Henna tattoos or Mehendi, are a temporary form of body art that are applied as beautiful designs to the body with henna paste. Typically they are associated with the Indian Culture in particular with weddings as an adornment worn by the bride and occasionally the groom. However those who don't know much about this form of art can easily receive inferior quality henna which can result in serious harm. So I asked a local Henna Artist to give us the lowdown on this form of art along with hints & tips on how you can receive the best henna stain.
Hints & Tips From A
Hello I’m Sommer Jade, I’m a henna artist located on the south side of Brisbane known as Pure Henna. I’ve been practising Henna Body Art professionally for around 6 years now. I fell in love with the natural raw beauty of henna body art at an early age. Being a curious artist, I was fascinated in henna as a medium and what it has represented through history in relation to body adornment, rituals, celebrations and good fortune. To be able to work with Henna every day I feel blessed and privileged.
What is Henna and How Does It Work?
Henna is in fact a plant (Lawsonia Enermis) that grows in hot dry climates such as India, Egypt & Morocco. It looks like a shrub with little green leaves, that when harvested and dried can be ground down into a fine powder then used to make henna paste. A lot of people might also know it by the name of Mehendi. Henna is the plant/medium and mehendi is the art form of applying the design to the skin.
The Henna paste typically takes about 3 days to make. Firstly, you mix the Henna powder with lemon juice then leave it in a cool dark environment to process for 12 to 24 hours. The acidity in the lemon juice releases the staining property in the henna leaves creating a dark film on top of the mixture when left for that period. Once the film is released, the next step is to add brown sugar, essential oils (I use Lavender or Tea Tree) and some more lemon juice.
The brown sugar helps the paste stick and the essential oils helps the consistency of the paste. Once it is mixed thoroughly, it is placed into small cones (much like a smaller version of a cake icing cone) or reusable squeeze bottles. It is very important to freeze the henna paste after making it as it is made from a plant and should not be left out because it will lose its staining property. If you come across pre-packaged henna on the shelf of stores, you know for sure it is not henna & has chemicals/preservatives to keep it from losing its stain. I will discuss this in detail later.
What should you expect from your Henna Artist?
All Henna artists should know exactly what goes into the paste they are using and to also guarantee a safe and satisfying henna experience. From the very beginning when I was experimenting with henna, I always made my own paste to know exactly what went onto my client’s skin and to guarantee it would give them a good stain. You should always ask your henna artist a few questions before letting them apply it to your skin. If they do not know what is in the henna they are using, you SHOULD NOT go any further.
Always make sure that they are not using henna that is in packaging advertising that its “100% natural” henna or “no added chemicals". It is normally store bought and harmful paste. I use florist paper to roll my henna cones, which are normally coloured in a way to show me which essential oil is in them; purple for lavender and clear for tea tree. This is just for my benefit in case a client is allergic to a specific oil then I can make sure to use a different one.
How can you tell if your Henna Artist is using quality & Pure Henna?
Natural henna paste should be either brown or a brown/greenish colour. Pre-packaged henna is normally a lot runnier & a darker colour, sometimes even black. Pre-packaged henna cones would normally have a chemical unnatural smell. But if its unrefrigerated & sitting out it is definitely NOT natural and could cause serious harm.
Sadly, currently when things become more popular and mainstream a lot of brands want to piggyback on the trend and make a profit off it. This results in cheaper harmful ingredients being added to henna products to give it a quicker & longer lasting henna stain to unsuspecting customers. A lot of the stores that supply pre-packaged cones don’t even know the harm they are putting people in, and neither do their customers who are unknowingly buying this harmful chemical based “Henna” knock off.
Are their risks to having a Henna Tattoo?
Not if the Henna artist is using Natural handmade henna. However, many people may have heard of “Black Henna”. I have personally been asked hundreds of times throughout my career if I supply it and if I can do it for them. “Black Henna” is a very dangerous product which is not henna at all. Like I said before, with consumers always wanting the quickest processing stain that lasts for a long time, this attracts a lot of unsuspecting customers buying this so called “100% Natural” product. When in fact, Black Henna along with all other pre-packaged henna, have chemicals such as PPD's (paraphenylenediamine).
PPD's are what they use in black hair dyes, which in small measurements is safe to use on hair. But Black Henna along with all pre-packaged Henna is loaded with high dosages of it and is going straight onto your skin. This causes severe reactions and chemical burns. However, there are a lot of people who have had some form of unnatural henna applied to their skin and have been seemingly fine with no reaction whatsoever. The reaction isn’t always visible, a lot of people who have had this done have developed asthma, allergies to food or penicillin shortly after.
Pre-packaged henna is illegal in many countries but it is very difficult to police this and gain control over this product being shipped all over the world. I’ve met a lot of clients who have travelled to tourist areas such Bali and Thailand who have received a henna tattoo by a local “Henna Artist”. Within a day or so they have had a reaction or the henna faded quickly after getting it. Normally by the time the individual has developed the reaction, either the Henna Artist has moved along or the individual has. So, it’s very hard to stop things like this happening. These are unfortunately the risks of getting Henna Body Art done by unprofessional artists.
Natural Henna only comes in one colour and stains a natural reddish brown. All other colours are either chemical based pastes or body paint. Have you heard of White henna? Well that’s just white body paint applied the same way as henna, then sprinkled with powder over the top to keep it intact. It only lasts for a day or two. It’s perfect for special events such as weddings and formals because of its delicate look and its short life on the skin.
Another form of body adornment normally mistaken for henna is Jagua. It’s made from the Jagua Berry and produces a dark blueish stain that is normally mistaken for Black Henna. Jagua is made by cutting open the small berry and collecting the juice then mixing it with a few other ingredients to be applied as a gel. The Jagua Berry juice is clear and watery, but about 30 seconds after oxidising with the air it turns to a dark blue colour.
So, make sure to check with your henna artist before getting any form of “Henna” done and make sure they are indeed taking it out of the freezer before using it. I normally take a little esky with some cold rocks with me to markets so they can stay nice and cold. Then I can show clients and defrost the cone right in front of them to show them it’s the real stuff.
It is good to keep in mind that in the natural world, allergic reactions are always possible. Just like how some individuals are allergic to nuts or berries. Although normally if someone has a reaction from completely natural Henna paste, it is normally the lemon juice or oils mixed with the henna and rarely the henna itself. And it’s only a slight itch or redness, not anything like the reactions to Black Henna.
What is the best way to prepare for a henna tattoo and keep it looking its best?
To get the best stain out of your Natural Henna Body Art, it is important to clean the skin beforehand. The natural oils and sweat on your skin can prevent the henna staining properly and give it a shorter life. Keeping the skin clean and dry will give you the best chance of getting the darkest and longest lasting henna stain.
After the henna is applied it normally takes around 15-30 minutes for the paste to dry depending on the thickness of the design. To ensure a dark stain you must keep the paste on for as long as possible. I normally tell my clients one hour as a minimum or 3-6 hours is better, however left overnight produces the best results. The longer you keep the paste on, even once it has dried, the darker the henna stain will be.
The paste will start to dry and crumble off, at this point you will be able to see the bright orange stain underneath. Once you decide to take the paste off, I suggest going outside to the garden or grass to brush or peel it off. It’s important to not get the fresh stain wet after this point. The dryer you keep the stain the better it will process. Your henna stain will appear bright orange at first, then will develop darker over the next few days.
If you want to extend the life of your henna I suggest avoiding water and chlorine pools as much as possible. Do not scrub at the design or over wash it with soap, make sure to gently pat it dry after wetting it. A natural Henna stain typically lasts for 7-10 days, sometimes longer depending on how the individual takes care of it. Applying natural moisturiser's before showering or swimming will help a great deal in extending the life of your henna.
Normally hands and feet stain the darkest because the skin is tougher and doesn’t exfoliate as quickly as other parts of the body. Everyone’s skin types will develop henna stains differently. Some people will stain beautifully whilst others will not hold a henna stain for as long.
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