Henna Body Art

What is Henna?

Henna body art involves pasting henna onto the skin: the henna paste migrates into the outermost layer of the skin and creates a red-brown stain. Elaborate staining patterns can be done to create temporary tattoos anywhere on the body.

What is history of Henna?

Henna has been used to adorn the body for centuries. Once only used in the East, henna has become very popular as a temporary dye in all cultures. The fashion of "Bridal Mehndi" in Northern Indian diasporas is currently growing in complexity and elaboration, with new innovations in glitter, gilding, and fine-line work. Recent technological preparations in grinding, sifting, temperature control, and packaging henna, have improved dye content and artistic potential for henna.

Is Henna popular?

Though traditional henna artists were usually found in India, henna artists can be found all over North America today. Many African and Asian cultures have shops which offer the work of henna artists. The henna tattoo business is thriving in most American cities which have ethnic minorities and is often regarded as a beautiful semi-permanent body art option.

How is Henna prepared?

Whole, unbroken henna leaves cannot stain the skin. Henna leaves must be crushed in a mild acid, lemon juice, or strong tea before the staining can occur. A soft paste has to be made to make it easier to apply on the skin. The henna mix must be allowed to remain for 4 to 12 hours so that the stain can be absorbed onto the skin. One may use a tooth pick or any dull pointed object to apply the henna. Unlike permanent tattoos, henna is not meant to be injected or placed underneath the skin.

Is commercial Henna available?

Commercial henna is available in most ethnic stores, especially Indian and middle eastern food stores. The henna is available as a powder which can be mixed with some lemon juice or strong tea. The henna should only be prepared immediately before use as the strength of the dye fades if henna is prepared 24 hours earlier. Commercial henna is available in ounce packages and costs vary from about $1-$2 depending on the area.

How is Henna applied?

Once applied to the skin, lawsone molecules gradually migrate from the henna paste into the outer layer of the skin. Though henna lawsone will stain the skin within minutes, the longer the paste is left on the skin, the more lawsone will migrate. Henna paste will yield as much dye as the skin can easily absorb in less than eight hours. Henna tends to crack and fall off the skin during these hours, so it is often sealed down by dabbing a sugar/lemon mix over the dried paste, or simply adding some form of sugar to the paste.

What happens after Henna is applied?

Once henna is applied, the dye is allowed to dry which may take anywhere from 2-6 hours. Once the henna dries, the powder will start to fall off the skin. Any residual powder can be removed by washing the skin with water. Initially the dye is bright orange but will start to darken in the next 2-3 days.

Henna tattoos appear darkest on the thickest layers of the skin, like the hands, feet and thighs. Steaming or warming the henna pattern will darken the stain, either during the time the paste is still on the skin or after the paste has been removed.

How long do Henna tattoos usually last?

Stains from henna can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The dye starts to fade after 3-4 weeks. Chlorinated water and soaps may slow the darkening process; alkaline may hasten the darkening process. Once henna dye has reached its maximum intensity, it will appear to fade. The henna stain actually does not fade; skin cells shed off and are replaced by new unstained cells.

Are there any side effects associated with Henna?

Allergic reactions to natural henna are rare. The few individuals who do experience side effects may complain of itching or blistering at the skin site. Unlike other agents, henna is rarely associated with anaphylactic allergic reactions. Henna should never be injected or taken orally.

How much do Henna tattoos cost?

Henna tattoos are not expensive and may be done at home. The paste itself is only a few dollars. However, intricate and complex designs can cost about $20-$40 or more depending on the extent of the tattoo. Most artists spend about 1-2 hours designing henna tattoos.

By TattooHealth.org Staff
November 4, 2008

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