In some cultures, henna designs are synonymous with celebration. The night before a major event like a wedding, it’s common practice to decorate hands — and sometimes even feet — with the popular natural dye. Whether you’re considering it for your nuptials — or perhaps even a holiday like Eid or Diwali in certain cultures — a henna tattoo can be a great way to celebrate.
Here’s everything you need to know about henna for beginners, including how to care for a henna tattoo and some popular henna design ideas.
What is henna?
Henna is an Arabic word that refers to a plant natively found in Asia and Africa. In South Asia, henna is commonly referred to as mehndi. The henna plant offers a reddish-brown dye when applied to the skin or hair. The dye is formed by first drying the plant’s leaves and then crushing them to a powder. The powder is then made into a paste, which can be applied to hair or a beard as a natural dye. The paste can also be piped into plastic bag cones to create intricate henna designs on hands and feet.
While the FDA has only approved henna for use as a hair dye, not for direct application to skin, allergic reactions to traditional plant-based henna are not common. That said, you will want to take care to avoid so-called “black” henna, which often contains high levels of a chemical called paraphenylenediamine, or PPD. While PPD is an approved permanent hair dye ingredient, the level found in black henna has been shown to cause allergic and hypersensitivity reactions when applied directly to skin, especially in children.
How long does a henna tattoo last?
A henna tattoo can last up to three weeks on the skin, but you’ll probably notice that it will start to fade after two or three days. It will gradually fade away until it’s completely removed from the skin.
A henna tattoo works by dying the skin, so as the top level of the skin starts to naturally slough off, so too will the tattoo. You’ll also notice a difference in the color of the henna tattoo. When freshly applied, it will appear as a dark stain, but as time goes on, it will fade to orange or light brown.
How to care for your henna tattoo
Your henna artist can best advise how to care for your henna tattoo based on the type of henna they use. Still, there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure yours will last as long as possible:
Once your henna has been freshly applied, let the henna dry out. This can take 20 minutes up to an hour. At this stage, the dried out henna tattoo might start to flake. Let it flake off naturally but don’t deliberately flake it off — let the dye sit. Because henna tattoos work as a dye, you need to let them set for at least a few hours (or even overnight). This part of the application process is a gentle and patient one. Just be careful to tend to your henna tattoo — don’t smudge it anywhere and don’t get water on it.
How to remove a henna tattoo
Henna tattoos can’t be removed overnight or in a few hours, so be certain you want a henna tattoo before going for it. To remove a henna tattoo, the layers of skin where the dye has seeped into need to be removed. This can be achieved by washing the area with soap many times over, or exfoliating to speed the process. A henna tattoo should naturally remove itself over the course of a few weeks with regular hand-washing.
Where are henna tattoos placed?
A henna tattoo is most commonly placed on the hands and the feet, but technically you can place one almost anywhere on your body. Speak to your henna artist about what you’re envisioning and make sure they have the experience and skill to achieve what you’re looking for.
How much does a henna tattoo cost?
The price rates for a henna tattoo vary by region and the intricacy of the design. Speak to a local henna artist to learn about their rates. On average, a simple henna tattoo design on one hand might cost between $10 to $15; an involved bridal design could cost upwards of $500.
How to learn henna design
Like any form of art, henna requires practice! To learn how to become a henna artist, you can look into henna courses at local beauty and esthetician schools, particularly those that specialize in catering to South Asian brides. Apart from courses, you can practice on your own and teach yourself the art of henna. It requires a steady hand and a lot of practice, but with time you should expect to see great results.
Popular henna tattoo designs
Henna is a very organic art, so it’s likely that your henna artist will use their own creative expression to come up with a design for you. That said, some henna artists might have a sample photo book of designs they can replicate for you, or you can bring your own design ideas for the henna artist to create. The popularity of certain henna designs varies by culture and region, and can include symbolic designs that symbolize luck, love, joy and more.
However across all cultures, flowers are a very popular motif.
Another popular motif is paisley, particularly in South Asia.
Simple dotted sun motifs are also popular.
For weddings, you might see the bride get her partner’s name written on her hand in henna.
For a fun and modern approach, brides might also tie in the story of how they met, such as including a famous landmark from a certain city into the henna design or including henna paintings of shared memories or favorite hobbies.
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