Henna Head

I know it’s going to be a good day when I wake up to Bruno Mars’s Treasure and get to dance in my underwear, serenading my reflection in the mirror. “Gimme your, gimme your, gimme your attention, baby,” I sing to myself, “I gotta tell you a little something about yourself (self, self). You’re wonderful, flawless–ooooh–you a sexy lady…” And so on. Say what you will about pop music. Sometimes there’s nothing better.

I’ve been feeling particularly good about what I see in the mirror lately because I recently took the plunge into the world of henna. With all my friends making positive changes in their lives–starting grad school, relationships, globetrotting adventures–I was feeling a little left out. Let’s face it. I’m not one to take initiative and kick my life into gear. The very thought of taking another standardized test for a degree I’m not sure I even care about, of letting myself fall in love again or hitting the open road, makes me break out in nervous hives.

But last week, I decided to do something. [sounds of shock & awe]

Anyone who knows me at all had probably been hearing about my plans to dye my hair with henna since September. Anyone who knows me also probably knows that, despite all my optimistic aspirations, I am just about the worst DIY-er on the face of the planet. So please don’t be disappointed when I tell you that after literally months of constant research and about seven almost purchases, I finally decided on the easy way out.

That’s right. I went to LUSH.

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This is a before shot (from May 2013), because so many henna blogs **don’t** include this.

I don’t really have much to say about LUSH as a store. Aside from the giant family-sized bottles of cheap bubble bath I sometimes buy from the drug store, I don’t really care about luxury hygiene goods. When I’m buying shampoo, I’d like it to smell good and cost less than $3. The same goes for conditioner, but I’ll spend up to $4 on that. I buy Dr. Bronner’s more because it’s cheap and less because it’s good for you. Sometimes, if a label is purple, I might put down a few extra bucks because purple.  But, anyway, just because I think a lot of its products are frivolous doesn’t mean that LUSH is a bad store. The people who came in seemed to really like the products, and the staff were very helpful to those first-timers like me. In short: not my scene, but not overly unpleasant.

What is cool about LUSH is that they will apply the henna for you. If you’re confident enough to walk out of the mall wearing about forty pounds of plant mush in your hair, wrapped up in a bag, then, yes: LUSH is a godsend. Thankfully, a) I have no shame, and b) the closest store was in Beachwood, about an hour from where I live in Oberlin. (Note: I do know upwards of two people who live in the Cleveland Heights area, and I did run into one of them, but that was before I became a henna head. Crisis averted.) Overall, my distaste for a few minutes of embarrassment was much lower than my distaste for spending a frustrating 30+ minutes trying to apply it myself at home. So, again, I have to apologize. If you are looking for an instruction guide, this is not the place to look. Yeah, yeah. I’m terrible.

I may not have step-by-step instructions, but here are a few things about my experience with henna that might help you decide whether or not you want to give it a go:

1) Like I said, LUSH will apply the henna for you. That basically requires picking one of their varieties and sitting there for about an hour, talking to a bunch of strangers, and getting stared at by anyone who walks into the store. I was nervous, but I took it in stride. “Mama,” a young boy said, trying to stifle his giggles, “that girl has poop on her head.”  (Note: It really does look like poop.) I scooped some up and pretended to lick it. I mean, if you’re putting poop on your head, you might as well have fun with it. Thankfully the weather had been weird enough and traffic screwed up enough that small talk, which was my biggest fear and why I hate getting my hair cut, was easy as pie. What bothered me most was that it felt like calling my Internet provider. Before I can get any help with my actual WiFi problem, I have to go through about 20 minutes of their special offers. Before I could leave the shop, they’d tried to sell me ten different kinds of natural, color-safe shampoos. No thanks.

2) Because my hair was just below shoulder length, they anticipated it would only take half a block of henna…until they felt my hair. It’s not long, but it’s obscenely thick for how fine the strands are. My hair is a walking paradox. Maybe yours is too? Protip: make more henna than you think you need because, apparently, you can always freeze the extra and use it later.

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3) I chose the Caca Rouge, which is said to give the reddest color. Henna, because it isn’t a chemical dye, acts more as a tint than an actual dye. It’s also rather unpredictable. Through my research, I estimated three possible outcomes. From best to worst, they were as follows: my hair would turn a bright shocking orange, my hair would turn a dark auburn, nothing would change. Depending on your hair, they really don’t recommend starting with the Rouge. They have a darker version, Caca Marron, which they say yields auburn. But, not trusting that my hair was light enough to get red even with the Rouge, I went for it.

4) It is a mess. Clumps drop to the floor when you’re applying it to your head, and it’s not easy to apply without getting it on your ears/neck/forehead, so be sure to use Vaseline or some sort of balm as a barrier! You’re not done though, because then you have to wash it out, and it is literally (this is your warning, stop reading now!!!) like someone is pooping on your head. At first there are large clumps of henna that fall out, and then there is just brown water running all down your naked body. Because LUSH uses other things in their mix (like coconut and coffee grounds), it can get a little gritty. I had a bit of a laughing melt down in my friend’s shower as this was happening, but I pulled through. (And it’s kinda hilarious?) I read somewhere that it takes about three bottles of conditioner to get it out of your hair, but I barely used half of one. Or, since math can be misleading without full disclosure, I used about half of a family sized bottle. So, I guess, I used one regular bottle. In any case, not as much as I had anticipated. But, yeah, the shower was necessarily in need of maintenance when I finished. Beware!

5)  The LUSH instructions say to leave it on your head for 4 hours, but I would recommend leaving it longer, especially if you have hair like mine. I had planned on leaving it for about 6 hours, but you know what they say about plans… The henna is extremely heavy. I think it magnified my already big hair by a factor of eleven. I’m an Irish dancer. I grew up wearing wigs that weighed more than I did. I thought everyone who had said this online was a big fat wimp. I was wrong. Add the heaviness to my own impatience, and I could only make it 5 hours before I rushed to my friend’s house to do the deed. If I had been smart, I would have left it on overnight, but I had work the next day and I didn’t want to have a crisis in the morning. In any case, I ended up pleasantly surprised!

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6) A note about the color: It is like wearing a mood ring. I swear it’s different every time I look in the mirror, depending on the light. When I wake up in the morning, it’s chestnut red and I’m on cloud nine. When I take mirror breaks (yes, these are a thing now) at work, it’s either a dark, wine-y color or the same as it was before my 5 hour ordeal, which is sad. At the bar, it changes depending on where I sit. It’s also so subtle no one really has noticed. Which, initially, was disappointing. My expectation was that I would either turn into a bona fide Hottie McHotterson, adored by everyone in my small town, or I would be utterly revolting and people would leave me alone long enough that I could enter a healthy relationship with myself. Neither of these things happened. The people who were attracted to me before, are still attracted to me (or, if they aren’t, I’m guessing it has nothing to do with my hair, and that’s a whole other blog post!).  When it comes down to it, expecting a dye job to drastically alter my personality and the commitment-phobia of those around me was a little optimistic. Overall, I am extremely pleased with the results.

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Ok, ok. I’m clearly obsessed with my hair right now. But, look at it! 😀

LUSH is not BAQ (body art quality) henna, so I’m not even going to try calling myself an expert. I didn’t mix anything. I didn’t do a strand test. I didn’t wear gloves and cry as I watched myself smear poop into my hair. I paid more than I probably should have. But I do still smell like it, so there’s always that. It was fun, and I’m glad I finally jumped in and found the right henna experience for me.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes, if you are just as bored with your life as I am, put in the same amount of intensive research, brag to enough friends that you’d be just as embarrassed if you didn’t do it than if you did and it ended badly, think poop is funny, and have committed to change.

Will I do it again? Probably. It’s a little expensive at LUSH, so I might try BAQ henna next time. Then again, I expect the color to last a few months, so maybe paying just under $30 a few times a year wouldn’t be so bad. We will have to see…

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