What is Henna?
Henna Is Simply Leaves
The leaves of the Lawsonia Inermis plant are micronized to the fine powder we call henna. It is only grown in hot, dry climates like India and Pakistan. I mix the all natural henna powder with monoterpene oils like lavender, sugar, and black teas to create the henna paste for body art. I use henna that has been recently harvested for freshness and it’s considered “Bridal Quality”. It is organically cultivated in Sojat, Rajasthan, a world famous growing region for henna. The oils aid in dye release and make it smell awesome, while the sugar keeps the henna paste from drying out before it can stain the skin.
Henna Is A Stain
Henna paste contains a dye called lawsone. When you put henna paste on skin, the lawsone penetrates and saturates the top layer of skin cells. They are not “tattoos” because the skin is not pierced and only the top layers are stained, but everyone referres to them as temporary tattoos. Henna stains palms and soles best because that skin is thickest. Henna stains exfoliate from the skin in 7 to 30 days. There are ways to make your beautiful henna art last longer. Just ask!
You’ve probably seen henna style designs in white on Pinterest. Most photos are body lotion coned and applied to the skin. Henna artists use lotion to practice. However, you can get henna style temporary tattoos. They are a mixture of body adhesive and white body paint with mica powder on top, or glitter gels. It does not stain the skin. It sits on top and peels off in a couple of days. Call or email for a quote if you’re interested in henna style designs on skin like this.
History & Tradition
Henna, also known as Mendhi, has been used in Pakistan, India, Africa and the Middle East to dye skin, hair, fingernails, fabrics, and leather. It’s been found adorning Egyptian mummies’ skin. Look at this enlargement of this Iranian watercolor on silk from 1430 depicting henna patterns on a maiden’s hands.
“Wine Drinking in a Spring Garden”, 1430
Here in the West, we are most familiar with the use of henna in Indian bridal culture. A common practice seen in India and in the Islamic world is the pre-wedding ‘Night of Henna’ parties where the bride’s hands and feet are adorned with the beautiful and intricate patterns still in use today. Originally, it was said the darker the stain, the better the marriage! In the true spirit of American diversity, I like to mix all styles such as Moroccan, Gulf, Persian and modern designs in my henna art.
I like to call my style Henna Fusion because I utilize elements from so many sources. Some are based on a region, and some on technique. Arabic designs have a lot of floral and leaf patterns with open space. Gulf style uses pressure to create different thicknesses of lines. Traditional Indian and bridal are most recognizable by the heavy coverage and lack of empty space. Moroccan uses a lot of straight lines and geometry. Sudanese is characterized by very large swooshes of solid color with little to no straight lines. You can learn more about these concepts in my class.
If you’d like to see a henna artist’s head explode, say these two words: BLACK HENNA. This is an extremely dangerous product that sometimes contains hair dye and PPDs. The FDA specifically forbids PPD to be used for this purpose. It stains quickly, but exposure can cause severe allergic reactions: check out these ghastly photos of burns, blisters, and permanent scarring. It’s still in use because not everyone gets sick from it right away, but developing an allergy to this chemical is very serious. Becoming sensitive to PPD also means becoming allergic to black dyes in clothing, hair dye, drugs in the “-caine” family (novocaine, benzocaine, etc.) certain sunscreens, cosmetics, and tattoo inks! It’s just not worth it. Please don’t buy commercially produced goo labeled as henna from import stores. Henna is neither black nor shelf stable and must be kept cold. Please contact me for information on reputable suppliers.
It’s sometimes claimed that henna art is cultural appropriation – most often asserted by teenage white girls. If that’s the case, then China took henna from India, and India from Sudan, and who knows how Fiji and Italy got the idea to do henna. Americans wear eyeliner and eye shadow which was first seen in ancient Egypt, but I don’t see anyone questioning makeup artists. Stop taking Yoga classes and Flamenco dancing. Stop making Chinese food at home if you’re white too. Take a look at the history before making such a judgement. If Westerners applying henna bothers you, there’s good news: getting a henna tattoo is optional! Protest by not getting one. So when someone says appropriation, I say appreciation. My goal is to elevate and celebrate this art form, and I have nothing but respect for the beauty of it’s origins, which I teach in my classes. Here is a great piece on cultural appropriation.