Strong + flexible + tough + soft = healthy looking hair.
A dear friend recently complimented me on my hair and requested I do a blog post on hair coloring for men. I’m not a man and my husband doesn’t die his hair, but hair is hair, right? And after all, any novelist (here’s more about the books I’m working on) worth their salt can imagine, no?
In my late teens, I hated my straight hair so much that I permed it. When my hair turned into something that looked like a cheap wig, I spent the next 10 years trying to fix it with chemical treatments that all looked like hell, hell, and more hell.
Enter color! It took a while to get the hang of, but when at long last I did, my hair became something other than either limp and greasy or fried and broken. Henna in particular gives it body and shine, and nourishes the hair and scalp.
Regardless of the type of hair, the way to avoid breakage and dullness is to steer clear of toxic chemicals (I try not to put anything on my scalp and skin that would kill me if I ate it) and heat. That means keeping to a minimum stuff like hairdryers and products with strong chemicals (the scalp takes in whatever we put on it almost as readily as our mouth membrane), including ammonia, peroxide, and alcohol. Sprays of any kind are iffy because they usually include alcohol. Moreover, they’re not so great for the lungs.
Buyer beware: “natural” doesn’t always mean what it should, so read the ingredients. This beauty site lists a bunch of places where you can analyze beauty products. Products don’t have to be pricey to be healthy.
Scalp and root care are as important as hair care. Our scalps easily absorb whatever we apply. Don’t over-stress follicles with excessive massaging and brushing.
- Hair is weakest and stretchiest when it’s wet, so gently comb it with a wide-toothed comb. If it’s too tangly to manage, detangling sprays can help.
- Warm to cool water, not hot, helps immensely. Think fluffy wintry cats and dogs, versus short haired ones that live in hotter climes.
Many men, of course at all, have shorter hair. If one ruins short hair, it grows out relatively quickly. Keep in mind that the longer one’s hair is, the more pummeling it gets when mistreated.
Hair Repair: Olive Oil
Lots of oils and conditioners are out there, but olive oil works wonders for me. Once a week or so, first thing in the morning, I don grubby clothes that I don’t mind getting stained, slather it on, then I go about my business (as long as it’s not the kind of business where I need to look presentable) for a couple of hours. It soaks in while I eat breakfast, write, clean my house, and talk on the phone. Then I shampoo it out.
Conditioner is also great for mending hair and can be used in place of shampoo.
Dyes in General
- What color to choose if you want to stay close to natural and are only covering grays or roots? To avoid looking artificial, first try a shade slightly lighter than your darkest strands. It’s easier and gentler to hair to darker over a mistakes than it is to go lighter, which is quite involved and can be damaging.
Everything requires gloves. Get any on your fingernails and be prepared to have to grow that tint out. Try to keep as much of them off your hairline so you don’t stain your face (some dyes stain worse than others). Many people apply a thick oil like vaseline to prevent their foreheads from getting marked.
I’ve dabbled with semi-permanent and permanent dyes. Again, read their ingredients or you’ll wind up with awful hair. Application for both is the usually same, always marked on their boxes: in a nutshell, leave it on for roughly 20 minutes, then wash it out.
Coloring: Root Touchups
These are meant more for covering what shows, i.e. temples and where you part your hair. They wash out immediately and come in many forms: sprays, crayons, powders, and mascaras. Check customer reviews so you don’t wind up one that rubs off onto hands and pillow cases.
Spray: A dear one recently mentioned they were wearing a spray. Even after they showed me, I couldn’t tell at all!
These are less likely to include harsh ingredients like ammonia, though read the ingredients. Depending on brand, color, and frequency used, they wash out in anywhere from a week to a couple of months. As a result, it’s easier to go back to natural, if that’s what you want. They fade gradually, as opposed to needing to be grown out, and the contrast between dyed hair and undyed roots is lessened.
By the way, semi-permanent tints also come as “coloring shampoos.” For the sake of this post, I tried two. Neither deposited any color I could see, though maybe it was just the type of hair I have? Worse, though, the one supposedly for men and with added conditioner made my scalp burn. When I shampooed the following day, after doing my best the following morning to make up for the abuse by applying olive oil and letting it sink in for several hours, there were quite a few more hairs than usual in my drain.
** NOTE: anything that results in hair loss and/or the sensation of burning and/or itching are to be avoided at all costs. Remember, scalp health is paramount.
These last longer, but depending on the brand (read the ingredients), they’re harder on the hair. Also, growing them out involves sporting the zebra look.
Natural Dyes: What I Use
Basic henna is what I use. Henna, a.k.a. lawsonia inermis, is powdered tree leaves. It’s cheap and I have yet to find that one brand is superior to another, so don’t be fooled by the expensive varieties. You can buy it by the box at most Indian and International grocery stores, or online in bigger bags, like I do.
If the package of henna doesn’t say only “natural henna” and lists a variety of colors, it has other stuff added to it. Beware that often those are as chemical-laden as commercial dyes.
Basic henna (which Wiki defines here) is a greenish powder that dyes coppery and translucent, meaning it shows the color of the hair beneath it, same as water colors reveal the color of papers they’re applied to. They stain coppery orange, as you can see at this site. The lighter the hair, the brighter the result. To tone down the orangy red, I continually experiment with adding stuff to it, which I’ll get to later.
The more frequently henna is applied, the richer and more permanent the color deepens. Hairdressers often warn against using it, because it can’t be bleached out if you don’t like it, though you can apply a darker dye over it.
The night before, I mix henna powder with olive oil (or inexpensive natural conditioner) and water. For my length of hair, I use four ounces of henna, one cup of cool (not hot) water, and roughly 2 tablespoons of olive oil. (From what I’ve read, unrefrigerated henna keeps its dying strength up to 12 hours.)
The trick is to stir in whatever liquid incrementally, so you can add enough that it’s not overly thick and stop before it’s too runny. You’ll be leaving it on your hair for a couple of hours, so you don’t want it driving you crazy by running down your neck and spilling into your eyes. Conversely, you don’t want it so pasty that you can’t spread it down to your roots.
Cover it and let it sit overnight. The dye is said to be “released,” when it turns extra dark in places. The next morning, scrape the sides of whatever container you use and give everything an extra stir.
Using an iron pot darkens henna, which is why I use this one intended for Korean cookery. The plastic shower cap I later use on my head protects the charming wooden lid, even though I use this pot only for henna.
To help it take better hold, I stir in a bit of acid, like lemon juice vinegar, or cream of tartar, which I buy in bulk at a fraction of the cost of small grocery store shakers.
Eucalyptus oil is said to stimulate hair growth. So are rosemary and thyme.
To offset the orange color, sometimes I add a couple tablespoons of cheap instant coffee granules (no need to waste the good stuff).
I haven’t tried it, but some people dye their hair simply by mixing instant coffee granules with conditioner, no henna, and letting that sink in.
This greenish powder from indigo, that Wiki defines here, leaves dyes blue-black. It was used to color the first jeans. It’s great for dampening the reddish hue of henna.
Indigo requires 10-20 minutes to get wet, but if you wait a lot longer, it loses its coloring ability.
First thing the following morning, I heap a couple of mounded tablespoons of indigo into a separate container. Sometimes I just stir it directly into the henna, but I think it stains better with this extra step. Dyes stain, so using plastic containers, like clean empties from yogurt, is a great way to recycle.
Applying the Henna Treatment
Wear something dark enough to not show stains and grubby enough to not bother you if it does stain.
In the bathroom, where I have enough mirrors to see the back of my head, I clothespin old bedsheets that I use as drop-cloths to prevent staining walls and floors. (Any messes that happen anyway are easily removed with a couple of drops of bleach.)
Dampening hair beforehand (I spray mine with a conditioning detangler) enables the henna to slide on easier and more thoroughly down the the roots.
Gloves on, I massage the henna into my scalp and through my hair. Then I cover it with the cheapest shower cap I can purchase in bulk. Wrapping keeps the henna moist and prevents brown smears on every wall I pass. For good measure, I tightly wrap a length of plastic wrap around my hairline and tape down the end to keep it from unraveling. With the protective film on, I continue to press the henna down to ensure it nourishes my scalp as it works.
Two hours or more later (I hear some people keep on henna overnight, though I haven’t tried it), after I’ve eaten breakfast, cleaned the house, done some writing, texted friends, etc., I’m ready to wash it out.
Rather than shampoo, I use conditioner, working it in and rinsing it twice, similar to how I use shampoo. For the sake of conditioning, though, I let the second application soak for several minutes. Then I rinse it in cool water until the water runs clear.
Use a darker towel to dry your hair, so you don’t have to worry about stains.
If you can help it, don’t shampoo for at least a couple of days, for the color to intensify over time.
Comment or leave a question and I’ll use it to update this blog post.