What Are Henna Tattoos?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 8, 2019
    Last Updated: November 26, 2020

Not all tattoos are carried out with needles and pain. A henna tattoo is one of the exceptions to the standard scenario, and a beautiful one at that.

Henna has spread throughout the world, making a lasting impression with its deep color and intriguing designs. There are, however, some types of henna to be wary of. We will get to that later in the article. For now, let’s have a look at what henna is and the history behind this ancient body-art.

A henna tattoo is made with dye from the henna plant. The tattoo is often made with a specific amount of henna powder mixed with other ingredients, such as water or tea. The paste is placed in a small piping bag and then piped on the skin.

Other techniques include a thin toothpick dipped in the dye and then drawn on the skin. It all depends on the artist and their desired method.

Watching a henna tattoo being created can be mesmerizing. Some artists like to outline the design before applying the dye. I recommend you bring a picture of a style you like. If you don’t have a style in mind, the artist usually has a book of designs for you to choose from.

Arab & Mehndi

The design of the henna tattoo differs, depending on the artist and also location. Lawsonia inermis, the henna plant, is native to North African countries. It is also found in other places, such as Australia and across Asia. However, henna is most often associated with India. Here this form of body art is referred to as “mehndi.

Mehndi is not only the henna tattoo but also the style in which it is piped. Looking at an Arab tattoo and a mehndi, you can clearly see a difference. The mehndi tattoo often uses circles as a starting point, and they usually cover large areas of the body.

The Arab varieties tend to be more subtle. They often include flowers, plants, and symbols. Although there are different styles, most artists today will create any design you request.

A Wedding Tradition

Henna is a common wedding tradition throughout Asia and the Middle East. Countries like Singapore, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Morocco use henna as a pre-wedding ritual. The families will host a small party for the bride, groom, and their guests—similar in a way to a bachelorette or bachelor party.

Henna Tattoo

Traditionally, in Egypt, the henna powder will be mixed with water or lemon juice and pressed into a pan. Candles are used to heat the mixture. This pan will be passed around from guest to guest until the henna is ready. The guests will then take a small amount of henna in the palm of their hands and leave it to stain.

Henna tattoos have become more than a souvenir from the East. Henna kits are now available online, as well as in drug stores, so that you can create your own design.

What Is Henna Ink Made Of?

The henna plant alone will not stain the skin. Traditionally, women would crush the leaves until they developed into a paste. The dye was then mixed with a small amount of water and left for 48 hours.

Nowadays, henna is often sold as a ready powder—made from the leaves of the henna plant, which have been dried, ground and sifted. When buying henna, it is crucial to look at the color. A faded color indicates that the henna could be old. Also, if it’s too green, there might be added coloring to make it appear fresh.

The powder will then be mixed with a wet ingredient, such as lemon juice or water. Some artists like to mix in a few drops of essential oil for fragrance. The henna already has a powerful floral scent, so I recommend choosing an oil which compliments this.

After the henna has been applied, it has to dry in order to stain the skin. The longer you leave it, the darker it will appear. Adding sugar or honey can bring moisture to the paste. The paste on its own will work, however, it often gets dry and flaky.

Black Henna

I’m sure we have all seen a henna tattoo which has an intense black color. This form of henna should be avoided by all means.

The FDA has marked black henna as dangerous since it can cause a severe allergic reaction. You may be one of the lucky people who won’t experience any immediate effects. One of the ingredients, however, can cause many to be sensitive to hair dye and other beauty products in the future. That ingredient is p-Phenylenediamine, otherwise known as PPD.

Black henna is often sold as a mix of henna powder with ‘coal-tar’ dye. Coal tar is a form of artificial coloring that contains high amounts of PPD. This dying agent is now banned for use in cosmetic products in the United States.

Since it is hard to know for sure whether or not the henna you’re purchasing contains PPD, I highly recommend avoiding black henna altogether.

How Long Do Henna Tattoos Last?

The answer to this question depends on a few factors. If the tattoo is located in an area often exposed to water and soap, it will typically fade at a quicker rate. One would guess then that hand tattoos, for example, don’t last for long.

In saying that, a henna tattoo can stay fresh for up to two weeks without much fading. It may take another two weeks before it’s completely gone. Some can last for over a month, specifically those located on more covered areas of the body. There are some methods of henna removal, though, should you wish to get rid of the ink quicker.

A black henna tattoo can last up to three weeks, but—as we mentioned—it’s best to avoid this type. The natural henna varieties may take on a red tint as they fade, providing an element of surprise.

There are a few ways to help a henna tattoo remain fresh for longer. Cleaning the skin before applying the dye is an important step. Furthermore, removing any dead skin through exfoliation, and shaving the area beforehand, is also useful. This also aids in the tattoo appearing more vibrant.