I used to be a complete horror for dyeing my hair until it all went tits up and I had to cut the whole lot off.
Traumatising stuff, I know.
So, having been dye-free since 2011 and shampoo-free since March 2015, I got to wondering if it was possible to lighten your hair naturally.
My hair had gotten pretty frazzled from using my rhassoul clay shampoo recipe for too long, but my low porosity hair can’t really tolerate oils, so finding a good no ‘poo deep conditioner was also high on my To Do list.
(By the way, I still maintain that rhassoul’s bloody amazing for getting through the waxy, greasy detox phase when you first go no ‘poo and well worth a look at for the short term.)
For more long-term shampoo solutions, I recently popped up a new no ‘poo-friendly shampoo recipe that uses shikakai/amla/neem and reetha powders which has been making my hair softer and stronger the longer I use it.
I’ve also popped up a quick guide to Ayurvedic herbs for hair and their uses for various hair woes, from dry and greasy to hair fall and preventing split ends.
If you’d like to know where I buy this stuff from, you can read my handy guide here.
Anyway, along with shikakai, amla, neem and reetha, I came across cassia obovata, or “neutral henna”. Grown in Egypt and Nubia, it’s used as a deep conditioner for hair, and you can add herbs to it to achieve a very subtle, natural lightening effect.
So I grabbed a packet of cassia powder along with some enormous bags of chamomile flowers and dried lemon peel (the juice itself is meant to be too drying on your hair) and got stuck in.
Did “blonde henna” recipes using cassia and chamomile actually lighten my hair?
The first few times I used my concoction, it actually did lighten my hair by bringing out some of my natural highlights and adding strength and shine.
It didn’t make any drastic changes, so nobody besides me or Graeme really noticed it, but whatever, I was only after a bit of shine and highlighting so I took it as a victory.
Been #nopoo for nearly 17 months now, rhassoul clay + apple cider vinegar was a little too acidic and made my hair static so recently I switched to shikakai and reetha powders mixed with rose water, with the odd cassia obovata deep conditioning treatment🌹 this is my hair unstraightened, it seems a bit calmer than before and I get 3 days out of it before it gets greasy 🙌🏼💚🌿
So don’t be expecting miracles or anything, this really is more of a long-term hair strengthening strategy than a quick dye job.
I guess you could throw in some diluted hydrogen peroxide if you were determined to make your own lightening concoction but I’m not nearly brave enough to risk it, and I’d advise extreme caution if you look into it yourself.
And does cassia and amla actually deep condition my hair?
Since I first started doing cassia and chamomile/lemon peel tea treatments, I’ve incorporated amla (which I also use in my shampoo mix). Also known as the Indian gooseberry, it is apparently a “superfood” for hair.
Known as a conditioner, amla is also a dandruff-buster, hair fallout preventer and generally an all-round nice guy of a plant that nourishes your hair and gives it shine.
Lately I’ve been using cassia and amla mixed with rose water to condition my hair and it’s definitely been a lot softer – not that you can tell from this grainy selfie with unstraightened hair but honestly, you’ll feel a difference.
TO BE honest it seems that all of these Ayurvedic ingredients – shikakai, reetha, cassia, amla, neem and more – can be used interchangeably.
They’re all incredibly nourishing, as are the many different floral waters you could mix them with – I would just say to experiment, see what works for your hair, and have fun with them!
No ‘poo deep conditioning recipe with cassia obovata and amla – highlighting ingredients optional
Right, let’s get to it. You wanna start making this deep conditioning treatment either 20 minutes before you plan to stick it in your hair or, if highlighting, 8-12 hours (that’s right, hours).
You’ll then need to allow 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours for application, sitting on your arse while the excess drips down your neck, and rinsing.
I’m pretty lucky in that I have no kids and a lot of time to devote to my hobbies (eating and being a hippie guinea pig, mostly), but with a bit of planning I’m sure you’ll manage to squeeze in some time 😉
You will need:
- Bowl and spoon (nothing metal, only use materials like wood, ceramic, glass or plastic)
- 2 tbs cassia obovata powder
- 2 tbs amla powder
- Boiled water (or rose water/any floral water that agrees with your hair)
- Optional: 1 tbs olive oil (for even deeper conditioning)
- Shower cap
- Shampoo (can be your own recipe or bottled)
- 1 tbs chamomile flowers
- 1/2 tbs lemon peel
- Boiled water
- A cafetière/teapot/sieve – something to use as a strainer
- Plate or tea towel
1. If you’re highlighting, grab your cafetière/teapot and fling in the chamomile flowers and/or lemon peel and cover with boiled water, letting it steep for 5-10 minutes before pressing/sieving.
You don’t need a massive amount of water, I never measure it and always make too much.
If you’re not highlighting, just pop the kettle on/get your floral water ready.
2. Measure out enough cassia and amla powders to cover your hair into a bowl – this is difficult to judge at first and it’s going to be really individual to you based on your hair length and thickness, so don’t get too pissed off if you cock it up the first few times.
3. Stir your chamomile and lemon peel “tea” or floral water into the powder bit by bit until you have a yoghurt consistency.
Add a glug of olive oil or any organic cold-pressed vegetable oil at this point if you like (oils can be a pain to wash out with no ‘poo methods if you use them neat but I find a little bit in a cassia/amla mix makes it a lot easier to manage and adds a nice bit of added softness).
4. If highlighting, cover your bowl with something like a tea towel or a plate and leave for 8-12 hours to let the colour “develop” – or longer if you forget about it, doesn’t really matter.
If you’re not highlighting, the amla just needs to sit for up to 30 minutes before application.
5. When you’re ready to get jiggy with it, drench your hair, squeeze out the excess water and then work the mixture through your hair from the roots to the tips. Cassia smells kind of smoky/ashy, don’t worry about that.
6. Pop a shower cap over your hair, clean up your face (and shoulders … hands … bathroom … ohgodhowdiditgetontheceiling), wrap an old shitty towel around your shoulders and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour.
6.1. Enjoy the drips running down your neck.
7. Rinse rinse rinse, using a shampoo if needed – I usually use my skikakai/amla/neem and reetha shampoo recipe but sometimes I don’t even need it. If your barnet feels like a birds’ nest and it’s just not shifting you’ll want to try using conditioner to wash it out – I once used Graeme’s low ‘poo conditioner in the early days and it worked wonders.
8. Air dry and ta daaaa, your hair will look maybe a tiny bit different, but it’ll be stronger and softer with regular use so, to me, it’s worth the faff whether I’m highlighting or not.
Sho soft, sho unshtraightened