Henna or Chemical Dye: What’s Better for Gray Hair?

Beauty/Skincare, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on September 11, 2013
gray hair solutions

When pesky gray hairs begin to creep up on your hairline, your first impulse is probably to flock to the hair salon—stat. But before you schedule another expensive salon appointment, you should know that there are other, more cost-effective gray hair solutions. A natural plant-based dye, henna is exploding in popularity as a safe and effective way to conceal gray hair and beautifully add color and shine. Is this new beauty treatment the one for you? And what’s better: henna or chemical dye?

RELATED: Hair Dye Basics 

Pros of Henna
One-hundred percent pure henna is technically safer than commercial hair dye. In its natural form, henna will produce a red or orange-red color. Don’t want to go bright red? There’s also compound henna, which includes indigo, cloves or coffee to turn your hair a color other than red.

This natural dye stains your hair and will fade very little, if any. Unlike chemical dye, henna is not damaging. What’s more, the tannin molecules in the henna (a chemical substance used to strengthen leather) bind with the hair, leaving it stronger. “Hair that has been hennaed is less likely to develop split ends, just as your shoe leather that has been tanned is less likely to become brittle and crack,” says Catherine Cartwright-Jones, author of the guide Henna For Hair “How-To” Henna.  It also knocks out head lice and dandruff and will completely cover grays. Got dull hair? Henna gives hair an astonishing shine by the absorption of lawsone molecules.  “It shimmers in the shimmer. It makes hair smoother by strengthening the structure of the hair with the tannin, and resisting weathering,” says Jones.

Cons of Henna
The process of dying your hair with henna is messy and somewhat tedious. “You have to be patient during the application, and you can’t change your color every month,” says Jones. If you are a hair chameleon, it may not suit you due to the fact that it limits the variety of colors you are able to achieve afterwards. There aren’t as many stylists who are experienced with henna as there are who have received training on how to apply a chemical dye. So you could possibly be looking at a DIY dye job. Another big thing to watch out for are the brands offering compound henna. Brands offering compound henna may contain metallic salts and chemical lighteners that can damage your hair or react with a previous chemical dye.

Changing colors after henna is possible, but it may be tricky. “If you want to dye over henna with a chemical dye, you can, but test first to make sure the results are what you want,” says Jones. The results may be unpredictable, especially if you have used a chemical dye on your hair beforehand.

Pros of Chemical Dye
There is a reason chemical dyes are so ubiquitous—compared to henna, dye is quick, easy and convenient. Also, chemical dye enables you to tint your hair any color, whereas henna has a more limited color spectrum. “You can bleach in highlights into henna, but not into mixes with indigo,” says Jones. Lastly, more salon technicians are experienced with chemical hair dye, so it’s a much more reliable and convenient option. Henna, which has not yet entered the mainstream, is a different story.

Cons of Chemical Dye
Chemical hair dye is damaging. You risk of overprocessing and frying your hair from too many color changes and bleaching. “Chemical hair dye is linked to severe allergic reactions, hair loss, lupus, asthma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” says Jones. There are even some studies that show a small link between chemical hair dyes and certain types cancer when used long term. Health and safety risks aside, chemical dyes fade fairly quickly depending on the brand and color. Henna, by contrast, barely fades at all, eliminating the need to constantly head into the salon for a touch-up.

Cancer.org doesn’t recommend dying eyebrows or eyelashes, or mixing dye products. They also suggest not leaving the dye on longer than it instructs you to do so, and rinsing thoroughly to ensure you have removed all the dye out of your hair.

For safety precautions, henna testimonials and information on how to order pure, laboratory-certified henna, visit mehandi.com. If you’re looking for more information on chemical hair dyes and the risks they pose check out Hair Dye Basics.