Most people initially think of India when they hear henna tattoos. Henna has actually been used as a natural dye for centuries. It can be used to dye hair, fingernails, and skin. Earliest recorded uses date all the way back to ancient Egypt to decorate fingers and toes. Egyptians even brought henna to India originally. The henna plant is commercially grown in 16 different countries, and still naturally grown in others, but has been used by women in over 60 countries since it was discovered thousands of years ago.
There are many cultural and religious uses for henna tattoos, but are most widely known for their uses in Hindu and Muslim traditions. In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and a few others, henna body art is known as mehndi. Originally, mehndi was used as a form of decoration for brides. They would decorate their hands and feet before their weddings. In some parts of India, the groom will also be painted. It’s been estimated that every person in India has had henna tattoos applied to them at some point of their life. It is also used in many different cultural festivals and other celebrations all over the world.
Henna for body art is traditionally traded already in powder form. It’s made by drying, milling, and sifting the leaves of the plant. It is then mixed with strong tea, lemon juice, or other mildly acidic liquids to make a paste. It is meant to sit for 6-24 hours once prepared to allow the elements from the henna leaves to be absorbed. It is then placed in anything from a cone, syringe, or artists will just use their fingers. The stain from the henna tattoo will start to appear within a few minutes, but for the best results, the paste should remain on for at least 3 hours. Some wear it overnight for the result to last longer. Applying henna tattoos takes longer than other forms of temporary body art, depending on how intricate the design is, so it’s best suited for older children and young adults.
The henna paste will start to dry and crack after an hour or two, so many put a sugar/lemon mix over the dried paste so it stays longer. When the henna paste does dry completely, it will begin to crack and then can then just be brushed or pealed off.
A common misconception of henna tattoos is that it comes in different colors. All henna is the same color from the plant. The variance of henna tattoo color depends on the person. Henna tattoos are actually a stain, so skin color, skin type, and how long you leave the henna paste on all determine how the henna tattoo design will end up looking. Personally, I have quite pale and somewhat dry skin, so henna tattoos on me will appear different than someone with naturally oily or acidic skin. The same also applies for how long the design will last, the design can last from at least a week or even up to three.
Traditional and natural henna has been used safely for thousands of years and it is incredibly rare to come across an allergy. There are products that are mislabeled that need to be watched out for.
Anything labeled “Black Henna” is actually a chemical compound that should never be applied directly to skin. It causes damage and scarring so it is unsafe and should not be used. “Neutral Henna” is derived from a different plant entirely, no adverse affects have ever really been shown, it’s been mislabeled as being henna.
Henna tattoos is truly the original form of temporary tattoos. It is centuries old and is still growing in popularity throughout the world. It became popular in the US in the 1990s and has become very common as body art done at carnivals and other events. As a natural and safe product, it’s a great hands on activity for creative kids and young adults.