Created from the powdered leaf of the henna plant, henna designs last up to 15 days
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Henna: Nature’s Tattoos
Henna dyes your skin with a beautiful natural design that lasts for days. Read on to learn more about this ancient body art.
Unlike ink tattoos, which ink into the skin, the dark-brown imprints of henna drawings—also known as mehndi—are because of an all-natural process. The henna leaf contains a phytochemical known as lawsone that safely dyes the skin. To start, artists draw an intricate design by piping the henna paste through an ultra-narrow squeeze-bottle tip or cone. While the henna dries, artists may help darken the color by moistening it with lemon juice and sugar and applying heat from a blow dryer. After a few hours, the dry paste can be scraped off, leaving the design to darken on its own for 24 hours and last for up to two weeks.
From Medicine to Marriage
It’s unclear who first thought to use the henna plant as skin dye, but the first to cultivate it, at least, were the ancient Egyptians, who later passed it on to India. Henna became known for its medicinal properties, particularly the cooling sensation it gave the skin wherever it was drawn. As the story goes, people would apply one dot on the palm, then more and more dots around it, until eventually the designs became the intricate swirls of today. The gorgeous designs have inspired such customs as brides hosting mehndi parties days before the wedding—a bonding experience as much as a cosmetic process.
- The henna leaf must be ground into a fine powder before it can be used for mehndi.
- A higher percentage of lawsone results in a deeper, darker stain. Hotter climates tend to yield higher concentrations of lawsone.
- Henna is also used as a dye for hair and fabrics. Mummified Egyptian pharaohs from as far back as 1200 BC were found to have henna in their hair.