Hair Pirate’s Quest: Episode 1

God did not grace me with an abundance of hairs, at least not on my head. Not that I’m complaining, but it has made growing out my hair pretty unsuccessful the past few times in my life that I tried it. Nevertheless, I am resolved to undertake it once again over this coming year, a process begun late last year.

Why would I trouble myself to do such a thing? I don’t really know. Vanity, media influence… but really, I just like a challenge. Throw in a slew of home beauty recipes for me to try, and I am on board before you can say “Shiver me timbers.”

Let’s take this pirate analogy and make it a little more romantic. Imagine yourself traveling turquoise seas to pick up a shipment from the coast of India. If you were a pirate like me, your shipment would consist largely of beauty goodies from the Ayurvedic tradition: from sesame to coconut oil, from soapnuts to shikakai. But especially henna.

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I feel like India knows hair. I’m not just talking about the Indian people I’ve met; I mean the traditions of holistic health remedies and practices, scalp health included, have been around for thousands of years. Although I’m no authority, I have been using henna on my hair for many years to great benefit. Change that eye patch and headscarf to a shower cap, and let’s talk.

Henna is a plant, lawsonia inermis, more specifically, that produces a red dye when crushed, or dried, crushed, and reconstituted with water. It’s typically used for these very staining properties, as with henna tattooes and hair dyes, but it has an incredible number of other beneficial properties.

Poking around some scholarly articles, it seems that lawsonia inermis has been thoroughly tested. (Ok, maybe not the most scholarly, but Google’s scholarly articles surely have some authority?) Notably, it has strong antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it a wonderful plant for scalp problems like dandruff. (It’s one of the few things that has helped my dandruff!)

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Remarkably, henna also binds to the keratin, the protein in your hair (and skin). With continued use, henna molecules will continue to build up in your hair. See where I’m going with this???!!

So fear not, my fine-feathered friends. Salvation through henna. Yes. Hide your grays? Through henna, if you should so choose. But I don’t want red hair, says you. Tough beans!

But really, the beans are tough- unless you have really dark hair, your hair will start to turn reddish. The darker your hair, however, the less noticeable it will be. You will find “different colors of henna” at stores, though. BEWARE.

I say different colors of henna in quotes because henna is just one plant- lawsonia inermis– and it releases only one color of dye. You can combine the plant with other things, however, to create different color dyes. You can do this in two ways: sketchy, synthetic dyes that might make your hair fall out or your skin break out in boils

(BEWARE), or by combining with other plants, such as indigo or cassia. I prefer the latter of the two options.

Specifically, indigo has been my go-to. It gives my hair an incredible sheen, as well, that I don’t notice as much with plain henna. I still get the hair-thickening and anti-dandruff-ness as well. I love it. It’s the best.

I’m not sure why I fell off the band wagon. I guess if you like your hair color, or would rather go lighter, henna, or any combination of henna with other plants, will do you no good. Also, I’ve noticed that the quality of the henna is incredibly important, and I don’t just mean reading your ingredients- though that is also REALLY, REALLY important (see above).

For a long time, I was getting my henna at a then-local-to-me apothecary in Boulder, CO, that I love: Rebecca’s on Spruce St. (If you ever have the chance, GO- it is a magical, mystical, beautiful place. You might even get to meet Rebecca herself.) I started getting a bit lax after a while though, and moving around, I bought some online, etc. I just wasn’t getting the same benefits. I suppose the “freshness,” as with all plant things, probably matters. Even dry plants can go stale.

Go forth and conquer, henna warriors. As always, read your ingredients, and stay tuned for the next episode in the Hair Pirate’s Quest.
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