What is henna?
Henna is a paste made from the dried and powered leaves of the henna bush Lawsonia inermis. The powder is mixed with a variety of ingredients (I usually use lemon juice and/or tea, sugar and essential oils) and left to ‘brew’ in order to release the dye within the plant. It can then be applied to the skin to leave a natural stain. It is also used to colour and condition hair, dye fabric and leather and as a medicine, especially on burns as it is a natural antiseptic and cools the skin.
Is it harmful?
Natural henna is far from harmful; it actually nourishes the skin! The other ingredients are lemon juice, tea, sugar and Lavender, Tea tree and Peppermint essential oils which are all renowned as beneficial for skin. However, anyone with allergies is advised to discuss any possible triggers. As I make henna fresh for each event or booking, certain ingredients can be avoided.
It is important to be aware that any product called “Black Henna” is NOT natural. In order to create a black stain to imitate ink tattoos, a chemical known as PPD is added which can cause severe allergic reactions. Avoid this product!
What does it look like?
The paste itself varies in colour from green to brown. When it dries it looks almost black. It takes up the 48 hours for a henna stain to develop fully after the paste has been removed. To begin with the stain appears orange and will develop over a day or two into a deeper brown/red colour.
How long does it take to apply?
Depending on the intricacy of design and how much skin is to be decorated, it can take from a few minutes to a couple of hours! The longer the paste is left on the skin, the deeper the resulting stain will be. It should be left for at least an hour, longer if possible. After the surface of the paste has dried (which takes 15-45 minutes depending on temperature and humidity) it can be wrapped in cotton and plastic wrap and left overnight. Another way to help keep the henna from flaking off is to dab a sticky lemon-sugar solution over the paste.
How long does the stain last?
The time a stain can remain visible depends on a number of factors; from the strength of the paste, how long it is left on the skin, where on the body it is applied and individual skin chemistry. Generally designs last from a few days to a couple of weeks, though a design applied to the palm of the hand, wrapped and left for 6 or more hours can last 3 weeks.
Where on the body does henna stain strongest?
On the palms of the hand, the back of the hand and the feet.
How can I look after my henna so it lasts longer?
Henna stains best on skin that is clean and free from soaps, lotions and oils. It is therefore advisable to wash only with water on the day the henna is to be applied. Once the paste is on, keep it on the skin as long as possible. It is also good to keep the skin warm. Henna actually draws heat from the skin so a good idea is a nice cup of tea (which is of course never a bad idea!). The design can also be wrapped in cotton and plastic wrap to stop it drying out too quickly. Failing that, an old sock works well too.
When you are ready to remove the paste you can scrape it off with something like a butter knife. Any dry bits ought to flake away or you can pick them off. Try not to wash it off with water. At first the stain will appear orange, in order to give it the best chance of developing a deep stain over the following 48 hours, avoid getting it wet too often or applying any kind of lotion. After a couple of days when the stain is strong, you can preserve the design by rubbing in a little natural oil, e.g. olive or coconut, to nourish and protect the skin.