Discover the origins of henna, the beautiful ceremonial skin artworks that Arab and Indian women draw over their hands and feet.
Henna is in fact the name of the plant, Lawsonia inermis, which many botanists believe originated from Ancient Egypt. The plant leaves are dried, powdered and made into a paste, that is drawn into geometrical artworks on the outer skin of hands and feet, usually onto women, as a ceremonial decoration before holidays and festive occasions.
The staining of skin and hair by the use of henna is actually centuries old, and the earliest found evidence of its use were found on Egyptian mummies whose hair and nails were found stained. It was carried out of North Africa and into the Middle East and South Asia at least since 700 AD, and quickly became a very prominent tradition among the Arab tribes of the desert.
Today, they have become even more popular with the younger generations around the world, and people are not waiting until a special occasion to get a beautiful henna tattoo. The name henna tattoo might however be misleading, because unlike tattoos, henna stains are superficial and do not penetrate the skin, and they only last for a few weeks, whereas their skin-deep counterparts are more permanent.
In reality, the whole process is pretty basic and easy, as the hardest part is to get the graphics you want done right.
The henna paste is usually drawn onto skin using a plastic cone, or paint brush, or even a stick, depending on different traditions and cultures. Once on the skin, it will take the paste between 15-20 minutes to dry out, with the outer shell cracking and falling off. It is accustomed that they are then brushed with a mixture of lemon juice and white sugar, to remoisten the paste and make it stain even darker.
To preserve it and make it last longer, the henna tattoo is then wrapped with plastic film or medical tape to lock in body head to give it a more intense color. It has also been known that people use different oils, like olive oil, coconut oil and sesame seed oil to help sustain the henna stain and make it last longer.
If you want to take a try at it, you can buy ready-made tubes filled with henna at ethnic shops and beauty boutiques. Application is the same, and they will last anywhere from up to two to three weeks. Don’t be afraid to get creative.