Blog Archive

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Brochure #1: Common questions

Here in the Midwest, not too many people are familiar with henna art.  Here are answers to the questions I hear the most when I'm running my booth.

  • What is that?
    • This stuff is called henna, or sometimes mehndi or mehandi.  (Technically, henna is the stuff, and mehndi is what I'm doing with it.)
    • Henna is a "vegetable dye", a natural dye found in the leaves of the henna plant.  It stains the skin, just like blueberries make your tongue turn purple, or mustard stains your shirt.  It is not a chemical dye; I have never and will never use artificial ingredients in my henna mix.
    • Growers harvest henna leaves, dry and powder them, and sell the powder to people like me.  I mix the powder into a paste with other ingredients, then I draw designs on your skin with it.  The dye soaks in and stains your skin.
  • Is that a real tattoo?
    • No. People call it a tattoo because it's artwork done on your skin, but that's the ONLY thing henna has in common with real tattoos.
    • Real tattoos use needles to inject colors into the inner layer of your skin, to make them permanent.  I'm drawing on the outer layer of your skin.  Some henna artists do use plain syringes, without needles, to draw very fine lines in their designs.
    • Laws vary from state to state, but in general, tattoos must be applied in a medically clean environment (antiseptic soap, alcohol wipes, medical gloves, all that) and only to people who are 18 or over.  That just doesn't work in an outdoor booth or a private party!
  • How do you put it on?
    • I put the paste into little "cones" made from plastic gift wrap, and squeeze the paste out through the tip.  It's just like decorating a cake, only smaller.  Then the paste dries on your skin, and as you leave it there, the henna dye in the paste soaks in.
    • Along with the syringes I mentioned, some artists thin the paste out so that it's more like watercolor, and paint it on the skin with a soft brush!  I haven't tried that yet, though.
  • Does it hurt?
    • It shouldn't!  Most people say that it tickles a little bit.  If you have a sensitivity or allergy to one of the ingredients in my paste, that could irritate your skin.  If it does, please tell me, because it means I need to stop.
    • Not every "henna artist" uses natural, safe henna.  Chemical dyes can cause severe damage to your skin. Please see my brochure on "henna safety" for more details, including ways to tell the difference between henna and chemical dyes.
  • How dark is it going to get? How long does it last?
    • That depends on a lot of factors; the biggest three are the quality of the henna paste itself, where it is applied, and how long you leave it on your skin.  Other factors include skin chemistry, certain medications, stress levels, even menopause.
    • The dye in the henna paste needs to be able to soak into your skin.  Putting a design on good, thick skin, and leaving the paste for a good long time, will get the darkest and longest-lasting stains.
    • The thickest skin on  your body is on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet.  Second best are the backs of the hands and tops of the feet.  From there, skin generally gets thinner and more delicate as you move inward.  The elderly, young kids, and pregnant bellies have the thinnest skin and will take the least stain.
    • At the extreme, stains can last anywhere between three days and three weeks, but 10-14 days is typical.
  • Does it come in other colors?
    • Yes and no.  Being a plant, henna naturally stains in a range from orange-tan through to chocolate or coffee color brown, depending on how fresh it is, where it was harvested, and the quality of the crop itself.  Some people find that henna will stain their skin a bright cherry red that never turns to brown, but this has to do with their skin chemistry.  I currently have an exceptional batch of henna, harvested in 2007, that can stain palms to a very dark "plum skin" color, and a rich brown elsewhere.
    • There are natural dyes such as indigo, turmeric, and wine that are sometimes used to add tints to a henna design (blue, yellow, and rose), but these don't last as long as the henna itself.
    • There is a form of henna art called "gilding" that uses a paste made from hair gel, glue, and cosmetic glitter to draw designs in very bright colors, complete with jewels stuck into the paste as it dries; however, there is no henna or any other dye in gilding pastes, and the color disappears as soon as you remove the paste.
  • How long should I leave it on?
    • The longer, the better!
    • The dye in henna paste needs plenty of time to soak into your skin; a good paste can leave a very faint stain in as little as twenty minutes, but it takes as much as 3-6 hours for a really good stain to develop.  Generally, after about 8-12 hours, your skin has absorbed all the dye it can.
    • Some people will even "seal" the paste onto the skin (with hair gel, spray-on bandage, medical tape, or a sugar glaze) to keep it in place, wrap it carefully, and sleep in it overnight.  I usually tell kids to remove the paste before they go to sleep, so that parents don't have to worry about the paste crumbling in bed.
  • Can I go swimming/take a shower/sleep in it?
    • If you're talking about the paste, no.  Water will rinse the paste off, or just smear it around and wreck the design.  Sleeping in it is possible with a little preparation.
    • If you're talking about the stain itself, sure!  Scrubbing it too hard might make it wear off more quickly, and swimming can as well, but the stain should still last a few days at least.
  • Can you put a design…?
    • On my feet? If you are wearing shoes, I can't put a design on your feet.  I'm thrilled that you are willing to take your shoes off, but you won't be able to put them back on without destroying the design.  The same thing goes for leg designs under long pants, arm designs under long sleeves, and so on.
    • Around my arm? I will cheerfully put a design on the outside of your arm; however, a full arm-band is not practical or comfortable for either of us.  You would need to keep your arm out away from your body the entire time I'm working, the twenty minutes it will take the design to dry afterward, and however long you want to keep it without rubbing it off all over your shirt.
    • Around my ankle? Yes, I can do ankle bracelets; they start at $10 because they require more work than most other designs.
    • Tee-hee, right here? Henna will stain any part of your skin, and I will apply it pretty much anywhere that you feel comfortable baring in front of me.  Keep in mind, though, that most of my business is done either in a public setting or at parties with other guests.  I reserve the right to refuse any request that I decide is inappropriate.


  1. Looks good!

    I've spent way too much time with Toxicologists on the one hand, who worry about chemophobia and emphasize that most chemicals are safe, and reading herbals on the other hand, that emphasize even natural products aren't always "safe".

    So I guess I'm being nitpicky by saying that even real, natural henna is a chemical dye. It's just that the black henna actually causes a chemical burn, while your henna should respond more like... oh... an herbal tanning lotion.

  2. Well, okay, yes. To be nitpicky, henna dye is a chemical compound - but by the strictest definition, so is water.

    Henna dye was made inside the henna plant itself. PPD was made in a laboratory somewhere.

    My safety brochure will be covering this in further detail, but what happens is that the henna dye stains your skin; the PPD hair dye stains your skin, then poisons you, then poisons you more as your liver breaks it down into other things that are also toxic.

    PPD does not cause a chemical "burn" - those are created by very strong acids, like hydrochloric acid or battery acid, or bases, like ammonia or lye.

    Some people experience no reaction at first, but nearly everyone will eventually develop a reaction - PPD is a classed as a "sensitizer", like poison ivy or bee venom, meaning you will become more sensitive and have a stronger reaction to it with each exposure. This is why hairstylists I've spoken to say that eventually they either have to wear gloves at all times when handling hair dye, or they have to stop handling it altogether.

    Bottom line: henna is friendly, PPD isn't.