Henna Hair Tint & Body Art: A History & A How To!

Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is a flowering plant used since antiquity to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather and wool. The name is also used for dye preparations derived from the plant, and for the art of temporary tattooing based on those dyes. The henna plant is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, southern Asia, and northern Australasia in semi-arid zones. Henna has been used since the Bronze Age.  There is mention of henna as a hair dye in Indian court records around 400 CE in Rome during the Roman Empire, and in Spain.  It was listed in the medical texts of the Ebers Papyrus (16th c BCE Egypt) and by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (14th c CE (Syria and Egypt) as a medicinal herb.

Use of henna for body art has enjoyed a recent renaissance due to improvements in cultivation, processing, and the emigration of people from traditional henna-using regions. For skin dyeing, a paste of ground henna (either prepared from a dried powder or from fresh ground leaves) is placed in contact with the skin from a few hours to overnight. Henna stains can last a few days to a month depending on the quality of the paste, individual skin type, and how long the paste is allowed to stay on the skin.  Henna also acts as an anti-fungal.  Henna flowers have been used to create perfume since ancient times, and henna perfume is experiencing a resurgence.

Whole, unbroken henna leaves will not stain the skin. Henna will not stain skin until the henna leaf is crushed or  smashed with a mildly acidic liquid.  Since it is difficult to form intricate patterns from coarse crushed leaves, henna is commonly traded as a powder.  The dry powder is mixed with lemon juice, strong tea, or other mildly acidic liquids to make a preparation with toothpaste-like consistency, which can be used to make finely detailed body art. The henna mix must rest for 6 to 24 hours before use, to release the lawsone, a burgundy organic compound that has an affinity for bonding with protein (skin), from the leaf matter. Essential oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus, cajeput, or lavender will improve skin stain characteristics.

Henna Powder

The paste can be applied with many traditional and innovative tools, including resist, a cone, syringe, Jac bottle or fingers. A light stain may be achieved within minutes, the longer the paste is left on the skin, the stronger the stain will be, and should be left for several hours. To prevent it from drying or falling off the skin, the paste is often sealed down by dabbing a sugar/lemon mix over the dried paste, or simply adding some form of sugar to the paste. It is debatable whether this adds to the color of the end result; some believe it increases the intensity of the shade. After time the dry paste is simply brushed or scraped away.

Henna stains are orange soon after application, but darken over the following three days to a reddish brown. Soles and palms have the thickest layer of skin and so take up the most lawsone, and take it to the greatest depth, so that hands and feet will have the darkest and most long-lasting stains. Steaming or warming the henna pattern will darken the stain, either during the time the paste is still on the skin, or after the paste has been removed. Chlorinated water and soaps may spoil the darkening process: alkaline products may hasten the darkening process. After the stain reaches its peak color it will appear to fade, as the stained dead cells exfoliate.

Hair dye

Henna has been used as a cosmetic hair dye for 6,000 years. In Ancient Egypt, was known to have used it. It was commonly used for many centuries in areas of India, the Middle East, and Africa.

In Ancient Egypt, Ahmose-Henttimehu 17th Dynasty (1574 BC): Henttimehu was probably a daughter of Seqnenre-Taa II and Ahmose-Inhapi. Smith reports that the mummy of Henttimehu own hair had been dyed a bright red at the sides, probably with henna.

In Europe, henna was popular among women connected to the aesthetic movement and the Pre-Raphaelite artists of England in the 1800s. The fashion for Orientalism led young women with a bohemian inclination to begin tinting their hair with henna. Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s wife and muse, Elizabeth Siddal, had naturally bright red hair. Contrary to the cultural tradition in Britain that considered red hair unattractive, the Pre-Raphaelites fetishized red hair. Siddal was portrayed by Rosetti in many paintings that emphasized her flowing red hair.[12]The other Pre-Raphaelites, including Frederic Leighton, Evelyn de Morgan, Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, and French painters such as Gaston Bussière (painter) and the Impressionists further popularized the association of henna-dyed hair and young bohemian women.

Opera singer Adelina Patti is sometimes credited with popularizing the use of henna in Europe in the late 1800s. Parisian courtesan Cora Pearl was often referred to as La Lune Rousse (the red moon) for dying her hair red. In her memoirs, she relates an incident when she dyed her pet dog’s fur to match her own hair. By the 1950s, Lucille Ball popularized “henna rinse” as her character, Lucy Ricardo, called it on the television show I Love Lucy. It gained popularity among young people in the 1960s through growing interest in Eastern cultures.

Lucille Ball

Muslims also use henna as a dye for their hair and for the beards of males—following the tradition of their prophet Muhammad, who used to dye his beard with henna. It’s considered a “sunnah” and akin to something fortunate/good. In one narration by him, he encouraged Muslim women to dye their nails with henna so their hands can be distinguished as feminine & from the hands of a male. Hence you will see this tradition greatly in the Middle East and Africa where women apply henna to their finger and toe nails, as well as their hands.

(Used a mix of henna and indigo to dye her hair a rich dark-brown with the gray hair a deep reddish-brown.)

Today

Commercially packaged henna, intended for use as a cosmetic hair dye, is available in many countries, and is now popular in India, as well as the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. The colour that results from dying with henna can fall into a broad spectrum, from auburn, to orange, to deep burgundy, chestnut brown or deep blue-black. To achieve a colour that is more brown or black, the user must use indigo hair dye as well as henna. The henna is applied first, to coat the hair. Once dry, the indigo is used. The following factors determine the hair colour that results from using henna:

  • user’s original hair colour
  • freshness of the henna
  • region of origin of the henna
  • amount of time the henna is left on the hair to process
  • whether it remains wet on the hair, or is allowed to dry
  • the amount of heat retained on the head during the dying process

In this form, it is generally mixed with herbs and perfumes during manufacturing to give it a pleasant fragrance. It is prepared for use much the same way that it is prepared for body art: it is usually sold in block form, and is used in the quantity required for the desired shade of red, brown or black. This will vary according to the user’s natural hair colour. The henna is grated into a non-metal container (metal may chemically interact with the henna and ruin the dye) such as a glass bowl. Then hot water is added to it, and the mixture is stirred with a non-metal tool such as a spatula. Once dissolved, the henna is spread onto clean, dry hair. The hair should then be covered with disposable plastic wrap to hold in the heat and moisture, which help the dye to activate. Since any henna that drips will dye skin or clothing, many users will then put a dark towel or a shower cap over the plastic. The henna typically requires at least four hours of processing time before it is washed out. Once hair is dyed with henna, the colour will gradually fade, but it will do so slowly.

Traditions of henna as body art

Mehndi on a hand

Henna on foot in Morocco

The different words for henna in ancient languages imply that it had more than one point of discovery and origin, as well as different pathways of daily and ceremonial use.

The fashion of “Bridal Mehndi” in Pakistan, Northern Libya and in North Indian diasporas is currently growing in complexity and elaboration, with new innovations in glitter, gilding, and fine-line work. Recent technological innovations in grinding, sifting, temperature control, and packaging henna, as well as government encouragement for henna cultivation, have improved dye content and artistic potential for henna.

Though traditional henna artists were Nai caste in India, and barbering castes in other countries (lower social classes), talented contemporary henna artists can command high fees for their work.

Link to Henna Tutorial:

Final_Mehndi_%28Henna_Tattoo%29.theora.ogv  Author Cupcakelynda

Resource:

Hennapage

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