Looking Back and Looking Forward

In the summer of 2017, we began The Ancient Sunrise® Blog and The Becoming Moonlight® Blog. The idea started out with a simple question: How could we educate more people about the science and art of henna? Catherine Cartwright Jones’ work was freely available online, we had active Facebook groups and pages, and Mehandi customer service could be reached via phone, email, chat, and social media platforms. Yet there was still more we could do to provide clear, accurate information to more people across the world.

The internet was already flooded with various videos, articles, and “recipes” for henna. Most of them provided inaccurate, strange, or downright bad information. Myths about henna were also perpetuated through word of mouth via salon stylists and cosmetology schools whose texts had outdated information about (compound) henna. Every day, customer service answered the same questions, dispelled the same myths, and reassured customers over and over that henna was a safe and easy process. People believed that henna made one’s hair fall out. Many were told that once they use henna, they can never dye or perm their hair again.

Others were ready to jump into using henna, but have been given incorrect information about how to mix and apply the paste. What should they add to the henna? Boiling water? Coffee? Yogurt? How do they get brunette results instead of red? What is indigo? How do you use it?

At the time, I had been working for Mehandi as a customer service representative and at the brick and mortar store, Empire, in downtown Kent. I was preparing to leave Kent, Ohio for Montreal, Quebec where my partner was pursuing his doctorate degree. I realized that one thing Mehandi did not yet have was a blog presence. Blogs and vlogs were growing again in popularity, especially for niche interests such as hair care and natural beauty. I mentioned the idea of trying to connect with bloggers.

Catherine thought about it and then one day asked me, “Why don’t you write a blog?” It made sense; I loved working for the company and my background was in writing and in academic research. This way, I could continue doing what I loved even while living abroad. Although blogging was something I had never done before, I was excited to try it. We decided to create one site for each brand: The Ancient Sunrise® Blog for all things related to henna for hair, and The Becoming Moonlight® Blog for body art.

That summer, we brainstormed topics and collected materials. We discussed our vision for the blogs. We agreed that we wanted the writing to be thorough and well-researched, yet accessible to the everyday reader. With so much misinformation surrounding henna, a crucial goal for the blogs was to provide the truth and dispel myths. Many blogs on henna for hair already existed but spouted inaccurate claims and bad mixing/application processes. We wanted this to be different. We wanted to set it straight. The articles would be based on research and science. They would be easy to read, but not “fluff.” There was already too much fluff.

Catherine and I joked about “fixing the internet.” With the thousands of articles and videos about henna already in existence, how could we make a difference and set the truth straight? I felt like an ant faced with the task of dismantling a sandcastle one grain at a time. Catherine took a couple of thumb drives and filled them with the hundreds of academic articles she had collected during her time in graduate school. It was a virtual library. Armed with the thumb drives and Google Scholar, I was ready.

Funny how the internet works. Search engines have complex algorithms that decide which pages are listed first. In a snowball effect, sites with more readership gain more readership. Good articles are shared across platforms like Facebook, and this gains the article more readership, which bumps the site up in searches. Someone better-versed in technology could explain it better than I. All I know is what began as a slow trickle of page views grew over the months and years, then rapidly spiked to an average of 750 page views per day. Oftentimes as I researched and wrote new articles, I’d run a quick search on Google to find a piece of information I needed and I’d be stunned to find links to my own articles in the search results.

I wanted to be a writer from the time I could read. I couldn’t believe that, through such an unexpected turn of events, I wound up writing about henna with readers across the world. I had people in Finland and Egypt and Japan reading my words! Things that I wrote! It was both thrilling and rather terrifying. I once posted on my own social media that the Ancient Sunrise® blog was now read on every continent except Antarctica. A friend who saw my post just happened to know someone working on research in Antarctica at the time. He sent that friend a link, that friend opened it, and it became official: The blog had been accessed on every continent.

Since the launch in August 2017, there are now nearly sixty articles and/or videos in the two blogs combined. Out of the two, the Ancient Sunrise Blog contains the larger body of work and has the higher readership. The Becoming Moonlight® Blog was always more creative and experimental in nature, but still had a very special place in my heart.

In the Ancient Sunrise® Blog, the Henna for Hair 101 series helps those who are new to the process of coloring their hair with henna and other plant dye powders. This series contains some of the most frequently-read articles such as “How to Dye-Release Henna” and “Don’t Put Food On Your Head.”

Other articles were written with the more experienced “henna-head” in mind. Full-Coverage articles are focused on troubleshooting specific issues such as resistant gray roots and discusses advanced techniques to ensure the best results. Highlights articles feature specific products and discuss topics related to henna for hair. One of the most popular Highlights articles is “Should You Be Using Lemon Juice In Your Henna Mix?” It clarifies many misconceptions about whether or not lemon juice is the “best” acidic liquid for mixing henna.

Some of my favorite articles to write were those which explored henna, body art, and hair in historical and cultural contexts. In “Oscar Wilde’s Hair and Skin: Investigations into His PPD Sensitization and Use of Henna,” I speculated on the famous writer’s use of PPD hair dye and henna hair dye based on portraits of Wilde and historical references. In “Gender, Race, and Class in Hair Styling Spaces: Constructing Individual and Group Identities,” I summarized many researchers’ sociological studies of interactions between clients and stylists in hair salons and barber shops in a variety of socioeconomic settings. The research showed how the hair styling spaces served a purpose in forming and performing one’s identity.

Some very important work was done in educating readers about PPD in articles such as “What You Need to Know about Para-Phenylenediamine (PPD)”. The article remains one of the most read articles of the Ancient Sunrise® Blog. One important goal of Mehandi has always been to help in the fight against the PPD sensitization epidemic in our own small way by offering safer alternatives to conventional hair dyes. I am so glad that this article and others in the PPD series has reached so many.

The Becoming Moonlight® Blog was home to body art, poetry, videos, and explorations into the traditions of natural cosmetics across time and cultures. It offered tutorials on Becoming Moonlight® Gilding Paste for “white henna” designs, as well as advice for body artists who wanted to incorporate gilding paste into their businesses. It also discussed the uses of henna on skin. One of my favorite articles to write and research was “Playing Exotic: Interactions Between Omo Valley People and Western Tourists” which investigated the ways in which the people of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia used body paint, piercings, and costuming to negotiate their identities under the gaze of outsiders.

It has been an honor to create content that educates and entertains those who love henna and body art and who want to learn more. My hope is that slowly but surely, the strength of these blogs will overcome the mountain of misinformation so that one day accurate knowledge about henna will be as commonplace as how to fry an egg (it’s only complicated at first).

Beginning January 2019, I will be handing the blogs over to the Mehandi customer service staff so I can become a different kind of educator. Whether it be writing about henna or teaching English, I have always been drawn to opportunities to connect with others and to expand their knowledge.

I want to thank all those who have read and shared my articles. It is your enthusiasm for henna and science that led the blogs’ success. Thank you also to the Mehandi family for your support, suggestions, and edits. Thank you to Catherine Cartwright-Jones and Roy Jones for your belief in me, for your wisdom, and for your encouragement. This has been an incredible opportunity. Looking back, I am always blown away by how much has happened in two years’ time. I am excited to see how the blogs continue to grow under the care of the brilliant and creative customer service staff. I know that things can only get bigger and better.

With all of my heart: Thank you, I love you, and I wish you all the best.

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