Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Indigo Experiment!

So I think I did pretty good with my little henna experiment for a first timer and I'm quite looking forward to layering another application on top of this one. Gotta be careful though. Henna can cause a loosening in my curl pattern and I love my curls! Next time I'm thinking about adding Amla, another Ayurvedic herb (traditional medicines native to India), that is said to prevent the loosening effect.

Unfortunately, I couldn't take a pic of the final dry result because I had other plans for my mane...

Indigofera tinctoria or Indigo
Photo courtesy of
I wanted to dye my hair jet black with Indigo. Indigo, often called "black henna", is not henna at all (like the colorless cassia obovata or "neutral henna" from my previous post).  It is super important when purchasing products that are labeled "black henna", to make sure that the ingredient is actually indigo, or indigofera tinctoria. Otherwise it may include the harmful chemical Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) which are often included in chemical hair dyes. And if you're looking for a natural way to color your hair, the inclusion of the chemicals would defeat your purpose. It can also result in a terrible allergic reaction!  Because the packaging of many ayurvedic herbs are not Americanized, an easy way to tell if you are getting actual indigo is to look for a greenish powder (said by some to smell like frozen peas, to me it smells like spinach). The powder should not be black!! It only turns dark after mixing in water and after the dye releases. Even then, it is not black. You can read more about PPD's here.

On to my experiment!! I know I said I wasn't happy with the Light Mountain brand of cassia obovata (neutral henna). However, that may be due in part to some errors on my end (not using enough, etc.) I still returned the empty box to Whole Foods and was promptly given a refund. Yay Whole Foods!! But since indigo doesn't seem to be readily available at the Indian grocer where I found the henna (probably because of the extremely short shelf life) and I didn't feel like waiting and paying for shipping from an online retailer, I went ahead and picked up a box of the Light Mountain in Black (around $6 bucks). I carefully checked the ingredients to make sure that it was actual indigo and yep, indigofera tinctoria was listed. It also listed henna as ingredient and I knew that it was also common in commercially sold indigo to include a mix with henna. I knew this may lessen my chances of getting that black black BLACK that I was looking for but I decided to give it a try anyway. I could always return it right ;-)

I must say I was totally prepared for my henna treatment. Plastic gloves, ready! Newspaper, ready! Old towels, ready! But the process moves A LOT faster with the indigo. Once it is done being mixed ( I mixed with rose water found at the Indian grocery store for $2.99!...this stuff costs $10 at the health food store, but I digress...) you only have a few minutes to apply. It is said that the dye actually loses its dying ability after about 30 minutes. So it was GO time.

The Henna Experiment!!

When I get intrigued with something, I truly don't quit until I've conquered it. Enter my new obsession with all things henna! Henna, Lawsonia inermis, is a flowering plant usually associated with the beautiful temporary tattooing primarily done in Indian cultures for brides before their wedding, ceremonies, etc. However, henna has long been used as a natural hair dye also (fun fact: Lucille Ball got her signature bright red locks usually courtesy of henna treatments) and hair strengthening treatment. Currently, it is taking the natural hair community by storm. Given my research on the benefits and  effects on natural hair, I decided to finally take the plunge. I started by experimenting with "neutral henna", a colorless version that still provides conditioning effects, resulting in shinier, glossier, smoother, and more manageable hair. Neutral henna isn't actually henna at all though. It is a very similar plant, cassia obovata,  that doesn't have the dying characteristics of the henna plant.

Me after a night with Cassia Obovata ("Neutral Henna")

This stuff is like mud bath for your hair. The process is definitely a weekend job. It involves a lot of prepping, mixing ... waiting, applying...waiting, rinsing...rinsing...rinsing, conditioning...waiting. Not for the impatient. And it's messy. The henna more than the cassia obviously, but still.