The History of Henna and Hair

Most discussions of henna begin with a statement such as, “the history of henna is lost in the swirling mists of time,” often as a preface to ‘henna originated in MY culture, and my culture has the only TRUE henna heritage.’ Cultural claims are important to the identity of cultures, and the fervor of belief in them is genuine. Henna has been around for a long time, and is well integrated into many cultures. There may be many discoveries, origins, independent and later entangled developments of the cultures of henna. Click on the the images and links in this section to learn more about the complex subject of the history of henna.

  • Theoretical use of henna in prehistory
  • Henna in Ancient Egypt
  • Henna in the Ebers Papyrus
  • The Evolution and Migration of Henna into Cultural Practices
  • Henna, Astronomy, and the Agro-Ecology of the Mediterranean Bronze Age
  • Evidence of henna in the wall paintings of 1600 BCE lustral basin in Xeste III prior to the Santorini eruption
  • Artifacts showing markings consistent with a bride with hennaed hands in depictions of women in the Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean
  • Henna in Mycenae at the End of the Bronze Age
  • Evaluating claims of ancient henna use and searching for origins
  • Henna and Mesopotamia
  • Henna, conquest, and change following the collapse of the Bronze Age
  • The Royal Unguent
  • The Royal Unguent
  • Conquest, identity, and the erasure of henna in the southern Levant
  • Reading ninth century BCE henna in the Book of Kings: Jezebel
  • Echoes of Bronze Age Canaanite Henna in the Song of Songs
  • Imagining Queen Esther

  • Evidence of early cultural henna use in the Arabian Peninsula and along the Arabian Ocean
  • Yemen and the Sabean Kingdom
  • Imagining Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba, with or without henna
  • Evidence of henna use and difference among neighbor
  • The environmental limitations of henna [Lawsonia inermis] cultivation around the Arabian Ocean
  • Ambiguation and disambiguation of hair dye in South Asia
  • Ambiguation and disambiguation of red body markings in South Asia
  • Henna in the Pylian perfume industry
  • Henna and the Poseidon festival

Click HERE or on the image above to learn more about the use of henna in Sicily during the 12th century

Henna was beloved by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish women during the Spanish Convivienca, but was criminalized during by the Spanish Inquisition.  A woman could be arrested, tortured, and executed for witchcraft and heresy for using henna by the Office of the Inquisition.

This article
discusses the addition of metallic salts and oxidative dyes to henna, how these created conflicts with chemical hair dye, and well as confusion about what henna actually is. Click on links and images below  to learn more about the unfortunate intersection of henna and chemical cosmetics in the west.
Henna in Paris in the late 19th c

Late 19th century henna, compound henna, rasticks,
henna-reng, henna-rasticks, and metallic salts

page 3

early 20th c compound henna

Early 20th century henna mislabeling, misinformation and disinformation
page 33

Early 20th century para-phenylenediamine and henna

page 50

PPD warnings in New York City, 1928

walnut fake

Early 20th century walnut, silver nitrate,
and para-phenylenediamine as brunette hair dye

page 87


Madame Patti, late 19th century diva credited with popularizing henna in Europe

Oscar Wilde’s Hair and Skin: Investigations into His PPD Sensitization and Use of Henna

henna leaves

PurePact Henna Leaves, sold in the USA about 1930
Van Dean

Henna Instructions from a
1940 Textbook for Beauticians
too old to rock

Henna and Musicians with Gray Hair