As promised in part 1 of this blog post, I am going to describe how to use henna to help camouflage white vitiligo patches. I discovered that this works quite well as a safe, chemical-free self-tan when I started to use it to colour my hair. I had used mainstream, chemical-based hair dyes and self-tans for decades before I realised that the very products I was using to camouflage my vitiligo were almost certainly contributing to my de-pigmentation by causing oxidative stress and irritation. Chemical hair dyes always used to make my scalp sting whenever I applied them and they used to leave itchy, raised bumps afterwards that never really went away between applications. Self-tans have never produced these reactions but they do share some equally undesirable ingredients that I would recommend vitiligo sufferers avoid.
So, nowadays, every time I dye my hair I use natural henna bricks from Lush and simply use up the residue to stain the remaining few mottled areas of skin. It must be said that the process is a little messy and would not be suitable for a full-body tan (unless you were willing to stand up in a tiled room for 2 hours waiting for it to develop!) but it’s fine for small areas like hands and feet.
There are currently three colour choices – marron (quite a red chestnut brown), brun (a darker brunette) and noir (black). A certain amount of experimentation may be required to achieve the colour you like best and you can custom-blend two or all three together. The only thing you can’t do with 100% natural henna, of course, is go lighter than your natural hair colour. But, since we are talking about camouflaging white hair and vitiligo patches, that’s not really a problem.
Lush provide good instructions on how to use their henna bricks and they provide protective gloves (surgical-style ones). These come in useful if you want to camouflage white patches on your hands… I will explain how in a moment. My local branch even gave me a free sample of their Ultrabalm (a natural alternative to petroleum jelly) to protect the hairline during the colouring process.
Preparation of the henna is quite straightforward. You simply chop up the brick into smallish pieces, put them into a heat resistant bowl in a pan of very hot water (a “Bain Marie”, basically) and add some more very hot water from the kettle. Then you stir and add enough hot water until you achieve the consistency and glossy appearance of thick hot chocolate. This henna product does contain cocoa butter so it actually smells a little more like chocolate and (mercifully) a little less like henna!
Using the mixture while it is still as hot as you can safely bear, you then systematically part your hair and apply the henna in exactly the same way as you would if you were using a chemical dye, making sure you coat every hair from tip to root. Of course you wear the gloves provided and can use either a brush or fingertips to apply the product. If you want to maximise the red tones in the henna wrap your hair in cling film or a shower cap. Alternatively, if you want a darker, browner shade leave it to develop without covering.
Once I have finished dying my hair, I then clean and dry the gloves and apply the remaining henna mixture to the white patches on my hands and tops of my feet (these are the only areas of vitiligo I still have left after re-pigmenting). I then wrap cling film over my feet (this always strikes me as one of the weirdest things a person can do!) and very carefully pull the gloves back on over my henna-painted hands. You could leave your skin uncovered if you want to avoid the self-tan being too red. But, since I naturally have auburn hair, I don’t mind this. The main reason for covering up hands and feet is so that I can then get on with doing whatever I want to do around the house for the next two hours while the colour develops.
After a couple of hours you then shower and shampoo in the usual way. Henna will leave your hair really glossy and in great condition because it actually coats and protects each hair. However, be warned that during application and when rinsing out afterwards it will feel as if you have caked your head in a pile of gritty horse manure… don’t worry – everything will feel fine once you have thoroughly washed the henna out!
A henna hair colour will last as long as it takes for the colour to grow out (just like a chemical dye) and the effect on the skin when used as a self-tan is several days – maybe a week (again, similar to a chemical-based product). Results will obviously vary according to your original hair and skin colour and according to the shade or shades of henna you use. But then, half the fun is experimenting… feel free to send me photos of your results!
A vitiligo blogger since 2011. My name is Caroline. I had vitiligo for nearly 50 years before finding an effective treatment. I created this blog to share my experiences with others affected by this skin condition.