Brief History of Henna for Hair

It is believed that henna has been used as a cosmetic hair dye for 6,000 years. For example, in Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra and Nefertiti were known to have used it. Other references to henna include:

  • Indian court records from around 400 CE (Auboyer, 2002)
  • In Spain during Convivencia (Fletcher, 1992)
  • Listed in the medical texts of the Ebers Papyrus (16th c BCE Egypt) (Bryan et al, 1974)
  • Listed as a medicinal herb by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (14th c CE (Syria and Egypt) (translated by Johnstone)

In Europe, in the 1880s red hair was popular among women connected to the aesthetic movement and Pre-Raphaelite artists of England in the 1800s. Dante Gabriel Rosetti‘s wife and muse, Elizabeth Siddal, had naturally bright red hair, and was often portrayed in ways that emphasised the beauty of her hair. Other women used henna to achieve similar red tones, and to reduce the impact of greying hair, including opera singer Adelina Patti and Parisian courtesan Cora Pearl.

Lucille Ball is credited with popularising ‘henna rinses’ through her character, Lucy Ricardo, on the television show I Love Lucy in the 1950, and henna continued to rise in popularity through the 1960s through a growing interest in Eastern cultures (Sherrow, 2006).

In Islam, Henna is considered a ‘sunnah’, or something auspicious. Following the tradition of their prophet Mohammed, Muslims also use henna as a dye for their hair and for the beards of men (it is said that Mohammed dyed his beard with henna).

Now, commercially packaged henna for hair is popular in many countries throughout the Eastern and Western world.

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