Causing a stir: hair colour and Cosmetics To Go
Cosmetics To Go sold some of their more avant-garde inventions initially rejected by the Body Shop like co-founder Mo Constantine’s shampoo bar and bath bomb inventions. While henna was not initially on the table, as Mark and co still sold it to The Body Shop, customers were introduced to hair products like Waxed And Clam-Baked shampoo bar (made with henna and juniper berries for processed hair) and Dimestore Blonde hair lightening kit “for a ‘summery’ look”.
“Show us an actual photo of someone who’s used Dimestore Blonde and I might be tempted to buy it,” wrote Michelle from Surrey in one of the cult Cosmetics To Go catalogues. Proud Dimestore Blondes Helen Ambrosen and fellow soon-to-be Lush co-founder Rowena Bird promptly featured in the next issue, showing off their shiny, highlighted locks.
The Really Cookin’ range of 1993 introduced henna treatments to a new batch of customers, including Cajun Swamp Water, made with red henna for “natural or ‘varnished’ red locks”; Zydeco, made with henna, coffee and cloves for a “mahogany red-brown sheen”; and Jalapeno, cooked up with red henna, rhassoul mud and lemon juice for “fiery red” locks. These fresh treatments needed to be refrigerated and used within two weeks. Also on offer was Le Soleil highlighting kit: a power and cream kit to lighten the hair on its own, or possibly before use with the red henna treatments.
Sadly, before customers could say “ready, set cook”, by January the following year Cosmetics To Go was no more, a victim of its own success as detailed in Mira Manga’s book: Danger! Cosmetics To Go: A Company On The Edge! The doors were closed on the veritable Wonka’s factory of beauty confectionery - but not for long.
Lush and fresh handmade hair colour
By 1995, the team behind Cosmetics To Go had rallied and were cooking up cosmetics in 29 High Street once more. Restrictions on running a retail shop now lifted, Mark, Mo, Liz, Helen, Rowena, and former IT manager at Cosmetics To Go Paul Greaves spent the little money they had left on fruits and vegetables from a market stall and returned to their fresh, handmade roots. In 1995, 29 High Street opened their doors once more and was later christened ‘Lush’: a small-scale business that was to succeed where Cosmetics To Go had faltered.
Henna featured as an ingredient in the very first ‘Lush Times’ brochure in 1995, in products such as Plantational shampoo: “ A smooth blend of powdered seaweed, henna, nettles and rosemary [to] give shine and freshen colour on all red and brown hair.” Yet, by 1998, pre-made fresh henna treatments were being sold on the shop floor like bowls of ice cream at a delicatessen.
Mark and Helen had been hard at work with their formulations, using their wealth of herbal knowledge to create henna-based concoctions that all customers could benefit from - whether that was to colour the hair or simply add body and shine. Perusers at 29 High Street, and the newly opened Kingston shop could choose from Solanna, made with chamomile, rhubarb and red henna, for “dazzling strawberry blonde”; Erborigian Flax, an “intense treatment for blonde hair”, made with chamomile and fresh lemon juice; Capella File d’Oro, made with red henna, cloves and coffee “for rich red brown tones”; Al Khanna, a fresh lemon and henna blend, to create “fiery red” base; and Sea Henna, “an intense treatment conditioner for all hair types” made with henna and balsamic vinegar. “Order these fast -” warned the 1998 Lush Times catalogue, “- they smell so delicious our Kingston shop sold out the very first morning they were in stock!”
But the real henna revolution came in 2001, with Helen’s cocoa butter breakthrough. She and Mark decided on four final henna brick recipes, and Lush ethics director Hilary created intricate designs based on traditional henna wedding tattoos to reflect the ingredient’s history and cultural significance.
A little bit of Lush naughtiness went into the range of course too. The category name ‘Caca’ was a play on the fashion for dolling up cosmetics with fancy French names (‘Caca’ meaning ‘shit’ à la France). Caca Noir, for example, literally translates as ‘black shit’. According to Mark, this was apt both because of its look, and because “they were and are the shit”.
Four henna bricks were launched for customers to purchase: Rouge, Brun, Marron and Noir, each using a bespoke mix of ingredients inspired by the Ancient Egyptians - without the blood of a black cat some contemporaries recommended. Using Iranian red henna in various quantities, combined with ingredients like indigo herb and clove bud oil, not to mention Fair Trade organic cocoa butter, customers could find a range of shades from fiery red to the glossiest darkest brown. A blend for blondes, which proved particularly difficult to combine with cocoa butter, did not quite make the cut.
Because the richest red lawsone is released under mildly acidic conditions, Rouge and Marron included a dash of lemon juice to enhance the warmth and brightness of the colour.
Where the intended colour is darker, like Brun and Noir, Mark and Helen used a combination of henna and indigo, a herb known formally as Indigofera tinctoria. The latter is indigenous to south west Asia and south eastern Europe and has a long history of use as a revered blue dye in both hair and textiles.
Similarly to henna, indigo’s colour is formed by a chemical reaction during an extraction process. As powdered leaves are soaked, precursors within the plant react to the oxidation and fermentation process and a blue dye is formed. Unlike henna, however, indigo does not adhere neatly to the hair’s keratin, making it harder to use as a hair dye. When combined with henna, it can be successfully used to dye the hair and adds a dark blue tint to counteract the orange.
Even if you weren’t switching up your hair colour, the combination of ingredients within the henna bricks gave them kudos as hair treatments too. Applied to brown hair, for example, Brun would moisturise courtesy of the cocoa butter, while clove and rosemary would treat the scalp, and the lawsone component would add body and shine to the hair fibres. This final point was particularly useful for finer hair. “If your hair is very thick,” explains Mark, “henna might not seem to improve the combability because it adds a bit of body. But it would still be improving the overall condition as well as adding shine.”
Nearly two decades after patenting the henna brick, Mark and Helen are taking a fresh look at one of nature’s oldest and best dyes. Watch this space to see where herbal hair colour takes us next.
This article is an edited extract from upcoming Lush publication on herbal and synthetic hair dye.
Feeling inspired? Select your henna shade and find out how to apply Lush henna here.