What is Henna?
Henna is the term for the paste, the dye and the art form, all derived from the leaf of the henna shrub, Lawsonia Inermis. Henna originates in the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East and India and henna art is found all over the world, having migrated with the diaspora of the cultures who use it.
Henna has been used by humans for thousands of years, with the oldest evidence coming from Egypt. It is incorporated into ceremonies and celebrations to this day with variation in design styles across the regions. It is considered to be a sacred substance, bringing protection and blessing to all who wear it (regardless of the design).
How/Why is it used?
The 3 main uses of henna can be categorized as:
- Medicinal: anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, cooling.
- Spiritual: contains Baraka, a spiritual essence, bringing protection and blessing to the
- Decorative/Cosmetic: like wearing jewelry on the skin. Henna dye also stains nails, hair, and
anything porous such as wood, paper, fabric and leather.
What is in henna paste?
Body art quality henna paste contains natural henna powder (ground up henna leaves), water or lemon juice, sugar and a blend of essential oils (the terpenes in the EOs help the dye molecule to break down in the skin for a darker stain as well as having the added bonus of a lovely scent).
Some henna artists add extra ingredients such as black tea, cloves or dried lime peel. However a simple recipe is the safest and creates a fantastic stain when mixed correctly. Your henna artist should be able to tell you exactly what is in the paste they are using. If they cannot, don’t receive henna from them!
How long does it last and what color does it stain?
Natural henna stains the skin anywhere from orange through to a deep burgundy brown. The dye stains the top layer of skin cells in the epidermis for 1-3 weeks on average. The variation is based on the part of the body, the individual’s skin chemistry, the quality of the henna and the after care. Older, thinner skin does not hold the dye so well. Likewise, children (who have a higher skin cell turnover rate as they grow) do not tend to stain for very long (around 7-10 days). The stain will be the darkest on the hands and feet where the skin is thickest, and lightest on the neck, chest and back. It will also show more boldly on paler areas of the body such as the palm, inner forearm and untanned areas.
What is the application process?
The henna paste is drawn freehand onto the skin using a piping cone. It then takes 5-20 minutes to dry, after which Melanie will apply the appropriate after care based on the weather and other factors.
How do I prepare for a henna session?
- Plan your henna appointment for 2-3 days before the actual day you want to show it off, as it takes 48-72 hours to oxidize to it’s richest color.
- Remove any hair from the area you want hennaed (shaving or clippering down to the skin is ideal).
Exfoliate your skin and leave it dry for the appointment (no lotion or oil).
- Wear appropriate clothing for easily exposing the body part you want decorated (for shoulder and back pieces, wear a loose button/zip up shirt).
- For hands and feet, make sure any mani/pedi is done the day before (you cannot get them done the day of or after the henna application).
- For feet, wear loose slip-on shoes or slides, or plan to leave barefoot.
- Plan to relax and avoid water for the rest of the day, keeping the paste on your skin for 6-12
hours (the longer the better). This means no exercise, swimming, cooking or cleaning. The more you can baby your design the following day the better your design will turn out (this means avoiding water and sweating as much as possible).
Paste removal and after care
After about 12 hours, you will remove the after care material (medical tape or cotton & plastic/ gauze wrap) and then scrape any remaining henna paste off the skin with a blunt edged object such as a butter knife or credit card. In hot or humid weather your design may just be sprayed with a sealant made of lemon juice and sugar. In this case, allow it to fall off on its own, or scrape it off when the time has come.
The initial stain will be pale orange. Oil it immediately with a natural vegetable oil such as olive, coconut or avocado oil. This will protect and nourish the dye- watch the color pop right before your eyes!
Avoid water as much as possible and be sure to oil it before and after bathing to protect it every day.
The dye will darken as it oxidizes, looking noticeably darker every 12 hours for up to 72 hours. To get the most life out of your henna design, continue to avoid water, sweating, scrubbing or rubbing it for its duration.
Henna loves oil (lotion and sunscreen are fine too). Please DO make sure to put waterproof sunscreen over it before exposure to sun and water. Other products you can use if you don’t have natural oil are: vaseline, chapstick/lip balm, baby oil, cocoa/shea butter.
Is henna safe?
YES. Natural, high quality henna is safe to be applied directly onto the skin. If you have sensitivities to any essential oils (such as tea tree or lavender), please let the us know ahead of time so we can prepare a safe mixture specifically for you. Pregnant women should only receive henna with pregnancy safe EOs, but should avoid henna if they have G6PD Deficiency, hyperbilirubinemia, or any other acute condition that affects their immune system.
BLACK HENNA WARNING: It is easy to get natural vs black henna confused because when natural henna paste is mixed and applied, the green powder turns brown/black looking. However, the important factor is the color of the STAIN, which should be orange-brown through to burgundy.
BLACK HENNA will leave a black stain on the skin due to toxic chemicals being added to the mixture. These can be anything from hair dye (PPD) to kerosene and rat poison to create different tones. The skin is the largest organ of the body and is designed to ABSORB. So by applying black henna, the recipient is at risk of toxic poisoning, seriously affecting the internal organs and blood stream, as well as causing permanent scarring on the skin. "Black Henna” is often found in tourist destinations and in cultures where henna is not a tradition (such as Mexico and Thailand), but is also popular in Africa.
Please also avoid the cheap, pre-made Indian cones, because they contain chemicals and preservatives that are toxic and have also been found to contain salmonella and Ecoli from being mixed with contaminated water!
How to be safe: Ask your henna artist exactly what the ingredients are in their paste, including what essential oils they have used. Ask them what color the henna stain will be. If you find that you have an adverse reaction to the paste, wash it off your skin immediately. Note: a cool, tingly feeling for the first 30-60 minutes is totally normal. A BURNING sensation is not....
If you desire a blue-black stain, you can opt for Jagua, which is a fruit dye from South America. It stains a beautiful royal blue color. When blended with henna, it is called “Hengua” and can stain a slate black color. Please make sure to request these specific products when booking, otherwise Melanie will use henna.
Thank you for being a cautious and discerning customer!
What is Jagua?
Jagua (Genipa Americana) is a fruit dye from South America. It is used by the indigenous people from the region to mark their bodies decoratively and ceremonially. It is a beautiful and natural alternative to “black henna” and is also a great way to trial run a tattoo idea, as it looks very similar to a real tattoo.
Jagua stains the skin similarly to henna, lasting for about 1-3 weeks. It stains the back more successfully than henna does.
While Jagua is a natural dye from the unripe fruit, it IS possible to have a reaction to it (rarely, but it can happen). A reaction is topical only and results in TEMPORARY raised, itchy skin (histamine reaction) only where the gel has been applied. It can last for a few days to a few weeks. The reaction can happen towards the end of the life of the stain, therefore if you want to do a test patch, you must wait for about 2 weeks to make sure you don’t have a reaction.
For this reason, we decline to use henna on the face, small children or pregnant women.