Over 9,000 years ago, it was discovered that the henna plant had multiple uses, one being its decorative staining quality in which it is known best for today. Pakistan, India, Africa, and the Middle East have been practicing henna tattooing for over 5,000 years. It has not been long that the technique spread across to other countries.
The flowering plant grows 12-15 feet high and thrives in extreme temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and wilts when temperatures drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The reddish-orange dye used for henna temporary tattoo designs is called lawsone. Lawsone binds to the keratin protein in our skin, safely staining the surface. Depending on the quality of the henna, which is determined by the process of making it and the temperature of the substance, the stain can be anywhere from pale orange to nearly black. One’s skin can also determine how dark the stain is. The dye made from the lawsone is called “henna” as well. It has been used for centuries to dye skin, hair, fingernails, and sometimes fabrics like silk, wool, and leather.
The process of transmitting lawsone into henna dye for the skin takes approximately three days. The leaves of the henna plant need to be fully dried up and crushed into a very fine powder. Then, using one of many techniques, it is made into a creamy paste which is applied to the skin to stain the surface layer. In desert areas, people have been using the paste of henna to soak their palms and soles to cool off, as there are natural cooling agents in the plant. As long as the stain remains, they feel a cooling sensation throughout their bodies. When the stain began to fade away, it would leave patterns on the skin, which led to the idea of making designs with the paste. Not only does henna give a cooling sensation, but it acts as a sun block as well. If you desire a cool design with your summer tan, get a henna tattoo and bask in the sun; once the dye fades, your tan will still celebrate the beautiful artwork!
It is also said that the herb henna has healing qualities. It has been applied to the skin to relieve headaches, stomach pains, wounds, burns, and fungus. Henna can also reduce fever and has been used to prevent hair loss.
Henna designs were traditionally used for special occasions such as birthdays, holidays, and weddings. Africa, Pakistan, India, and the Middle East all practiced traditional henna use, especially on Mehndi night, which is a celebration featuring the bride of a wedding that is to come. The bride and guests are all decorated with the temporary tattoos by multiple henna artists during the evening. Today, brides like to have their designs done previous to Mehndi so they can enjoy the festivities and have a darker stain on the wedding day. As tradition stands, as long as the bride’s henna stains her skin, she does not have to do any housework; the darker the stain, the better the marriage will be!
Today, with the tradition spreading, it is normal to see henna designs on the hands, feet, pregnant bellies, and heads of those at the beach, shopping, or walking along the street. It is a beautiful art form that is suitable for anyone.