I've heard a lot of great things about henna. It strengthens hair and darkens hair, adds shine, and loosens curls. I want to try it but I don't know where to find it or what to do with it.
Henna is a ground up power of the plant Lawsonia Inermis. It was used cosmetically in Ancient Egypt, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia. It can be used to create ornate decorations on the body, most notably the hands, and in hair care, it is used to strengthen and add color.
If you are interested in using henna, there are a few things to note. You mentioned that it will loosen curls and add color. This is actually hit or miss. For me, it did not loosen my curls nor make them more defined. Just as well, I know some women who used henna and it did loosen their curls. In terms of the color, it did deposit a lot of red into my hair giving it a reddish tint visible in both sunlight and lamp light (indoors). But, once again, I also know women who did not get any color into their hair. If you are using henna for these reasons, know that it may not do what you want. Now, henna does definitely strengthen hair by binding onto the keratin in hair.
You can get henna from a health food store, Indian or Middle Eastern store, or online (I often got mine from Amazon). I wasn't married to a specific brand of henna, and honestly, in my opinion it doesn't matter. The only thing that you should pay attention to is the ingredient list. The only ingredient listed should be Lawsonia Inermis, which is the plant that henna comes from. If any other ingredient is present, put it down and walk away (some brands of henna do not just use henna and add chemicals that could cause severe skin rashes and allergic reactions).
There are "different" kinds of henna and they are indigo and cassia. As you can see, I put different in quotes because indigo and cassia aren't henna, they are two completely different plants. Indigo darkens hair to a dark black, while cassia won't add color but will strengthen and add shine to your hair. While this post is about henna, if you decide to use indigo and/or cassia, follow the same protocol as henna and make sure only the plant names of indigo and cassia are listed, which is indigofera tinctoria and cassia obovata, respectively.
I used to henna my hair between my 2nd and 3rd year of being natural, but I have stopped since then (hence why I am just full of knowledge on the subject, lol). I will say that while I did like it, it is very time consuming and I just didn't feel like devoting the time to do it after awhile (I may try cassia soon though, I've heard good things about it). The process of applying henna, washing, and conditioning my hair took between 4-12 hours depending on how long I left the henna on. When I first started using henna, I did it every week. I then decreased to every other week, and then once a month. I found that I didn't need to apply it weekly because the effects are fairly permanent (the henna binds on to the hair like glue). The color from henna does eventually wash out...but you're looking at up to six months to a year before you will notice any color fading. Here is my process for applying henna.
My hair freshly henna'ed and blow dried. You can see the reddish tint from the henna.
Step 1: Scoop 1/8 cup of henna into a bowl and mix with 1/2 cup of hot water. Let stand for at least 10 minutes.
Step 2: Add 1/2 cup of a moisturizing conditioner, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix all together, and let sit for another 10 minutes. (Mixture can sit in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.)
Step 3: Rinse or wash hair (I just rinsed, but if you want color, your hair has a better chance of color depositing if you rinse or wash first as opposed to applying henna on dry hair).
Step 4: Cover your floor with newspaper to prevent the henna from getting everywhere on the floor (or just apply in the tub for easier clean up).
Step 5: If your hair is medium or long, section hair into at least 4 sections (I did at least 8, trust me, sectioning makes it easier).
Step 6: Start applying henna to hair in sections (you can wear gloves if you want, I didn't and had no problem with the dye rinsing off my hands after a couple of hours). Because I added conditioner, it is significantly easier to apply to hair than if it is a more water-y henna mix.
Step 7: Cover hair with a plastic bag, and let sit on hair for at least an hour, no more than overnight.
Step 8: When you are ready to rinse the henna out, fill the tub or a large bowl with water. Dunk hair into the water to loosen the henna. Doing this step before washing/conditioning helps to ensure all the henna pieces are fully removed from hair.
Step 9: Wash or condition hair. Condition with a moisturizing conditioner because henna acts like a protein (it isn't a protein though), and conditioning with a protein conditioner can make hair feel hard.
Step 10: Style as usual.
Well, that's about all I know about henna. Try it and let me know how you like it!
Have a natural hair, fitness, or beauty question, send me an email at FroBunni[at]gmail.com and I will answer it on the next Dear FroBunni.