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Are store-bought henna kits worth your time and money?

You've seen them at craft stores, New Age shops and health food groceries: henna (mehndi) kits.

Are they the way to start your own henna journey? Or is there a better way?

The henna kits I tried way back in my early henna days (late '90s and early '00s) were anywhere from meh to awful. People who tell me they've tried kits often have disappointing results as well.

And there's a reason for that. Well ... several reasons.

  • You have no idea how old the henna powder is. This is crucial. Old henna = crap stain results.
  • You have no idea if the henna powder is of high quality. Henna powder quality varies hugely in the market. I've seen "henna powder" that was as gritty as sand and an unnatural green color. (Manufacturers often add green colorants to make the powder look fresher than it actually is.)
  • You often get crap you don't need. For example, many kits have eucalyptus oil to mix into your paste. Most varieties of eucalyptus oil do absolutely nothing to improve paste quality. Zero. Nada.
  • Jacquard (squeeze) bottles that come in many kits are hard to use. Unless the bottle is nearly full, you have to use so much pressure on the bottle, it's very, very difficult to control the line. I use rolled cellophane or floraphane cones exclusively, and if you don't know how to roll your own, you can buy them pre-rolled. (Vendor details below!)

I highly recommend buying a beginner's kit from an actual henna artist or vendor instead of going to a store.
You may pay more, but you are going to get a product that is of much higher quality ... not to mention real-live people to talk to if you need advice and guidance! 

Also, if you progress in your henna practice and need more gear, these vendors can offer additional products that your local craft store just can't.

Here are some vendors/artists who I personally recommend, listed in alphabetical order by company name:

  • Amerikan Body Art / Erika Harrison (Florida): The cheapest beginner kit on my list ($15), this kit includes Jamila brand henna powder, a popular powder with reliable stain results. My only beef is that the kit comes with a "carrot" (piping) bag to fill your applicator but no rolled cone—only a squeeze bottle, which as I mentioned is not the best choice for a beginner, IMHO.
  • Henna Caravan (California): Everything from a beginner henna kit ($19.99) to professional-level kits. Henna Caravan also carries excellent pattern books for beginners as well as helpful application tools.
  • Henna Guru / Darcy Vasudev (California): Her Henna Essentials Kit retails for $18. Her henna powder quality is superior, but she prefers to stock henna powder that has a very "stringy" quality, which beginners may find difficult to control. Still, for pure quality, you can't go wrong with Henna Guru.
  • Mehandi / Catherine Cartwright Jones (Ohio): Mehandi offers several kits ranging in price from $35.99 to $40.99. This is high on the price scale, but you get lots of info as well as piping bags and pre-rolled cones, which are essential for being able to control your lines. They carry a variety of powders along with a full explanation of each powder's staining properties and texture.

Another terrific option is Etsy, where you can purchase kits from a variety of vendors at very good prices. Just be sure to check out the vendor's ratings before you buy. I also recommend buying from someone who is an actual henna artist.

A decent beginner's kit should contain at minimum:
  • High-quality henna powder
  • An application device (preferably a pre-rolled cone)
  • An essential oil to boost staining power. The most popular and effective are lavender (lavendula angustifolia), cajeput (melaleuca leucadendra) and tea tree.
  • Instructions

Ingredients and items to avoid:

  • Eucalyptus oil (see above).
  • "Mehndi oil" or "mehendi oil" or "mehandi oil." You may find these in kits from India. There is NO regulation or labeling of what these oils contain. Some have been analyzed and shown to include horrible chemicals (such as gasoline!).
  • Any pre-made henna cone that looks manufactured. There is no good regulation of imported cones and no accurate labeling information.
  • ANYTHING described as "emergency henna" or "emergency mehndi" or "black henna." These products likely contain PPD. Read about PPD horrors here.

Everything else you need is probably already in your kitchen. :)

As always, be safe and have fun!

- Amy

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