What is Henna
Henna, the Persian name for Lawsonia inermis, a flowering desert shrub that produces red dye. Twice a year the henna leaves are harvested, dried, and ground into a fine powder. For over 9,000 years henna has been used to dye hair red and for the art of mehndi.
Henna contains hennotannic acid, a dye that bonds with the collagen in skin cells and keratin of fingernails and hair, leaving behind a reddish-brown stain.
Henna is the oldest documented cosmetic and is soothing and cooling on the skin. It alleviates heat exhaustion and is even a natural sun block. Henna is native to Asia and the Mediterranean coast of Africa and now thrives in warmer climates all over the world.
What is Mehndi?
Mehndi is the Hindi word for the art off painting on the body with henna paste and the resulting stains left on the skin.
A variety of methods are employed when drawing on the skin with the paste. In Morocco syringes prevail, in India, plastic cones similar to pastry bags are popular.
In Africa, saliva is mixed into the powder and then formed into balls and lumps of paste for a rudimentary application and design. Anything from modern squeeze bottles,twigs, a piece of silver wire, pastry bags or even a finger may be used to apply the henna paste.
The paste is made from ground leaves of henna plants and a variety of ingredients such as lemons, limes, black tea, coffee, rose petals, orange blossoms, essential oils, cloves, pomegranates, tamarind, okra, and sugar. Traditionally, ingredients such as lye, urea, yak or camel urine may be added to deepen the color. Rest assured, we use only lemon juice and essential oils in our henna mixture.
We directly import only the freshest, natural henna powder available and hand blend the paste with ground henna leaves, lemon juice, and fragrant aromatherapy grade essential oils.
Our product contains NO chemical dyes, preservatives, black hair coloring, PPD, nut derivatives, or additives and is generally safe for use during pregnancy and with children. Consult your doctor if you have specific concerns.
How Long Does it Take to Apply?
It takes 5 minutes to apply a small design, 10-15 minutes for fuller designs. Traditional bridal henna can take 2-6 hours on average for the dense patterns up the legs and arms.
The paste is left to soak into the skin for 4-8 hours; the longer the paste is in contact with the skin the deeper, darker and longer lasting the stain will be. Heat helps to drive the dye into the skin and cause it to become dark. Traditionally women might sit near a small brazier or fire after being henna'ed for the darkest stains.
How Long Does it Last?
Designs last about 7-10 days, depending on body chemistry, how long the paste was allowed to soak in, and location on the body. It is longest lasting on hands & feet, fading more quickly on arms, chest, & back where the skin is thinner.
The color will be a light orange at first and deepens to a reddish-brown during the next 48 hours, fading away gradually as your skin exfoliates.
Does it Hurt?
No, henna feels like lotion and is cooling. Application of henna can be quite relaxing and enjoyable, especially in the warm summer months as it’s cooling and soothing to the skin.
Mehndi is completely temporary. The skin is not broken as in traditional tattooing. When the paste is applied to the skin it feels cool, this is due to the natural cooling properties of the henna plant. You may feel tingling or tickling. This is caused by the essential oils such as eucalyptus which are sometimes used in the mix.
Is it Safe?
The henna plant is one of the oldest cosmetics ever used and is extremely safe.
Natural red henna, when applied to the skin rarely causes any adverse reactions, if you are concerned you should do a small patch test first. Natural henna is safe even for use on children as it contains no dangerous chemical dyes or harsh additives.
A red-brown stain will vary in darkness with each persons body chemistry, the area of body chosen, and the length of time the paste remained in contact with the skin.
Darkest and longest lasting stains will be on the hands and feet.Once the paste is removed, a yellow-orange stain will begin to oxidize and become darker over the next 48 hours.
Natural henna will always leave a stain in the range of orange/red/brown, however, the exact shade can vary.
It is Never Black
'Black henna' is made using a toxic chemical dye that can cause permanent scars and internal to damage kidneys, liver, & blister the skin.
Natural henna will never dye your skin purple, pink, blue, or black. Any henna that dyes your skin a color other than reddish-brown has chemicals added that are not clearly healthy or safe. Please use only safe and natural brown henna.
There is no such thing as black henna. In order for henna to produce a black color chemicals that are unsafe for your skin have been added. Black henna should be avoided.
A chemical dye known as PPD, which is not authorized for use on the skin by the FDA is often added to the natural henna to produce a black color. Black henna has become very popular in certain tourist areas, particularly Venice Beach and Mexico. For more information please check out the henna page.We do not offer black henna. Detailed information on black henna can be found here. The New York Times also featured anarticle on black henna.
Why do Some Photos Look Black?
Designs on this website appearing black are pictures of the fresh henna paste still on the skin.If you look closely you can see the orange stain in the cracks of the drying henna paste.
Henna was used by the Egyptian civilizations of Pharaohs, queens, and pyramids. Nefertiti and Cleopatra were known to have used henna and traces have been found on mummies. The Prophet Muhammed dyed his beard with henna and his daughter, Fatima, dyed her hands with it.
Mehndi has been used in cultural and religious practices by Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims. Henna is currently used in over 60 countries including regions of India, Morocco, the Middle East and Mediterranean, Africa, South China, and Southeast Asia.
Over 9,000 years old, henna use dates back to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. It has roots in spring fertility celebrations and was used by warrior goddesses to celebrate victories.
Many theological references to mehndi exist throughout the world. Basically, anywhere that has a period of hot dry weather and a history of goddess worship has utilized henna. This widespread use makes it difficult to establish a date or country of origin for the use of henna and mehndi. Inscriptions place henna in use in Syria as early as 2100 BCE. Evidence exists dating henna’s use in the Greek islands from around 1700 BCE, the Egyptian Dynasties from 1500 BCE and the beautiful cave paintings in Ajanta, India from 400 BCE.
Applying henna near the end of a pregnancy is believed to protect and bless the mother and child during the difficulties of labor. The red color and special designs guard against the evil eye and protect from any evil or malicious spirits that may be near during delivery.
Weddings,Bridal & Sangeet
Thought to ward off evil, mehndi is applied for celebrations and holidays. It is applied to the hands and feet of Muslim and Hindu brides for marriage. It’s a show of wealth, beauty and brings good luck, fertility, and love. Don’t forget, no housework is to be done while the bridal henna is visible.
Traditionally the grooms initials are hidden in the patterns. The groom must search for the initials on the wedding night, if he can't find his initials he is expected to give a gift to his new bride! This little game of "hide and seek" has served as an icebreaker for generations of couples in arranged marriages.
Henna has been used widely in the production of leather goods. It is used to decorate drum skins, general dying of leather and for coloring cloth. It was used by the Persians to dye the hooves and manes of their horses. When Persians invaded India on horseback around 712 CE, they brought with them Islam and mehndi. Henna was certainly used in India prior to this time but not with the widespread, popular use that developed under Muslim rule.
The henna plant has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. One of its main properties is that of a cooling agent. It is for this reason that henna is applied to burns and scrapes and is often used to treat heat exhaustion and to bring down the fever of a sick person. It may also be applied to the skin to treat a variety of rashes including athletes foot and ringworm. Henna provides a complete sunblock, try tanning with your mehndi. When the red color fades you will be left with a white pattern where your mehndi was.
Henna has been used in beauty rituals and customs from time immemorial. It is the oldest documented cosmetic and widely used through the Middle and Far East. It is used for its moisturizing and sun protecting properties as well as a hair dye, and its ability to transform the skin with red patterns. It is rumored that Cleopatra and Nefertiti used henna as well as Fatima, the Prophet Muhammed's daughter, and Mumtaz Mahal, to which the Taj Mahal was built.
When & Why is it Used
Traditional Eastern Marriage Traditions
Weddings are the main use for the adornment of the bride’s hands and feet before the marriage ceremony in Hindu and Muslim cultures. Traditional wedding mehndi can be incredibly dense, resembling lace gloves. It often covers the tops and palms of the hands extending up the arms, and the tops of the feet extending up the ankles and legs. Bridal mehndi is a sign of status and celebration and is one of the first gifts from husband to wife.
Often symbols of fertility and love such as peacocks, hearts, and mangoes, musical instruments, Ganesh, or elephants will be incorporated into the design. The grooms initials may be hidden among the patterns to initiate intimacy on the wedding night. A game is played whereby the groom searches the brides mehndi for his initials.
Certain customs hold that when the new bride moves into her husband’s home she will do no housework while her mehndi is visible. This allows the bride to familiarize herself with her new family and to find her place within it. Once the mehndi has faded she will begin to care for her new family. This is often the first and last vacation a woman will receive in fundamentalist or traditional households.
The function of mehndi in wedding rituals extends far beyond beauty and socializing. It is associated with a girls entrance into womanhood at marriage. A relationship exists between mehndi, hymenal blood, and the menstrual cycle. This is due in part, to the color of the dye and its average duration of one week.
Traditionally, only married women practice this art. Mehndi and its accompanying rituals and uses become one of the few outlets for personal expression and autonomy for many women in the East. A woman will practice and use mehndi until the death of her husband, at which point it’s often given up entirely. However, the widow will mehndi her body in beautiful patterns if she chooses to throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.
Pregnancy and Other Events
Celebrations of all sorts include mehndi as it is considered to ward off evil, protect from the evil eye, impart good luck and generally be auspicious in nature due to its red coloring. It may be incorporated into births, naming ceremonies, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, Diwali, Ramadan and numerous other religious feasts, ceremonies and cultural traditions.The application of henna and the corresponding party is usually limited to women. Often female family members and close female friends will participate, this creates an opportunity to receive support and advice. It is a time where women, particularly those in a harem can separate from the structuring rules of their lives and relax.
Who Uses Mehndi?
People all over the world and of different religious beliefs and ethnicities use henna. Though henna and mehndi are used in some religious practices and customs it is not sacred or religious in nature. Mehndi is celebratory and often used strictly for the beautification of one’s body. Any celebration or party may include mehndi. Often, it is the reason for a gathering!
Henna has been used for centuries by many types of people. With each new introduction of place and time, the customs have transformed to suit the needs of the people.
Incorporate mehndi into your traditions and know that you are the recipient of an ancient female art form. An oral traditional, that has been passed from one generation to the next. Adapt it to your life and cultural needs.
Enjoy the indulgence of adorning yourself and spend some time getting acquainted with this wonderful art. Below are several examples of how henna and mehndi enter into use by different religious and ethnic groups.