Frequently Asked Questions
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What is henna?
Where did henna originate?
Henna is a plant that grows in desert regions in countries such as India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. When henna leaves are crushed or powdered and mixed with a liquid, they produce a natural red dye. This dye can color skin, hair, fingernails, cloth and many other natural materials.
Henna also refers to a paste made from the plant as well as the art of henna decorating itself.
"Henna" is sometimes spelled "hinna" or "hina" when transliterated from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew.
We know that the ancient Egyptians used henna. In fact, henna may be mankind's oldest cosmetic, dating all the way back to the beginning of recorded history.
Henna was not only a cosmetic, it was used as medicine. Henna leaf paste is antimicrobial and antifungal. It removes heat from the body, and a henna stain is a 100-percent sunblock!
Some traditional communities believe that henna is full of "baraka": blessedness. I tend to agree!
What is mehndi?
"Mehndi" is simply another word for henna. You may also see it spelled "mehendi," "mehandi" and other similar ways. These words are most common among speakers of Southeast Asian languages such as Hindi.
How does henna work?
Is henna permanent?
The artist pipes henna paste onto the skin—similar to how a cake decorator pipes icing onto a cake. The paste sits on the skin anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.
When the paste is removed, it leaves behind an orange stain. This stain darkens during the next 24 to 72 hours into a red/brown color.
So, essentially, henna dyes the very top layer of skin cells. Henna application does NOT involves needles or piercing the skin.
Is this a "fake" tattoo?
No. As the dyed skin cells are sloughed off and new, fresh skin cells replace them, the design fades.
Henna doesn't try to copy ink tattooing—it's a different art form. However, some clients want to use henna to "test drive" a permanent ink tattoo. For more info about this, click here
How long does the design last?
How can I best care for my henna design?
It takes anywhere from five days to two weeks for a design to fully disappear.
Is henna safe?
But I've heard news reports about henna causing severe burns.
IF the henna paste is free of harsh chemicals and contaminants, henna is extremely safe. I handcraft my own henna paste, which contains pure henna powder, water, and lavender or tea tree essential oil.
It is possible to have an allergy to henna, although this is extremely rare. In my 15 years of working with henna, I have never met anyone who was truly allergic to henna, and I have hennaed literally hundreds of people.
The only people who should NOT have henna are those with a rare genetic condition called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency. The vast majority of individuals who have this condition already know it.
So why do some of your designs look black?
So-called "black henna" is quite dangerous. This product is not true, pure henna—it contains a chemical called para-phenylenediamine or PPD. This ingredient is used in hair dye.
Please remember: REAL HENNA IS NOT BLACK. Anything that creates an instant, coal-black stain on your skin is not natural and could cause severe injury. (Unfortunately, this includes "henna" that you may receive from a native of a henna-using culture or country.)
For important safety information and how to spot fake "black henna," please click here.
Fresh henna paste is dark olive green. When it is drying or fully dry, it appears black.
The photographs you see where the design looks "3D", almost like puff paint, are photos of henna paste still on the skin.
The photo at left shows the difference. The first picture shows paste applied to the skin. The second shows what the stain looks like much later after the paste has been removed and the stain has darkened.
Is henna okay for children?
Can I use henna on my hair?
Because children's skin can be sensitive—and also because it is possible (although rare) for a child to have G6PD deficiency and not know it—I do not do henna on children below the age of 6.
Henna is also potentially messy—the paste stains not only skin but clothing, carpet, upholstery, the dog ... you name it. I recommend that any child getting henna should already be old enough to sit patiently for things such as fingernail polishing.
Do you have any alternatives to henna?
Is henna a religious practice?
Yes! Check out this blog post
about "glitter mehndi." It's a wonderful technique to add sparkle on its own or in addition to traditional henna.
I also can do body art—including henna-style designs—in virtually any color using body-safe theatrical paint. (This product does not stain the skin; it's removable with mineral oil or rubbing alcohol.) If you want the look of a black ink tattoo without the risk of a PPD burn, this is a great option.
Jagua is another option. This product, made from an Amazonian fruit, gives a blue-black stain very similar to an old-school ink tattoo. However, some people with strawberry and other fruit allergies have had allergic reactions to jagua. Also, it is much more expensive to source than henna. But if you'd like to see what it looks like, click here
. (Photos are by other artists.)
Does henna violate the Biblical prohibition against tattooing in Leviticus 19:28?
Strictly speaking, no.
In some communities, women (and men!) decorate themselves with henna in honor of a holy day or religious festival. However, henna is not limited to religious occasions or beliefs.
In countries with a henna tradition, you will find henna being used by Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews. Now that henna has become popular worldwide, everyone enjoys henna!
During my henna career, I have hennaed people of all walks of life. For those who wish to incorporate their own spiritual or religious symbols into their designs, I am happy to accommodate.
In my humble, layperson's opinion, no.
Judaism and Islam prohibit ink tattooing but DO permit henna. In fact, members of these two religions have used henna for centuries.
As far as Christianity is concerned, I wrote a blog post on this very topic
. Of course, please follow your own conscience and consult a religious leader you trust if you have questions.
Am I "stealing" someone else's culture by using henna?
Some people would say yes ... but my first-hand experience tells me that these people are in the minority.
The Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs and others I meet from traditional henna-using cultures are delighted that I not only know what henna is, I can do it very well. They usually are surprised but pleased that a white American is interested in their culture and cares enough to understand the traditions surrounding henna.
The fact that I have been hired numerous times by clients from these cultures proves to me that they care more about my skill and talent than my ethnic background.
In my opinion, henna is a gift from the Creator for the benefit of human beings. I am deeply indebted to the cultures that developed henna art, and I thank them for sharing this gift with the world.