Henna, also called Mehndi, is a plant dye that harmlessly and temporarily stains the skin a red-brown color. Its use in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and India dates back to 10,000-20,000 BCE. Henna is still widely practiced in over 50 countries, and in the past few years it has recently gained notice and increasing popularity in the United States. It is considered a beautifying agent, and customarily is utilized to adorn the hands and feet with intricate patterns. Henna is most commonly used by women (although men definitely use it too), and the process of application and letting it set (which takes some time) can act as a bonding experience for those who are involved.
Unless otherwize noted, all designs on this page that appear black or dark green are the applied henna paste--not the stain. All design (except for those of the Bali tattoo) were hand done by Baraka.
There are many different recipes that you may use to prepare your henna. Of paramount importance is that you use fresh well sifted henna. Fresh henna will give you the best and darkest color with the least amount of effort (fresh henna has a light green color, vs. old henna which is more of an olive green). Well sifted henna (i.e., henna powder devoid of small twigs and other foreign objects), will help to keep your applicator from clogging. In order to make the henna powder release the dye a mild acid must be used. Such acids include lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar. Henna will not release hennotannic acid unless it is at a 5.5 ph or higher. If you have very high quality henna, lemon juice is all that you need to make your henna release dye and be beautiful.
Here are two of many possible recipes:
1. This recipe is by Catherine Cartwright Jones, and I have found that it works very well--
2. This recipe is adapted from Loretta Roome's book, "Mehndi: The Timeless Art of Henna Painting." It is a good recipe, and smells great, but takes a lot of preparation.--
Images from The Reverend Bunny's Secret Henna Diary. These two pictures are the progressive results of a PPD black henna tattoo.
NEVER EVER USE BLACK HENNA!!! First of all, there is no true henna that leaves a black stain on the skin. Any product advertising itself as black henna is using an ingredient other than henna to achieve the black color. What is that ingredient? It is PPD (p-Phenylenediamine).
PPD is found in many black hair dyes, and the compound is known to cause severe allergic reactions with symptoms of muscle weakness, headaches, sore throat, stomach ache and light headeness. It may cause terrible blisters that are painful, ooze, itch like mad, and leave scars. "Even if you don't get a visible skin reaction to PPD, it can still be harmful. PPD penetrates deep into the skin, reaching the dermis (living cells) and passing into the blood stream. This is in contrast to henna, which only penetrates as far as the dead skin cells of the epidermis. Once in the blood stream, PPD may have effects on the kidneys, resulting in kidney impairment. Repeated or prolonged inhalation exposure may cause asthma, so those who prepare PPD-based black henna are at risk as well" (The Henna Page).
For More information about the dangers of black henna (and some graphics that will be sure to scare you away from the nasty stuff) please visit the following sites:
Beware of tubes of pre-mixed henna or henna kits. These packages may contain ingredients that could cause sever allergic reactions. You do not know what the manufacturer has put in their henna to ensure dark stains. At the worst, pre-mixed henna may include PPD's (see the section on black henna), otherwise it may contain essential oils that will cause adverse reactions. Many people are allergic to essential oils, especially nut extracts, eucalyptus, and clove oil.
I avoid the use of essential oils in my henna, but if you do want to use essential oil you should be aware that all essential oils should not be applied to the skin undiluted. Be sure to dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil (which can be obtained from anywhere that sells massage oils), or just use olive oil. The dilution should be a drop or two of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil.Back to Top
Make sure that your henna supplier sells you fresh henna (which has a light green color, vs. old henna which is more of an dark olive green). Henna can often be found at local whole-health product stores if they sell bulk spices, but I have found that their henna is usually old, stale, and poorly sifted. A better source is your local Indian or Middle Eastern ethnic grocer. These small grocers cater to a community in which henna is part of the culture. Their henna is usually decent quality and sealed in air tight pouches. Of course you can also order from on-line dealers. The following links were recommended by Catherine Cartwright Jones.
The following two workshops are offered through CCAC (Community College of Allegheny County). Please see the CCAC Non-Credit Lifelong Learning Program course catalog to sign up for the class.
I would be happy to set up an apointment to henna you or a group of people. I also can be hired to teach a henna workshop, including hands on experience with henna and/or a lecture (in brief, or at length) on the cultural/historical background of the art.
If you would like to schedule me for a henna appointment or to teach a workshop, please see my contact information below.Back to Top
If you need to contact me for any reason you can reach me via
Phone: (412) 521-2895