Paste made from henna leaves has been used to stain skin in India, Africa, and the Near East for centuries. Recently, interest in henna tattoos (or mehndi) has grown, especially in popular Western culture. Artists offering henna can now be found at fairs, theme parks, flea markets, and farmers markets all over the United States. Having henna done by a henna artist can be expensive, and many people would like to try to do it themselves. This article will give you the information you need to do your own henna.
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There are two basic options for doing henna yourself: buy a kit that includes either pre-mixed paste or unmixed ingredients, or buy henna powder and mix it yourself.
Kits with Pre-mixed Paste
Kits are ideal for first-timers. Sometimes the paste is mixed and loaded in an applicator ready to use; its very simple to get right to the application. However, it is more expensive to buy pre-mixed henna, and theres always a risk that the paste is old or isnt a good mix and therefore wont stain well. However, pre-mixed kits are great for getting straight to working on designs with no mess or fuss; they are easy and fun for beginners.
Kits with Unmixed Ingredients
Some kits come with henna, oil, and some other liquid so you can mix up your own paste. This is great if you arent very confident yet in your henna mixing ability, but youd like to experiment with mixing your own paste. Everything is measured out in the right quantities; just put it together. Mixing the paste yourself lets you experiment somewhat with the thickness of the paste, using more or less liquid. These kits are generally more expensive than simply buying and mixing the ingredients yourself, and you have no guarantee that the henna is fresh and will stain well, but its a good beginning or intermediate option.
Buying Your Own Henna
This is what henna professionals do: buy henna powder either online or in Indian grocery or specialty stores. Be sure to get a fresh crop. The resources at the bottom of the page are both reputable sellers of quality henna. Different varieties and crops of henna yield slightly different stains, so do a little research on the ones you are considering before buying. If youre shopping in person, ask for help from someone knowledgeable.
To mix your own henna paste, you will need lemon juice (fresh or bottled; bottled gives more consistent stain and doesnt require straining or juicing); aromatherapy grade essential oils high in monoterpene alcohols, which you can usually buy from the store where you purchase your henna (the best and safest for body art use are tea tree, lavender, cajeput, and ravensara); sugar; and your henna powder, of course. Each henna artist adds his or her own special ingredients to make a custom brew; feel free to experiment.
Mix some henna powder and lemon juice in a disposable bowl using a wooden or plastic utensil until you get a lumpy, dampbut not wetconsistency. Then add some sugar, and a few drops of essential oils, and some more lemon juice, and mix until you have a toothpaste-like consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and put a piece of paper towel on top. Leave the bowl of henna in a warm place (room temp or just warmer, like a gas oven with just the pilot on). Depending on the henna type, it may need between six and twenty-four hours to achieve dye releasewhen the acidic lemon juice has broken down the henna leaves enough to release the dye. Dye release is obvious when the paper towel that was placed on top of the plastic wrap has developed large orange stains on it. When this happens, take the wrap off and turn a spoonful of paste over. If the paste is lighter green underneath and darker green or brown on top, you can be doubly sure your henna paste is ready. The next step is straining.
Find an older pair of pantyhose and cut off a leg at about knee level. Place it in a plastic sandwich or carrot bag and fold the cut ends of the pantyhose up and out over the mouth of the bag. Spoon all the henna paste into the toe of the sock, holding the plastic bag on the outside to keep the henna off your hands. Squeezing the top of the bag shut with your hands, force the henna lump through the toe of the sock and into the bag. When youve gotten all the henna you can through, take out the stocking and seal the bag. Cutting a hole in a corner of the bag allows you to easily fill cones or bottles.
Its a good idea to put any paste you dont use immediately into plastic bags or filled cones and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer; then they are ready for use anytime and the dye does not degrade. Refrigeration will keep the henna fresh about five days; freezing keeps it good indefinitely. To defrost, simply warm cones in your hands until soft, then gently knead and squeeze to mix in anything that may have separated.
Its a good idea to practice drawing henna patterns before experimenting with real henna. An Internet search for blank henna templates will yield several websites that allow you to print outlines of various body parts. Practice drawing on them with a pencil or a cone/bottle filled with poster paint. Find some designs that appeal to you online or in books and copy them onto a template. Putting one of the blank body part templates into a plastic sheet protector allows you to easily wipe off mistakes.
Before henna application, skin should be clean and free of lotions. Alcohol or witch hazel swabbed with a cotton ball easily and safely cleans skin.
There are several easy techniques for applying henna paste: jac bottle, cone, and paintbrush.
A jac bottle is a little flexible bottle that has a cap with a small tip on it. It is easy for people who arent used to cones, because its a lot like using a pencil. Unfortunately, the tip can clog easily if the henna isnt sifted or strained well, and the constant thumb-squeezing motion is fatiguing on hands. It is a pretty good option for beginners, though, and jac bottles are reusable.
Cones are made of mylar or cellophane cut into a triangle, then rolled into a narrow cone shape. You can cut and roll them yourself or buy them pre-rolled. Cones filled with henna are secured at the top and rolled down like a toothpaste tube as the henna inside gets used up. The tip is then trimmed to make lines thick or thin. Cones are the application method of choice for many professional henna artists. They are fairly easy on the hands. They are refillable, but dont usually last more than one or two fillings.
Paintbrushes can also be used to apply henna. For those who paint often, a paintbrush may be a good option to start with. Just be sure to thin the paste out to a paint-like consistency.
Its important to take proper care of your henna design as soon as the paste begins to dry. If left alone, the paste will dry up and flake off on its own, however, this will not produce a really dark stain in most cases. A sealant (lemon juice and quite a bit of sugar, warmed until the sugar dissolves) dabbed on with a cotton ball when the paste is mostly dry will help it stay moist longer (and continue to release dye onto the skin). To wrap up the design, cover it with a tissue and then plastic wrap, then seal the sides up with tape. This allows the hennaed person to wear the paste overnight without smearing. The paste should stay on as long as possibleovernight is bestand exposure to water should be avoided for the first 12-24 hours after paste removal as well, if hygiene permits.
The paste may also be dried and heated with a hair dryer before it is removed. Gently scrape it off over a bathtub or trash can. Henna paste stains almost anything, especially cloth, so its important to keep all clothing and towels away from the henna.
The stain will mature over 1-3 days, beginning at orange and ending red or brown. Depending on body chemistry, location of the stain, and final darkness of the stain, your design should last anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Lotion and gentle handling of the skin will help the design last longer.
Henna is a permanent stain; when the skin that was stained dies and exfoliates, the stain disappears, and youre ready for a new design!
Very helpful pages for new henna artists: