How Henna went high end
(as seen in Inspire @ DailyMail)
When it comes to hair, forgive me for bragging, but I’ve always been rather blessed. Long, thick, tumbling pre-Raphaelite waves that obediently curl or go straight, hold their style and take a week to look even remotely greasy. Romantically, it was the moment on a windy moor in the Lake District when I threw myself — and my auburn hair — down on a green, grassy verge, that my husband still recalls, ‘that’s when I knew you were the one’! So, yes, I’ve always loved my hair.
I knew my ‘baby greys’ were escalating when my quick 3-second post blow-dry cover-up (ColorWow Root Cover Up in Red, £28.50), suddenly required better light, a bigger mirror, a chair, and several minutes. But aside from one minor brush with henna at the bathroom sink, aged 17, where I made my parent’s house smell like a barnyard, I have never dyed my hair. As a beauty editor in an industry where most of my colleagues can be found ‘permanently’ at the salon, I’ve often felt a bit of a fraud. But, with most of London’s top colourists, from Daniel Galvin to Josh Wood, stating my auburn was a hard one to match, I’ve never dared take the plunge.
Until now, that is. At 53 I’m finally ready to join the 65% of women in the UK (that’s over 21 million of us) who regularly colour their hair. Well, I will be just as soon as I find a subtle, natural colour that works with my own hair, and won’t aggravate the itchy ‘stress’ scalp condition I’ve had since sixth form. (But may I say here that the best treatments for this have been the scalp remedies by Phyto and Leonor Greyl … both botanical blends of essential oils that worked wonders – more on that another time)
The solution, it turns out, lies in my first dying disaster. Sustainable, eco-friendly, and virtually allergy-free, pure henna powder — a reddish stain dye made from the powdered leaves of a Middle Eastern shrub — along with other herb and vegetable dyes, is making a comeback.
A lifelong advocate of natural colour, Knightsbridge hairdresser Paul Edmonds, who I trust and adore, says: ‘Forget the hippy stigma. Nowadays, natural colour is expected to work just as well as conventional colour — think high shine, great condition and reduced damage to hair and scalp.’ Indeed, many salons say they’re seeing a massive shift to vegetable colour as clients are increasingly concerned with toxicity, hair condition and where their colour comes from. ‘I’ve seen a 62% increase year-on-year for natural colour,’ confirms Paul. ‘My clients have greater, more holistic concerns about how they live, what foods they eat, what ingredients they use, how it’s is sourced and the environmental impact.’
Likewise, this June sees a brand new ‘100%’ apparently…herbal colour, L’Oreal Professional Botanea (in salons nationwide) to try to ensure more colorists have access to more natural colourant, that mixes just 3 powder (not Hari’s array of many herbs) – henna, indigo and cassia, with water. Here I’d like to quickly address the issue of cheap, mass-produced ‘black henna’ – not all henna is created equally (sadly)…check the ingredients list – as this contains higher pigment (used in hand tatoos etc) and cheap may mean potentially not quite as natural as one might expect.
Most traditional synthetic hair dyes contain potentially harmful chemicals such as PPD, ammonia and peroxide, the fumes from which at high exposures (especially to colourists themselves) are linked with skin irritation, breathing problems, a suppressed immune system, and even cancer. The European Commission now estimates around one in 75 people who use hair colourants will suffer an allergic reaction; while figures from Allergy UK show allergic reactions to hair colourants have tripled in the last 20 years, which is more common among those suffering from eczema and asthma.
President for the Fellowship for British Hairdresssing, Karine Jackson – who is fab and worth visiting if you want organic colour – has been using herbal hair colour since 2005. ‘I started investigating colour alternatives when a client with cancer asked me to find a colour with fewer chemicals for her to use. At first I thought they’d all have a poor performance, but I was proved wrong. Within a matter of months, 97% of our colour clients had switched to organic. There were unforeseen benefits for Karine herself, too. ‘I’d had a nagging cough for years, which I put down to London living and general pollution. Once I switched to using organic colour in the salon, my cough disappeared within a week and has never come back. I think now about the chemicals I was exposing myself to without even realising the effect they were having on my own breathing.’
But it’s not just allergies that women need to be wary of when it comes to conventional hair dyes. According to a recent study by Professor Kefah Mokbel, leading breast cancer surgeon at the Princes Grace Hospital in London, women who chemically colour their hair have an 18% increase in the risk of breast cancer. ‘We do not know precisely which chemicals increase the breast cancer risk,’ says Professor Mokbel, who is now a huge advocate for the use of natural colour. ‘Some chemicals are endocrine disrupters that could increase the risk of hormone-sensitive breast cancer, however PPD (para-phenylenediamine) is a strong candidate, particularly if used in high concentrations, as the darker and more permanent the colour and the higher the frequency of use, the greater the risk.’ As a result, Professor Mokbel recommends colouring less and reducing contact with the scalp to lower the risk. ‘If you dye your hair once every two months rather than every month then the potential increase in risk may be halved. In general, I believe the safer option is to use natural, organic herbal products where possible.’
Celebrity hairdresser Hari Salem, helped introduce henna into the UK back in the Sixties, and has offered herbal colour in his own salons for the past 40 years. ‘Like anything in fashion, colour goes through cycles. It was really trendy to have henna and vegetable colour in the Seventies, then it went out of fashion. But now it’s making a massive comeback, especially with the recent trend in vegan and organic lifestyle choices.’ So much so, in fact, that Hari is launching the stand-alone Hari’s Herbal Hair Salon, a botanical oasis offering an array of bespoke, hand-blended, non-toxic plant including henna, hibiscus, turmeric, saffron, beetroot, coffee in a powder form.
MY FIRST SALON COLOUR…EVER…AT HARI’S, LONDON
Forgive me but this was really nerve wracking – I do love my natural auburn!
But I do trust Clare Drawbridge, top colourist at Hari’s, as she mixes up fresh henna powder with two shades of coffee powder like the alchemist she is. There’s a lovely cappuccino aroma — no barnyard, and definitely no ammonia. Clare’s convinced that allergies to conventional hair dye are on the up across all ages, but especially women over 40. ‘In my experience, older women appear to be increasingly more prone to an allergic reaction to conventional colour around the menopause.’ Clare herself is asthmatic and allergic to colour. ‘It’s the fumes created when mixing chemicals that aggravate my lungs. I’d been mixing colour for about 15 years before I found out what was wrong, ending up at The Royal Brompton Hospital numerous times. Henna is one of the few things I’m not allergic to.’
I watch Clare Drawbridge, top colourist at Hari’s mix up fresh henna powder with two shades of coffee powder like the alchemist she is. There’s a lovely cappuccino aroma — no barnyard, and definitely no ammonia. Clare’s convinced that allergies to conventional hair dye are on the up across all ages, but especially women over 40. ‘In my experience, older women appear to be increasingly more prone to an allergic reaction to conventional colour around the menopause.’ Clare herself is asthmatic and allergic to colour. ‘It’s the fumes created when mixing chemicals that aggravate my lungs. I’d been mixing colour for about 15 years before I found out what was wrong, ending up at The Royal Brompton Hospital numerous times. Henna is one of the few things I’m not allergic to.’
After shampooing, a Vaseline-like balm is carefully applied to prevent colour from staining my skin, then an auburn vegetable colour is first applied to the front of my hair where the hair is at its lightest to give an even base before adding the henna mix. This helps prevent the colour from becoming too bright or too red than the rest of my hair. ‘It’s like putting on undercoat before you paint,’ assures Clare. Next, section-by-section, my hair is coated from root to tip with the henna mix. A thick wad of cotton wool is wrapped around my hairline to prevent drips, while a shower cap sits over my entire head and heat is applied to speed up the absorption of the colour. I sit like this for around 30 minutes.
Once the henna mix is rinsed off, Clare checks my colour, decides my once white hairs need to be a little redder to frame my face, so adds a bit more red henna on top of these sections for a further five minutes. Rinsed, shampooed, blowdried, and costs from £95, I’m done.
I meet up with my family for dinner. My husband Jim, who as you’ve already learned has always adored my hair, looks me over and says, “Gosh they’ve matched it well. It’s brighter, but still looks like your hair!”
And as for me? I think I look younger — joy! (curls are a bit too bouncy for me but…oh the shine!) — as the ageing greys around my hairline have been replaced by fresh, glossy coppery auburn hairs, the way my hair looked on my wedding day – my hair was like a shiny copper penny (it changes with my mood like any true redhead – asaspect that has definitely changed however – it’s just perma-shiny). Best of all, as it’s chemical-free, I’m pretty sure I can still claim to be a ‘natural’ redhead…
Best of all, as it’s chemical-free, I’m pretty sure I can still claim to be a ‘natural’ redhead…
Read why this 53 year old beauty editor isn’t ready to go grey just yet! over on thatsnotmyage.com