Henna is a several-thousand year old art with diversified traditions throughout Southwest Asia, the Middle East and Northern Africa. Originally from Persia, the natural dye within the leaves of the henna plant (lawsonia inermis) was used by various cultures for traditions including birth, coming of age, marriage and death.
The henna plant itself is a hardy little shrub that thrives in hot, arid climates. The leaves are harvested once or twice a year, after the heavy rains, and left to dry completely. The leaves are then ground into a fine powder to preserve the dye within. Henna powder is mixed with a few ingredients, including lemon juice, to encourage the dye to release. Henna paste is then applied to the skin, hair, fingernails, natural fabrics (eg. cotton, silk) and leather.
What exactly is henna?
The henna plant ("lawsonia inermis") is a hardy little tree that grows in hot arid climates such as northern Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia. The leaves of this plant are harvested, dried and ground into a fine powder. This powder is made into a paste and used to dye skin, hair and even your fingernails.
The henna plant comes from the Loosestrife family, and there are many varieties found in different areas that, in turn, produce different kinds of henna powder. The powder ranges from bright green to grayish-green to a dull brown in colour. The resulting stain can be mostly in reds, purples, oranges or browns.
Henna paste has been traditionally used for over 5,000 years as a cosmetic, natural dye and medicine. Most commonly used in ceremonies, henna is applied to hair, hands and feet, bringing the wearer good luck and warding off evil.
How does henna stain the skin?
Henna paste is applied on top of your skin and over several hours the natural pigments are absorbed into the upper layers of your epidermis. Learn more about How Henna Stains the Skin (Henna Page) >
Henna powder made from dried, ground leaves of the henna plant (lawsonia inermis) - photo by A.I. Sitnik
What colour does henna stain the skin?
There are also many types of henna plants but the most common is a bright green colour. Your skin will stain in any shade (light to dark) of orange, red, brown, burgandy and near-black. Even if you have darker skin, Henna will be a contrasting stain. See the Color Chart (Henna Page) >
Where is the best place on my body to get hennaed?
To get the darkest, longest lasting stain, have the Henna paste applied to the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. (This isn't too practical for some people because it means no walking or picking things up for hours!) The skin is thicker there and exfoliates slower than other areas on your body. The tops of your hands and feet also produce darker colours. Your face & neck will have the lightest stains. See the Mapping Henna Stains on the Body chart (Henna Page) >
What are the practical uses of henna?
Besides being a natural dye, Henna has been used for centuries in antiseptics, astringents, antibacterials, antifungals, antispasmodics (relaxing), antipyretics (cooling), topical sunscreens, antiperspirants, as a treatment for sunburn & eczema, in the prevention & masking of foot odour, as a skin moisturizer & conditioner, and as a treatment for alopecia (hair loss)!
What is the significance of having henna applied to your skin?
What started as a practical way to cool the skin in hot temperatures was eventually used to celebrate rites of passage (marriages, pregnancy, childbirth, puberty, etc). It is also a way of self expression and beauty! Generally speaking, henna brings good luck to the wearer.
Can anyone have henna applied to them?
Yes! It's not just for women! Pregnant women should check with their doctor/midwife before applying henna. Henna paste can be mixed with gentle & mild lavender essential oil, or completely omitted. It is recommended that children 5 years and under avoid having henna applied. Learn more about Henna and Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (Henna Page) >
How can I make henna stains last as long as possible?
Keep the paste on your skin for 4 hours minimum. This can be difficult since the paste will dry and start to flake off. You can spray or dab a mixture of lemon juice & sugar to moisten the paste and let the dye continue to seep out of the paste into your skin. Another way to keep paste on is to use a "liquid bandage" (such as "New-skin") or by wrapping the area with a thin breathable bandage (eg. gauze). Flexible micropore tape is ideal, but you can get by with toilet paper!
After removing the henna paste, do not get the area wet or wash within the first 24 hours. The henna 'dye' is just beginning to oxidize (darken) and by contacting the top layers of skin with water, soap, etc you will remove some of it.
Henna paste (dried, ground lawsonia inermis leaves mixed with lemon juice, sugar and lavandula officinalis essential oil)
How do I remove henna stains?
The quickest way to remove your henna stains is to wash with an exfoliating (scrub) soap a couple of times a day... You can also use Arm & Hammer Extra Whitening Toothpaste to wash the henna stain and help remove it faster. However, it will still take 3-7 days to remove the stains completely. Be careful not to scrub too hard that you hurt yourself. (It takes 21-25 days for your body to naturally exfoliate your skin completely.)
How do I make henna paste? How do I apply it?
There are step-by-step instructions at HennaPage.com >
I have offered workshops on how to make henna paste and applicators and how to apply henna onto skin. I currently do not have any workshops scheduled - check the Home page for announcements.
Where can I purchase Henna? Where do I get supplies?
You can purchase excellent supplies (like the pros use!) from Larissa at AtlanticHenna.com. She carries a variety of products and ships to any address in Canada and around the world.
What is "black henna"? Is it safe?
First and foremost: Henna is not black. So-called "black henna" contains synthetic dyes that can be harmful. Learn more about these dangers on the What is "black henna"? page >
Where can I learn more?
I offer a Henna 101 Workshop for people of all skill levels. In particular, participants learn to make henna paste, use applicators and other tips. (Currently, I do not have workshops scheduled.)
There is also the Henna Page community forum - get help and network with an international community of natural henna artists. Hennatribe is another online natural henna forum with a vibrant community of artists.
The magic of henna: Left photo shows the henna paste on the skin, middle photo shows the paste removed and initial stain, right photo shows fully-darkened stain.