Henna has been used to decorate the body around the world for years, and has been used for anything from blessings and celebrations to luck and love. Henna is most commonly associated with India, and is used as part of Arab wedding celebrations and other festivals throughout the Muslim community. In recent years, the popularity of henna has spread worldwide, becoming a beautiful, exotic trend.
Natural henna is made up of a few core ingredients: henna powder, sugar or dextrose, citric fruit juice and essential oils. These core ingredients result in a very low-risk mixture, meaning that almost anybody can have a henna tattoo.
However, some artists add other ingredients to their henna mix in an attempt to produce a more desireable colour. High levels of essential oils, adding oils with a 'terping' effect (to increase the availability of dye) and trying to produce "Black Henna" all increase the risk of a reaction to henna, especially for those with sensitive skin. A good way to test whether you will have a reaction is to ask the artist to test you with a patch on the back of your hand. Should the patch begin to itch or tingle, it is best to avoid the henna and look for an alternative.
Henna is applied in paste form in a number of ways, the most common of which is a cone commonly made of cellophane. After the paste has been applied to the skin, it dries over a period of 30 minutes depending on the thickness and complexity of the design. During this time, the pigment in the henna is absorbed by the skin. Once dry, the henna flakes away, leaving behind a dye that is usually orange at first and darkens into a shade between pale-brown and dark chocolate, depending on a number of factors. People who tan easily tend to have darker henna stains, and certain areas of the body stain better than others. Stains are darkest and last longest where skin is thick, such as the palms of hands and the soles feet. Ankles, elbows and forearms tend to have lighter stains.
In Arab weddings, it is tradition for brides to have a 'henna night'. The henna night is the equivalent of a bachalorette party, where the bride's female friends and family gather at her house for food, drinks, dancing and henna. The henna is applied traditionally to the palms and feet of the bride, as these areas will darken the most before the wedding. The guests also have the option of henna, although it will not be as intricate as the bride's.
Nowadays, henna can be found at social events, fundraisers and even your front room. Whether it's a housewarming, bridal shower or a get-together, a henna party can be a great way to relax and spend some quality time with your friends.