Henna, Hair Loss, and Unnecessary Panic


I’ve been known among my friends and family for being adamantly opposed to most beauty products. I rarely if ever use make-up, maybe three times last year. I haven’t colored my hair since the one and only attempt I had in ninth grade. I don’t use wax, favoring threading. I pay big bucks for all natural glycerin based shampoos over the common sodium lauryl sulfate versions. I even spend $11 per tube of toothpaste for my fluoride free calendula toothpaste. And my gums, roots, and pores have never been happier.

So it is completely out of character to pursue the following silly activity of attempting hair coloring. Since moving from the deep south to the far north, I’ve knocked about four hours of sunlight out of my day in addition to having much lower exposure even during the few remaining hours of sunlight thanks to the overwhelming cloud cover. I have had natural blonde hair my entire life. Beautiful natural highlights have always graced these locks. So, I didn’t know what to do with myself when suddenly my hair looks brown with a lackluster dull appearance. And where did my highlights go?! I still have a nice golden touch to my skin, but my hair has always been by pride and joy. And suddenly, I don’t recognize myself with these light brown strands falling on my shoulders.

This leads to me to the heart of the story, henna hair color. I am so opposed to chemicals and hair dyes, even bleaching. I surprised myself after purchasing an “all natural” hair color based on henna. I thought I was safe. Of course, being a person not fond of directions (except the IKEA kind, they’ve proven themselves necessary) I just went ahead and applied to whole bottle to my fifteen inch long hair. I felt a mild tingle to my scalp, something I thought to be a typical side effect. Tea-tree shampoo even does this, so why worry?

Then I rinsed it and followed the directions to apply conditioner, which resulted in a burning sensation. I felt a little unhappy about this new development, but didn’t worry too much. That was, until I rinsed out the conditioner and about a months worth of hair brushing hair loss exposed itself in about three minutes. My hair was falling out in clumps. Freaking out does not do the scene justice. More like rocking in a corner like an insane asylum veteran is probably closer to the image you might have witnessed had you been here. The picture of a bald cancer patient would not leave my mind. After, pacing my apartment for about twenty minutes, I finally brought myself to Google this.

BAD IDEA #1!!!! I found pages about people who had severe allergic reactions to henna that resulted in days of agony, itching, and burning pain that resulted in severe hair loss. And immediately, the somewhat already severe panic I was suffering, turned into complete utter ridiculous idiocy. It didn’t take long before I was on the phone with poison control.

I made this guy’s night. He looked up the product I used and assured me that no severe reactions could be associated and all the ingredients were completely safe. Then he went on to question why my zip code was not in accordance to my cell phone’s area code.  I explained that I moved about two months ago. He asked if I knew that people in my region were subject to a lack of vitamin D. I had heard a thing or two about this, but never thought much of it. Did I also know that this takes about 60 days to take effect? Is it any wonder that day 60 in my new home takes place this upcoming Sunday? Oh, and had I been under any uncommon stresses? Um, does moving across a country and breaking up with a long term relationship, graduating college, and finding a new job count as uncommon stress? I was informed that under high stress circumstances hair loss can occur between 30-60 days after the major stress is introduced and especially if it is ongoing.

The next part is probably what made me feel the most silly about my poison control call. “Did you brush your hair before using the product as it recommends?” Why yes I did. “Do you normally brush your hair before shampooing and showering?” Um, no, I don’t. “Do you normally lose hair in your hair brush when its dry?” Um, yes, I do. “Would you mind brushing your hair to see if this is a typical amount?” So, I brushed my hair, and almost no hair came out at all.

The rather kind man on the other end of the phone at poison control informed me that my hair loss is probably due to brushing my hair before the shower, which is not something I would normally do. In addition, people in my new zip code are subject to vitamin D deficiency that can cause some hair loss problems. He also mentioned that stress can cause additional hair loss. After adding that he lives with his wife and three teenage daughter and still feels like they must have skinned an animal after all the hair they lose in the shower, he believes that I’m 100% okay. At the end of the call he thanked me for lightening his night. (You are welcome?)

It’s good to know that I’m a hypochondriac at worst and a completely healthy individual at best. (Of course by health, I imply physical health, it would seem mental health is in question.) As for Henna, it remains a safe alternative to chemical hair colors. As for me, I’m going to return to my general rule of avoiding beauty products, natural or not.


7 responses »

  1. I was losing so much hair last fall! The water I had been using to wash it had a lot of chemicals in it, so I switched to bottled water, and things seemed to get better. It’s so disturbing to brush your hair after a shower and see clumps coming out.

  2. That would freak me out too! But at least the poison control guy was nice about it.

    A few years ago I hennaed my hair a few times. I kind of like the earthy smell of it, and I liked how it gave my hair a reddish glow. Then one time I left the henna in for way to long and it basically turned my hair kind of orange, and I’ve been hesitant to use it since, although I still trust it as a product. But when I ask hairdressers about it they always tell me how terrible it is– “it will make your hair fall out” I guess they say that because henna and chemical hair dyes don’t interact well and that usually causes problems. Better to deter someone from using henna if you don’t know if they have dyed their hair with chemical dye in the past.

    The northeast can be pretty bad with overcast skys as well (although not as bad as the northwest!) good luck with getting sufficient Vitamin D… according to wikipedia various fish oils could help, and eggs, and UV-irradiated mushrooms and yeast 🙂

  3. That definitely sounds scary! On my last hair appointment, my hairdresser said it looked like I had lost some hair, presumably due to the insane stress of dealing with our apartment situation. Thick hair has always been the one thing my body could do well and reliably, so it’s disappointing. It’s not to the point that I’ve noticed anything unusual (I always brush my hair before the shower or else there’s so much loose hair I can’t function), but she said there was unusual new hair growth (I’ve been going to her for over 3 years) and told me to start using my husband’s anti-hair loss shampoo. Glad mine wasn’t as dramatic as yours, though. 🙂

    • Wow!!! That’s scary. You should try the LHC(long hair community). They have lots of info about natural hair care for any type of hair. I recently tried a black henna I bought at an Indian market and stained my bathtub blue with the indigo that was in it to counteract the red from the henna. I don’t really know why though. I haven’t died my hair in six years and I love my hair color. I don’t know if you are in the NE or NW but if you are in the NW I would recommend taking supplement for D3. I use sun drops myself. Have you tried making your own hair wash from soap nuts? They have been using them in India for hair forever and it is very clarifying while not being too harsh. In Indian groceries it is called Aritha or reetha powder. You can also use them for laundry, dishes, and general household cleaning. It just seems like something you might be interested in trying based on the general feel of your blog. I really admire your convictions in trying to lessen your carbon footprint. And as for being a hypochondriac I say better safe than sorry. :0) I believe lemons are supposed to bring out the highlights in your hair a little more naturally too.

  4. You didn’t buy real henna. These ‘based on henna’ things always have harmful compounds.
    You should only always buy Body-art quality, real, leaf powder henna.

  5. I really was losing my hair thanks to a new allergy to hair dye. Body quality henna actually makes your hair in better condition.

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