Henna is a beautiful art form that has been alive for over 5000 years. Ancient Chinese, Vietnamese, and Egyptians used henna to stain nails and hair. It was adopted by the desert dwellers in Rajasthan, Punjab, and Gujarat due to its cooling properties. The soothing qualities of henna allow for a calming effect when applied to the hands and feet. The several diverse uses of henna have allowed it to increase in popularity throughout time.
The henna plant originally comes from Egypt. The scientific name for the henna plant is Lawsonia inermis.
Henna is known for its power to protect, to bring luck, and to provide material as well as spiritual wealth, is used in all ceremonies having to do with rites of passage. It is thought of as a lucky charm or blessing. Many believe that henna wards off the evil eye, guards against black magic, and all other supernatural forces or entities. Henna is an essential part of wedding, birth, and special ceremonies around the world. Henna tattoos have only recently gained popularity in the western world.
Henna designs may last for one to two weeks depending on the body area, how much that area is exposed to water, soap, rubbing, or chemicals. The color and depth of stain depends on the area of the body on which it is applied, an individual's body temperature, and how long the paste is left on. The palms and feet are the warmest areas of the body with the thickest skin, which allows the henna to seep into multiple layers. The color of henna varies from light orange to a dark wine, depending on the individual and type of henna used.
Natural henna does not stain black. "Black Henna" is dangerous to the skin, because it contains PPD, or para-phenylenediamine, it is said to cause blistering sores, scarring, burns, and many other side effects. Black henna can be found along beaches and tourist hotspots. "Colored Henna" is also becoming a hot trend. Although, it is semi permanent like henna, it does not come from the henna plant. These are made usually made using chemical, hair, or plant dyes. For your safety, it is highly advised that vendors that use, promote, or sell Black or Colored Henna product be avoided.
Excerpt adapted from: "Mehndi: The Art of Henna Body Painting," by Carine Fabius\