What are Henna Tattoos?
Henna is a fragrant flowering tall shrub with leaves that produce a red-orange dye (lawsone) which likes to bond with proteins ie with skin, hair, and nails. Henna has been used safely for body art and hair dye for thousands of years by many different cultures. Traditionally, henna was applied for medicinal, religious and celebratory purposes-especially marking marriages and births, but today its use has transcended all cultural and religious borders. Women still get traditional bridal designs on hands and feet, but you can also see ladies enjoying an everyday ankle design or teens opting for a tribal dragon tattoo in henna.
Natural henna paste is greenish brown and made from pure ground henna leaves, essential oils, lemon juice and sugar. The acid in the lemon juice releases the plant dyes to stain the skin, while the essential oils such as lavender, cajuput or tea tree oil give the paste a lovely earthy scent.
Henna paste works by staining the top layers of skin. Everyone's skin is slightly different, but usually, the thicker the skin in an area (ie soles of feet, palms of hands) the darker and longer lasting the henna stain will be as the dye is able to penetrate more layers. As the skin exfoliates, the henna stain will gradually disappear, lasting normally from 1-3 weeks. Keeping the skin moisturized and out of chlorine will prolong the effects, whereas exfoliation and drying of the skin will speed the fading of the henna.
Here's how it's done:
- Using a squeeze bottle of prepared henna paste, I apply the henna design. The paste begins with the consistency of tooth paste.
- The henna paste needs to dry for at least 20 minutes without being disturbed. The longer the paste stays on the skin the better, and dabbing the design with lemon juice and staying where it is warm or in the sun will help set the design. The design can be wrapped with paper towels and tape to keep the design undisturbed if done before bedtime.
- The paste will dry into a crust and will eventually begin to flake off. Be careful! The henna may stain anything it comes in contact with. Gently scrape the dried paste away from your skin using a dull butter knife and discard the dried bits properly.
- The stain will appear light orange at first, but the henna color will darken over the next 24-48 hours into a rich reddish brown.
- The henna will gradually fade and disappear in about 2 weeks.
A Word of Caution:
While Henna is all natural, there are a few people who may have a reaction to it. If you have been told you have an allergy to fava beans and aspirin, or if you have a rare disorder known as G6PD, then you should not get a henna tattoo. "Black Henna" has nothing to do with what is used here. It is illegal, yet still available at some festivals and fairs around the US. This "black henna" contains para-phenylenediamine (PPD)- which can cause serious burns. Never let anyone put "black henna" on your skin!