Chemotherapy may be the best option for curing cancer, but the hair loss may be its biggest side effect. For many women out there fighting cancer, hair loss is just another thing to worry about. A study made in 2010 showed that 47 percent of the women find the loss of their hair “most traumatic aspect” of chemotherapy.
To cover their scalps, most women start buying wigs, use turbans or scarves. Very few of them decide to “go bare”. However, if none of these appeals as an option, one recent trend took the spotlight: henna crowns. For some, they are empowering and enticing.
Made from the plant Lawsonia inermis, henna is a dye that is been used for cultural and religious purposes mainly in Morocco and India. While tattoos are made with a needle that helps the ink to penetrate in the deeper layers of the skin, henna stains only the top layer of the skin. It can stay on your skin for up to three weeks, meaning it is not permanent.
Henna crowns are made with the traditional style and are applied to the scalp. Leah Reddell provides henna services at Face Fiesta located both in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, for more than 12 years.
She says: “A henna crown is using henna to decorate the bald head of a person, [such as] women who have lost their hair as a result of chemotherapy”
Just because henna is typically associated with women undergoing chemotherapy, it doesn’t mean men cannot apply one. Renddell explained that henna is also a great option for people suffering from alopecia areata (complete hair loss because of autoimmune disease).
No one knows who the original henna crown artist is, as Renddel is not the first to create a henna crown. Today, artists who specialize in henna crowns can be found around the globe. As many women started to request henna crowns, Renddel was touched and started to create them.
“Sometimes I can’t believe I get to do this. I’m always amazed at the adventures my art gets to have out there in the world once it leaves me, and the fact that my art gets to be on these women, to embody and to change the experience they’re having positively, is one of the best things I get to do.”
Hair loss due to chemotherapy is a marker for some women that they are dealing with such an illness. For many, it is a visible marker that crates an entire identity centered on their illness. According to Renddell, henna crowns change the whole perspective of the person suffering from cancer.
“People in public approach them to talk about the art they’re wearing, not just cancer they’re dealing with. Also, many women simply don’t like wearing wigs and scarves—the crowns help them embrace their baldness in a beautiful way.”
Some women even shave their hair before starting with chemotherapy and make an appointment at Renddell. They are eager for henna crowns, as they give them a sense of control over the illness. She adds: “They wanted to feel good in that moment (not sick with chemo) and confront [and] embrace baldness on their own terms.”
Others like to paint a henna crown when they finish chemotherapy as a celebration and one sort of accomplishment. They even bring friends and family members at the appointment and treat it as a small party.
At the appointments, Renddell witnesses the clients go through a huge range of emotions. Some are nervous at the beginning but filled with joy when they look in the mirror when the henna crown is finished. Rendel says: “By the end of the session, they feel excited and empowered, out there in the world, owning the art they’re wearing.”
The clients have different ideas and some of them incorporate unique designs. While some of them request more geometric and abstract designs, others prefer symbols like animals, flowers, trees, or words. Through the artwork, women want to represent that they are not only people with cancer but unique individuals who have souls and a will to live.
Renddell pointed out one client of hers who expressed her confidence through the henna crown and said she felt more beautiful having one. She recalls that memory saying: “When I was going through cancer, I hated how the medicine made me look. This was one of the best moments of my cancer journey.”
For those who want a henna crown: Research on your artist first when you decide where to go. Renddell says: “I can’t say enough about the importance of using real, handmade, natural henna for henna crowns.”
Scientists working at the American Academy of Dermatology warn henna users to be careful, as some henna ink is adulterated with p-Phenylenediamine (PPD). This chemical can be dangerous to the skin, as it can cause blistering, itching, and scarring. Despite being banned by the Food and Drug Administration, some producers add it in some henna inks to last longer on the skin.
Renddell also warns against pre-made “henna cones” that may contain damaging chemicals. Even though on their packaging it is advertised that they are natural and organic, many of them are harmful to the skin. They can be easily found online. She says: “Real henna paste is handmade with very simple ingredients and must be kept frozen.”
Make sure to ask your artist on how to prepare before going to the appointment. Your artist will likely ask you to shave before making your henna crown.
If you have difficulty deciding whether to get henna crown, Renddell will just say: “Do it!” Be brave enough to make a bright change in your life, and listen to Renddell as she says: “Seriously, I’ve never had a client regret getting a crown—I’ve only had clients regret that they didn’t do it earlier in their treatments. People in public approach them to talk about the art they’re wearing, not just cancer they’re dealing with.”