Henna, also known as Lawsonia inermis is a shrub native to Asia and the Mediterranean coast of Africa, and thrives mostly in warmer climates all over the world. Its leaves contain hennotannic acid, a red dye that bonds with the collagen in skin cells and keratin of fingernails and hair, staining the area in shades of red or brown. The leaves of the henna plant are harvested, dried, and ground into a fine powder. This powder is widely used as a hair colorant with conditioning properties, and for the ancient art of mehndi.
What is Mehndi, Mehandi, Mehendi?
Mehndi is the name of the ancient art of painting patterns on the body with henna paste, and the resulting stains left on the skin. The paste is made from powdered dried henna leaves and a variety of ingredient, some of which are: lemon or lime juice, black tea, coffee, rose petals, orange blossoms, essential oils, cloves, tamarind, and sugar. Mehndi is a temporary form of body painting and adornment.
What is the color of the henna stain?
Once the paste has dried and scraped off, the initial stain is usually yellow-orange in colour. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, with exposure to air, the stain will oxidize and darken. The final stain will be in the range of dark orange, red or brown.
Variation in the exact shade and darkness of the final stain depends on the body chemistry of the individual, the area of body painted, and the length of time the paste is left on the skin.
How long does the stain last?
The longer the paste is left on the skin, the deeper the dye will penetrate the epidermis (outer most layer of the skin), resulting in a darker and longer lasting stain. It would last longest, up to 2 weeks, on thick, dry and coarse skin texture such as hands and feet. On areas where the skin is thinner, such as arms, chest and back, the stain would fade more quickly, lasting anywhere from 3 to10 days.
The stain will fade gradually following the natural skin exfoliation and regeneration process.
For the darkest and longest lasting stain, apply the paste to hands and feet, keep the painted area warm, and leave the paste on at least 8 hours.
How is henna paste applied?
There are many different ways to apply the henna paste on the skin. For example, in Morocco, henna artists often use syringes with a blunt point. The tool of choice in India is rolled up plastic cones similar to pastry piping bags. In Africa, saliva is mixed into the powder and then formed into balls and lumps of paste for a rudimentary application and design.
Throughout the centuries, the methods of application have been varied and creative; from twigs, porcupine quills, pieces of silver wire to saliva. Modern day henna artists mostly use plastic cones, syringes or small squeezable bottles to transfer the paste to the skin.
Is Henna application painful?
No, the application process is not painful at all as the mud-like paste is applied or “laid” on the skin surface. The skin is not pierced or broken as in tattooing with ink. The henna paste will feel cool on the skin due to the cooling properties of the henna plant. If the paste has been added with essential oils like eucalyptus or tea tree, some tingling sensation might be felt. It’s pretty much like applying medicated oil on the skin!