The practice of henna tattooing has been around for literally thousands of years! These are a painless, semi-permanent, needle-free, and plant-based alternative to getting a real tattoo. You’ve likely encountered henna tattooing at a local fair or exhibition and if you’re wondering all about henna, we’ve got you covered in this complete guide.
Table of Contents (clickable)
What is Henna Ink Made Of?
Henna ink is made from the leaves of a henna plant. They are dried, crushed into a powder form, and mixed with water, sometimes including essential oils to make the pigment more potent and give it a pleasant scent.
Henna can either be purchased in a pre-mixed format that is already in a piping bag, ready to be applied, or it can be purchased in a powder form, allowing you to mix your own henna. For henna that is sold in powder form, you can either apply the henna by scooping it into a homemade piping bag, or by using a small brush or stick to apply it delicately to the skin.
Henna is normally a brown, orange, or reddish brown color. If the henna being used is black, that raises some cause for concern.
Black henna has other pigments added to the henna plant powder in order to achieve the black pigment. Unfortunately, these ingredients are never easy to narrow down. As such, the FDA has ruled black henna as unapproved for use on skin.
The FDA has received numerous allergic reaction reports regarding black henna. They write, “The extra ingredient used to blacken henna is often a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people. That's the reason hair dyes have a caution statement and instructions to do a "patch test" on a small area of the skin before using them. Sometimes, the artist may use a PPD-containing hair dye alone. [...] By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin.”
What is Henna Used For?
Henna has been used for generations as a traditional part of rituals or cultural events, such as marriages and family celebrations. For these events, it’s typically applied on the skin in an ornate manner. Henna can also be used to dye hair or it can be added to other cosmetic products because it has antifungal properties.
- Wedding Traditions - Henna is frequently used to create ornate designs on the bride for wedding traditions throughout Asia and the Middle East. In some cultures, the henna is mixed by everyone in the family prior to being applied to the bride, using a little bit of the product to stain their own fingertips in a kind of unison.
- Arab and Mehndi Tradition - Although most people associate henna with the Indian tradition, when it is used in North African and Arab countries, it is called mehndi. Mehndi not only refers to the henna itself but also how it is piped and designed on the skin. The style differs as it usually begins with a circle as a starting point and moves outward from there.
Henna often has unique placements and very unusual designs. Some traditional designs include:
- Flowers and floral patterns
- Paisley patterns
- Leaves and vines
- Evil eye symbols
- Chakra symbols
How Long Do Henna Tattoos Last?
One of the many reasons why people are turning to henna tattoos instead of permanent tattoos is because they are semi-permanent designs. If your skin is taken care of, if you avoid chemical products and exfoliants, henna tattoos generally last around two weeks with very little fading.
If you want your henna tattoo to last longer, you should let it sit on your body for at least 30 minutes to an hour before picking at the dry henna. You should also moisturize the region after application.
Why Else Would You Want a Henna Tattoo?
Along with being a temporary tattoo option, people like henna tattoos because:
- They’re low cost
- They’re easy to edit or change if you are unhappy
- They’re completely painless
- They’re easily accessible.
Our Final Thoughts
Henna tattoos are a beautiful cultural tradition that is taking on as a more popular alternative to traditional tattoos. We always recommend that if you are making henna for your own application, you should be sure to source the henna mix from a safe and trusted seller. Remember that black henna is not approved by the FDA and skin application of black henna should be avoided.
Always perform a patch test of any product you are using on your skin, prior to committing to a large piece, so you can be aware of any allergic reactions you may have to the henna.