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Back to your roots

(Article published in Wellness Magazine November 2015)

Fancy some squashed tadpoles and goat fat smeared on your hair?  Not very appealing.  If we were living in the Middle Ages or Ancient Egypt when these hair dye ingredients were commonly used, we would just have to grin and bear it.

Our ancestors also experimented with equally unpleasant chemical dyes.  In the early 1600’s people were lightening their hair with “Oyle of Vitrioll”, otherwise known as sulfuric acid, and ancient Greeks and Romans mixed lead oxide and calcium hydroxide to make black hair dye. When the lead proved too toxic the recipe was changed to incorporate fermented leeches!

Thankfully, there was also experimentation with plant extracts and 5000 years ago Egyptians and Indians were using a variety of botanical extracts to dye and condition their hair, including henna, indigo, amla, shikakai, turmeric and alfalfa. The ancient Babylonians believed that henna had magical properties and attracted good spirits. The plant was widely regarded as a symbol of good luck and health and was used to adorn the hair and skin in celebrations.

Henna (Lawsonia inermis), indigo (Indigofera tinctoria), amla (Emblica officinalis) and shikakai (Acacia concinna) are still in use today as effective hair dyes, hair conditioners and as Ayurvedic treatments. It is now becoming more widely known that these plants not only colour and condition hair but also benefit the whole body.  Perhaps the Babylonians were not far wrong.

Henna maintains the acid-alkaline balance of the scalp which helps to eliminate dandruff, itchiness and premature hair loss.  It binds to the keratin protein in hair and colours hair by coating each strand in a protective film. This seals and repairs the hair cuticle, reducing breakage and giving hair a lovely shine.

Henna is not only good for hair though, it can be used to cool burns and sooth ringworm, eczema and fungal infections. An oil made from henna flowers is used in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve muscle aches, and the seeds are used in deodorants and to regulate menstruation.

Indigo is also a well-known herb in Ayurvedic treatments.  It has been used for centuries to treat depression, respiratory problems and to detoxify the liver. Modern research has shown that a tincture of indigo helps to remove carbon tetrachloride, found in cleaning agents and aerosols, from the liver. A paste made from the leaves helps heal sores and ulcers.

When henna and indigo are used together, they dye hair in rich shades of red to black.

Amla contains high levels of vitamin C and A as well as essential fatty acids.  It promotes hair growth, helps to prevent dandruff and makes hair shiny and smooth. Shikakai is anti-fungal, balances the pH of the scalp and makes hair glossy.

When it comes to dying our hair, going back to our roots has many advantages.  Whether or not we choose to believe that using henna attracts good luck and health, there can be no doubt that using plant extracts to dye and condition our hair not only nourishes our hair, it also helps to reduce the chemical load on our bodies and the environment. This can only bring good health!