Reader Question: Can henna cause grey hair?

Q: Bianca is in her mid thirties and has recently noticed several grey (gray) hairs after a henna application. She asks could henna be causing the grey hair?

A: In short it is unlikely. Henna is a dye that works by depositing onto the outside of hair. It is not known to affect the inner cortex where hair colour originates. It is also not known to affect the hair follicle. The usual colour effect as a result of henna on lightly coloured hair is within the yellow, orange and red region. If your hair is darker then the effect is much less noticeable.

Scientists are doing a lot of research into exactly what causes grey hair. It appears that it is hereditary and race has something to do with it. The average age of grey hair onset in White people is mid thirties, Asian* people start a little later in their late thirties and the latest onset is mid forties for Africans (Journal of Investigative Dermatology pg 13-21, 2005).

Additional reading - All the previous posts that I have done covering details from how henna works to the curl loosening theories - click here!

*The word Asian was substituted here for Oriental. I do not consider the word Oriental to be inappropriate/politically incorrect. One reader did consider it to be and Asian as the more appropriate word so it is now substituted. I did a little bit of research and found that the word Oriental is widely used in Britain and is not considered to be racist or culturally insensitve. I have even found that there are many Universities currently with Schools or Faculties of Oriental studies - This includes Oxford. I am happy to have an open discussion on this, feel free to give your input.


  1. Thank you so much for taking the time and doing reseach on my question JC. I really apreciate it and it also helped me a lot.


  2. Interesting to learn that race may have something to do with how quickly you go gray. I saw my first gray hair in my late 30s but haven't seen that many more since...and I'm about to officially enter my mid-40s. When my mother cut off her colored processed hair and went natural at age 49 her hair was definitely salt-and-pepper.

    If you haven't addressed this question already, I'd love to hear your take on this: Why does some gray hair grow in a different texture? Some of mine are wavy-straight...they're really messing up my 'fro! lol

  3. @Anon - Thanks for the comment. While researching this question I did find a paper that describes changes to the hair follicle due to grey hair. They described that the cells that produce colour known as melanocytes (melano in reference to melanin and cytes meaning cells - therefore melanin producing cells) are reduced in number.

    The reduction in number is thought to be in part at least related to changes in the hair follicle. Previous work has reported that the shape of the hair follicle determines the shape of the hair cell. Consequently, hair texture would be affected by the age related changes in the follicle.

    The journal just for reference is (FASEB Journal pg 1567-1569, 2006)

  4. Sorry let me rephrase that initial statement - the paper describes changes to the hair follicle when comparing grey hair and hair with colour on the same head.

  5. I have henna'd 3 times...My hair has always been dark, dark black and the henna really made no difference. I know the henna took because my curl pattern is significantly looser (yes, that was the point, please don't throw cyber chairs at me). I also still have dye stain on each of my fingernails from the rinse phase of my last henna(10 days ago). If you feel like henna had some lightening effect, make sure you are using PURE henna. I've seen indian grocery stores selling mixtures of henna and amla and/or other herbs.

  6. Thanks for the information! I'm new to the site and am learning a lot. Just a cultural note, though, "oriental" is not a politically correct or culturally sensitive way to describe Asian people, only things made in Asia. The word to describe the different races/cultures of that region is "Asian".

  7. Thanks for the comment anon - In British English the word oriental is not considered offensive or culturally insensitive. We even have Universities with Schools of Oriental and African studies.

    I appreciate your comment and perspective. At this point I will leave the post as it is and let it be an open discussion.

  8. I Think Asians, not Europeans should be the source of reference and asked how they feel about being called Oriental. I been told by my Asian friends that oriental is refering to an object, i.e. a vase or rug. While Asian refers to a person.

  9. Thanks for your comment anon. On that subject I asked the same question to two other relevant sources. One is my friend who refers to herself as Oriental (she is Chinese) and second to a blogger who has immersed herself in Asian culture and has many Japanese friends.

    It really appears to me that the word is not offensive as a rule. Many people of Asian origin are quite comfortable with it and usually use it to distinguish between Indo region (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh) and Japan-China region who are all Asian.

    The problem usually arises when people use a word in an abusive context. For example I identify myself as a black woman and have no issues with the word but I have seen programs on TV where people say 'that black man' in a derogatory sense. It is quite clear from the tone that the word black is used to abuse rather than identify.

    So my opinion (and I stress my opinion) is that the word is not offensive but some people do use it to offend.

  10. I think "Oriental" is not a suitable word when referring to human beings who are Asian. Oriental studies pertain to culture, history, etc. of Asian people. I, as an Asian, would prefer being described as Asian but if you feel that there is nothing wrong with calling human beings Oriental I guess that's your right, even if it is hurtful.

  11. Anon, I find it baffling that it is fine to refer to Asian studies as Oriental studies but it is not fine to do the same in regards to people. Can you please eyplain why?

    What does the word Oriental mean to you?

  12. Great article and thanks for the information though I can't take ethnicity-based factors on graying (and many other subjects) seriously. We live in 2010 with ongoing, large-scale hybridity of human beings around the world which has happened for centuries. Sometimes these studies over-emphasize race by assuming White, Black and Yellow (deliberate color pun) ancestry happened and continues to happen in some ethnic vacuum.

    I think questions regarding weather patterns, geography, diet and rate/frequency/methods of possible toxic interference are more interesting to studies.

    In the U.S., Americans of Asian descent have denounced the term oriental as racist and has been recognized as so institutionally and socially for at least 30 years. In France 'Oriental' still seems to be institutionally popular though the term 'Negre' (n.....) as slang for a ghostwriter is still used in France as well.

    I'm Black and I hate the word Oriental as anything but an artistic period/style because the term was specifically used and applied then to that period. Oriental is the equivalent of Negro and it makes Americans cringe. Oriental, Negro, Red Indian are all terms that were used freely and considered benign race-ethnic applications but are now generally recognized as antiquated and with bigoted connotations that are difficult to separate from any initial meaningfulness the word may have had.

    I also agree that simply because political and social institutions (U.K., or U.S. government or schools) continue to use certain terminology doesn't make them morally and socially wrong for doing so.

    But that's why international blogs are great because these cross-cultural dynamics can be identified and made visible to others who may not know, these concerns can then be fleshed out, and discussed where hopefully they evolve.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Commenter Vashty - Your comment has been deleted on consideration. I appreciate part of it and therefore will highlight that section. The reference to a book called 'Orientalism' which is supposed to discuss the use of the word oriental in the context of meaning 'eastern'.

  15. Err Oriental is mostly used for objects from the far east that's probably why it's called Oriental Studies. Oriental is the most neolithic word used (when compared to the words White and African) in that study so there's probably some unfortunate implications there as well.

    My Asian friends (obviously biased) get terribly offended by the use of the word Oriental for people. And I think a person from that culture would know more than a text book study. For example, Mongoloid Disease used to be the proper way of talking about someone with Down Syndrome... And n****r brown was an actual way to describe colors.

    So yeah. Haha just so you know! Some people might not be offended, but unless you're apart of that race or culture I wouldn't use it the reasoning "but it's in the book" as a valid reason. It just kinda steps over the toes of people who actually have to deal with the word and its implications.

    Anyways, Tchau meu linda!

  16. Hello,
    I think Oriental and its meaning when it comes to people or cultures should not be used at any cost.

    First: this term doesn't really have a stable meaning Ex: from a Japanese point of view "Orientals" i.e. people of the Est, would be Americans.:) Do you see how relative it is?

    Second: and this is what I have a real problem with, it is precisely defining people from a European (and their diaspora) point of view. Ex: I am almost sure for an Australian oriental people do not include Australians, even if Australia is like the farthest in the Est to Europe. lol

    So you see it's all a question of reference in identifying people. Even if it has become part of current speech or element of description in specified research fields, or in art, etc. it doesn't change anything.
    It's still describing hundreds of different people and cultures under one word with a european point of view as center reference.

    Last: when you add the ideas, or fantasies, or stereotypes attached to it throughout the decades(eroticism, kung fu, amongst others); the very eurocentric essence of this word, then its conotations, make it a real NO GO for me. The term Asian is more neutral since it refers to the land.

    I think this term is insulting and sustaining questionable ideas and bad colonial heritage. I am not even Asian but I feel a slight irritation/discomfort when it's used. I am Afro-Caribbean.

    Of course this is just my opinion.

    Thanks for the great discussion.
    Peace. :)

  17. Oriental should be used to describe objects, like an oriental rug or painting, but when referring to a group of people, Asian should be used. It doesn't matter that you can find a few people that don't mind. It's like using the word Negro to describe an African-American or black person.


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