What is Henna?
Henna is the Persian name for a shrub known as Lawsonia inermis. The henna plant is native to Asia and the Mediterranean coast of Africa and now thrives in warmer climates all over the world. It has small, four-petaled flowers ranging from yellow to pink and its leaves produce a red dye. The leaves are harvested, dried, and ground into a fine powder. This powder is then used to dye hair red and for the ancient art of mehndi body painting. Henna contains hennotannic acid, a dye that bonds with the collagen in skin cells and keratin of fingernails and hair, leaving behind a red coloring.
The henna plant is one of the oldest cosmetics ever used and is extremely safe. Natural 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.
There is no such thing as black henna. In order for henna to produce a black color chemicals that are unsafe for your skin must be 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. It can cause liver and kidney damage, as well as scarring of the skin. For more information check out http://www.hennapage.com/henna/ppd/index.html.
Fresh henna powder smells like fresh cut hay or spinach and is an earthy green or khaki color. If the powder is bright green in color a chemical dye has been added. If the powder is brown and has little or no scent, it is likely the product is stale and too old to yield a good color for mehndi or henna body painting.
What Color Henna gives and How Long Does it Last?
Once the paste is removed, the 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. Darkness varies with each persons body chemistry, the area of body chosen, and the length of time the paste remained in contact with the skin. The longer the paste is in contact with your skin, the darker the color and the longer lasting it will be. It will last the longest, 1-2 weeks, on thicker, dry skin such as hands and feet, and will fade more quickly, 3-10 days, on thinner skinned areas such as arms, chest, and back. As your skin exfoliates and regenerates your mehndi will completely disappear. To obtain the best possible stain apply the paste to hands and feet, keep the area very warm, and leave the paste on at least 8 hours. 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.
How to maintain Henna / Mehndi?
Once the paste is applied to your skin treat the area gently as it is fragile and has a tendency to flake off. To prevent the paste from drying out and flaking off apply a solution of 3 parts lemon juice and 1 part sugar with a cotton swab. Apply this solution as often as you like or whenever the paste appears dry. This creates a protective glaze and helps to retain the moisture in the paste as well as act as an adhesive between the skin and paste.
Carefully wrap the area in tissue securing it firmly with tape then wrap this with plastic wrap. Yes, you will look like a mummy but this is a sure fire way to keep the paste in tact and prevent staining of carpet, bedding and clothing. The wrap keeps the area warm and creates slight perspiration on the skin to remoisten the paste. Remember to keep the body warm by sitting near a fire or holding a heating pad to the area, heat makes a better stain.
Leave the paste on your skin for as long as possible. The longer the paste is in contact with your body the more dye is able to saturate into the skin. 6-12 hours will leave a nice, deep stain, but, the longer the better. I find it’s best to just wrap up and sleep with the paste on. Be careful not to shift the wrappings, this will dislodge the paste and smear the design.
If you want an extra dark stain, just before you are ready to remove the paste hold the area over steam for 20 minutes and then cut off the wraps. A steam producing humidifier works well or hold the area over a pot of boiling water or tea kettle.
Now you are ready to remove the paste. Scrape it off using the side of an iron knife, the iron helps to oxidize the henna. If this makes you nervous use the side of a spoon or a credit card. To remove any stubborn residue use a natural oil (olive oil works well), do not use water, it can ruin the stain.
Watch your new mehndi change from yellow-orange to a deeper reddish-brown (depending on your skin) over the next 48 hours. The dye will oxidize, becoming darker and richer in color. You should avoid contact with water as much as possible during this period.
Rub your mehndi with natural oil before bathing or swimming to protect it from water and give it a quick rub of natural oil in the mornings. These simple steps protect your design and help it to look its best. Avoid excess rubbing of the area. Keep in mind that frequent washing, soaps, petroleum products (sunscreen and baby oil), and the rubbing of clothing and shoes on the design will cause it to fade more quickly. Shaving removes layers of skin so you may want to shave around your mehndi.
How to Mix Henna Paste?
Henna powder is light and heat sensitive as it is an organic product with no preservatives added. Store henna powder sealed tightly and protected from light, air, and moisture in the freezer.
Supplies you will need:
Fresh Henna Powder, 20 grams (1/4 cup).
Bottled or Fresh Lemon or Lime Juice, strained
Small Plastic or Glass Bowl
Plastic Sandwich Bag
Applicator Bottle or Cone
Begin mixing paste the day before you would like to apply the henna. It takes about 24 hours to prepare the henna paste for application.
This recipe is for 20 grams of fresh henna powder and will produce approximately 3 ounces of paste, enough for 75 small patterns.
In The Evening
The night before you plan to use the paste, (24 hours prior to use), pour 20 grams of fresh henna powder into a small bowl and add 1/4 cup of strained lemon juice.
Stir the henna and lemon juice until they are completely mixed together and no lumps of dry powder remain. The paste will be thick at this point, similar to mashed potatoes.
When using any type of dye a second ingredient is needed to create the chemical reaction to release the dye molecule. Henna requires an acid to bring out the dye molecule contained within its leaves. Lemon juice is the perfect companion as it is very acidic, readily available, and perfectly safe. It is not recommended to use water to mix your paste. Some recipes call for many ingredients in the mixture such as coffee, tea, tamarind, and spices. None of these extra ingredients will make much of a difference in the staining power of your paste. You'll get a fabulous stain with just lemon juice and high quality essential oils.
Cover the henna paste with a piece of plastic wrap to protect it from air and let it sit in a warm place, 85° Fahrenheit, overnight or for 12 hours.
In The Morning
Unwrap the henna paste and add 1-2 teaspoons sugar to help the paste stick to the skin once it is applied.
Add the vial of Henna Caravan Essential Oils or 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of your own oils. Cajeput, tea tree, revensara, or lavender are all good choices. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. The essential oils will help to produce the deepest and darkest stain.
Determining exact amounts of lemon juice required for henna paste is very difficult since the henna plants are grown in many different regions of the world. Depending on the location, weather, and time of year that the leaves are harvested the recipe will need varying amounts of lemon juice. The paste should be smooth and creamy, similar to yogurt. If too much lemon juice is added the paste will be runny and your designs will bleed together. If the paste is too thick it will be difficult to squeeze the paste out of the applicator.
Add lemon juice 1 teaspoon at a time, mixing completely between each addition, until you reach the desired creamy consistency.
When your paste is the perfect consistency you can let it sit sealed in the bowl or fill your applicators now.
If you want to fill the applicators now, pour paste into a plastic bag and twist closed. Cut a tiny piece off one corner and squeeze the mixture into the applicator bottle or cone. When the bottle is full, put the lid on the bottle and screw on the stainless steel tip. If you are using a rolled cone, fill it half way with henna paste, twist closed and wrap a rubber band around the end to prevent the paste from oozing out.
Let the bowl, bottles, or cones of paste sit in a warm place, around 85° Fahrenheit, for another 12 hours to allow the dye to be drawn out of the henna leaves so it will stain your skin deeply and as strong as possible.
After letting the henna mature for the day it is now ready to be used.
Is Henna safe?
The henna plant is one of the oldest cosmetics ever used and is extremely safe.
Natural 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.
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. It can cause liver and kidney damage, as well as scarring of the skin.