Henna's scientific plant name is Lawsonia Inermis.
Henna is a plant that typically grows in hot regions such as South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) and North Africa (Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia). Henna or hinna is the English transliteration for the Arabic word and in South Asia, it is typically referred to as mehndi or mahndi. Henna is known for its dying purposes typically on the skin and hair and even silk cloth and has been adorned for centuries dating back to ancient Egyptian times and the Maharaja era of India. Til this day, henna is still a very common body art practice in many cultures around the world.
Before it was used for its dying properties, henna was a natural way to keep ones skin cool in the scolding heat. It was used as a protective layer on the skin to keep from blistering and sunburns.
The plant contains a natural oil-like chemical called lawsone which is what gives the orangish-reddish dye that binds to keratin in your skin to carefully and safely stain it.
The plant is washed then sun dried until it's nearly dehydrated, crushed into a fine powder and sifted 3-5 times to rid of any small twigs and leaves. The henna powder is then packaged and ready for distribution for henna artists to make the paste themselves for body art and natural hair dying.
Henna stains start from a pumpkin orange to a dark red or dark brown over the course of 24-48 hours after applying and removing the henna paste from the skin. Henna stains vary from henna powder quality, how long you leave the henna on (the longer you leave it on the skin, the darker the stain becomes), and your skin type (those with autoimmune diseases or anemia that require certain medications may not see dark stains). Henna does stain those of dark complexions given that proper aftercare is followed carefully.
What is Jagua? What is the Aftercare Process?
FUN FACT: Jagua got its name from the dark fur of wild jaguars.
Jagua is a natural ink substance that comes from the fruit, Genipa Americana. The Genipa Americana tree grows in several parts of South and Central America, commonly in the Amazon Rain forest. The natives of South America have used the jagua fruit ink for several centuries as a decorative way to dye the skin which also helps prevent mosquito bites and serves an insect repellent. The native word for jagua is Huito. The jagua fruit contains vitamin B, calcium and other useful properties and has also been used as a form of holistic medicine by South American indigenous groups.
Jagua ink is harvested when the fruit is at an unripe stage. The juice is made into a gel-like substance using body art quality ingredients. Jagua gives a bluish-blackish stain 6-12 hours after thoroughly removing the gel from the skin with cool water and soap.
- Before jagua appointment, make sure you exfoliate or shower prior to application to remove any oils, lotions or chemicals that may alter the stain.
- After jagua application, let it dry completely and wait 2 - 4 hours before removing it thoroughly with water and soap.
- Jagua stain will be very light at first and will gradually turn a bluish-blackish color within 6-12 hours.
* NOTE: Do NOT sleep with jagua on or do any movement that may cause sweating. Jagua may smear and transfer to other parts of the body if your are not careful. Make sure your remove jagua thoroughly before sleeping or exercising.
FUN FACT: Henna aftercare is KEY for dark henna stains!
To achieve dark henna stains, it is 100% crucial to follow the aftercare instructions provided by the henna artist given that they make their own henna with all natural organic ingredients. It is 50% the artists responsibility to provide a quality henna product and/ or service and 50% your responsibility to take proper care of the stains.
Henna stains vary depending on one's skin type (the warmer your skin is, the dark the stain will be and if you have cold skin then try to keep warm), skin conditions (those who take certain medications for autoimmune conditions that may alter with the keratin in their skin, may not see dark stains even with proper aftercare), aftercare awareness, and henna quality.
Reminder that henna stains the darkest where the skin is thickest such as the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Henna stains are lightest where the skin is thinnest such as the arms, legs, back, sternum, thighs and so on. This is because lawsone (a natural oil-like chemical componant that resides in the henna plant given that the plant's botanical name is Lawsonia Inermis) in henna paste needs to bind to the keratin in your skin which gives dark stains. So wherever the most keratin is found, that is where the stain will be darkest.
Before Applying Henna:
- It is important that you exfoliate your skin before applying henna, so showering or washing the area where henna will be applied thoroughly will be helpful with henna stain results. You want to make sure that the skin is free of oils, lotions or chemicals before applying.
- If you are either waxing or doing laser hair removal, do so at least 1 or 2 days prior to applying henna.
- Manicures & pedicures should be done prior to henna application to avoid chemicals or wetting the skin that may alter henna staining.
- FOR BRIDES it is recommended you get your henna done 2 days prior to your wedding day so the stains have time to darken, dress warm and comfortable as henna is a natural skin coolant and may make you feel very cold during the henna application process.
Henna Aftercare (THIS IS IMPORTANT, READ CAREFULLY):
1) Leave the henna on at least 6 - 12 hours, best results you can sleep with the henna on and wrap it with toilet paper or surgical tape being careful that the henna is completely dry before doing so so there is not smudging (plastic bags are not recommended). FOR BRIDES it is recommended that you leave your henna on overnight or longer than 15 hours for the best stain results on your big day.
2) Keep warm, henna loves heat and hates the cold because it is already a natural coolant. The hotter the climate, the darker the stains.
3) When ready to remove henna, apply a natural oil such as coconut oil, olive oil or Aragon oil to the henna and use the back of a butter knife or spoon to easily scrape it off. Pat excess oil off with paper towel once henna is fully removed. Henna stain will be a bright pumpkin orange at this stage.
4) This step is very important! Avoid contact with water for the first 24 hours after removing henna paste from the skin. Water can alter how dark the stain comes out, in most cases the stains will be very light with direct contact with water. If you must have light contact with water for any reason (such as wudu, the water purification ritual for Muslim prayers), apply coconut oil to the henna stain before light water usage and pat dry, making sure not to rub or scrub at the henna stain. With house chores, you can use rubber gloves to minimize your contact with water on the skin.
- If you have followed all of these steps carefully, you will see a beautiful dark cherry red stain within 24-48 hours. The longer you have left the henna on, the darker your stains will be (sometimes they may even come out almost black in color on the palms and feet).
Do You Use 'Black' or 'Red' Henna'?
Henna is never 'black' or instant.
Short answer; NO!
'Black henna' is not henna and is not safe to use as it contains chemicals like Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) which is typically used in synthetic hair dyes. PPD is dangerous to use on the skin and may cause chemical burns and can even cause damage to the hair. 'Black' or 'red henna' is typically used in some Middle Eastern and African communities for instant black or red stains. It is best to avoid any cones that are mass produced and sold in Indian or Middle Eastern grocery stores as well as on large online selling companies like Amazon or Ebay. There are other imitation 'henna cones' that look natural but smell very badly like chemicals, that is because they may contain gasoline, kerosene, tar, etc, that give faster but natural looking results. It is best to just avoid all imitation henna and make the henna paste yourself or order cones from an artist that makes and sells it themselves.
Natural henna is extremely perishable and must be kept frozen (not refrigerated) to stay fresh for up to 4 - 6 months until they are considered expired. Imitation factory-made 'henna' does not need to be frozen and can be shelved for months and years at a time without expiring and will still give a dark instant stain. There has been a recent trend that many Middle Eastern and South Asian stores have been notified that they are selling illegal chemical 'henna' in their shops so they have been putting those fake cones in a refrigerated area to give the impression that their cones are safe to use. Be aware that those cones are not safe even if the shop owners insist that they are just because they placed them in a refrigerator. Again, an indication that a cone is factory-made is the packaging, chemical smell, lack of mentioned ingredients and no aftercare instructions.
How to tell if an artist or store is using or selling fake/imitation 'henna':
- If the cone they are using/selling looks mass produced with pictures of a woman or henna drawing on the label or says "100% natural" on foil paper instead of a cellophane cone, it is likely that it is a fake henna cone. Leave and run for the hills!
- Some artists/sellers may say they are using natural henna but the henna looks suspicious, ask them what are the ingredients. If they cannot tell you or avoid the question, then it is likely they are not using natural henna.
- If the artist/seller says that it is okay to wash the henna off with water then it is not natural. Natural henna requires you to avoid water on the stain area for 24 hours (see henna aftercare process).
- Be mindful that there are usually only 4-5 ingredients used in henna which should be 100% organic making it a vegan product. Some artists/sellers may make their henna by hand but are not using safe ingredients. Avoid the them if they say they add gasoline, tar, 'henna oil', hair dye, kerosene and/or FDA unapproved essential oils which may contain unsafe chemicals, etc.
Henna is a fun and natural form of body art. Keep it safe by only using organic henna the way it should be.
What Are the Ingredients Used to Make Henna Paste and Why Are They Important?
Dye release in the henna paste is the reason why henna gives stains to the skin and hair.
There should only be 4-5 ingredients used to make henna paste. A good henna artist will share their ingredients but never their methods unless they are henna cone and powder supplier. Here are my ingredients that I use in my henna paste. Other artists' ingredients and methods may vary and differ depending on the weather and climate they live in. It's always about what works best for yourself and your clients. Making henna is trial and error and requires much research. This recipe is what works best for me.
Ingredients and their roles in henna paste:
1) 100g of good quality henna powder that is 3-5 times sifted - I prefer to use Rajasthani and Sojat henna powders as they give the best and darkest stains in my opinion. Your henna powder should look green and not brown. Green indicates that it is fresh, brown powder indicates that it is expired.
2) 30ml of FDA approved pure essential oil - My preference is Lavender and Eucalyptus but you can also use Tea Tree, Cajuput, or Geranium of your choice. Essential oil is important for dye release in the henna paste. The scent gives it a plus!
3) 35-40g of cane sugar - Cane or raw sugar is not refined like white table sugar. Cane sugar is vegan and is preferred over white sugar by most henna artists. You can also use molasses as well. Avoid using honey or Confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar). Sugar is needed so the henna can stick on the skin longer for darker stain results.
4) 150-200ml of water or lemon juice (near approximation) - Any liquid such as water, lemon juice, rose water or even non-caffeinated black coffee/tea (for colder climates) are okay to use in henna paste. After making henna for a while, you usually don't need to measure and can just eyeball the amount of liquid you add. If it's too runny, add more powder. If it's too dry, add more liquid.
5) Optional: You can add jagua juice to your henna paste for even darker stains. I only do this upon client's request.