I have not seen any shop selling the pure extract of henna i.e pure lawsone. If you could find that it would be just pure dye and you can patch test it to see if it works for you.

All the best!

Goddezz

Yay!!! Thank you so much. I’ll definitely give that a try. Where would I find pure body art quality henna? Any places online?

Maya

Use mehandi.com, that’s where most people get their pure body art quality henna from!

Goddezz

Thanks. I’m shopping now. 🙂

Kator

hmmm … it sure has loosened my beloved coils a bit!

Jaeda Barbie

It def loosened my curls from 4a to 3c. But if I washed it a few times some of my 4a’s come back. The benefits of henna are too good. It has helped my hair and the health of my hair dramatically. Curly Nikki is my inspiration.

Jaeda Barbie

I am not giving up my henna. Every week something else is bad for you. I am a henna head and no way Im stopping:)

DD

+Infinity

Joyce

Please direct to where you have written about neutral henna, pros and cons.

Lizzie

Well, guess I’m just gonna have to be a mutant, cuz I am not giving up the henna.

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