1. What is Henna? What are Mehndi, Mehendi and all those other words?
Henna is the Arabic name of a bush of the botanical name, lawsonia inermis. Henna
powder is made out of the harvested and dried leaves from this bush. Henna paste is
made out of this powder. The design on the skin due to the application of henna
paste is called henna.
In India, there are numerous words for the plant and the art, because there are many
languages in India. Mehendi is the transliteration favored by several companies who
publish henna design books in Delhi and Mumbai. Mehndi is a transliteration favored
in Hindi. There are over 20 variations of the word prevalent...all are equally correct.
Though henna is used in many festivities, some of which religious, henna is not in
itself sacred. Henna is applied by mothers, sisters, and friends, rather than by clergy.
Henna is most frequently applied in a home, rather than in a church, synagogue,
temple or mosque.... The application of henna is considered auspicious and lucky,
but is not required as a sacrament in any religion. Henna is a cosmetic women use to
make themselves attractive, for good luck and as a part of looking their best, rather
than as a sacred decoration for a spiritual purpose. Henna is part of the social
celebration of life's events: weddings, births, naming ceremonies, festivals and is very
frequently used between the women of a family to strengthen friendships and family
bonds. Henna is nearly always regarded as beautiful, blessed and lucky. Women
have changed the use of henna every time it has moved from one country to another,
to suit their tastes, needs and sense of beauty.
There is no one correct tradition of henna. Henna has changed many times over the
last 5000 years, and been used in many ways by very different people. The
resurgence of henna in the late 20th century, and its introduction into Euro-American
culture is just one more phase in the history of henna. The contemporary use of
henna as a body art, at its best, is no less valid than at any time before...it is just very
new, and still taking shape.
2. Is henna a tattoo? Does it hurt? How does it work? How long will it
last? Is it safe?
In English, there are no words to describe a henna tint ornamenting the skin, so they
are frequently called "henna tattoos". Henna colored skin is not tattooed. Henna is a
dye that colors the superficial layer of the skin. Henna contains hennotannic acid,
which dyes collagens (skin cells) and keratins (hair and fingernail cells) very easily.
The dye is released from the vegetable matter and made available to dye skin at ph
5.5 or more sour. It takes time for hennotannic acid to bind with cells, so the henna
paste must stay moist and in contact with the skin for a while. Heat from the body
makes the dye darker.
The henna stain will last until that top layer of your skin exfoliates. All the skin on your
body gradually exfoliates and is replaced by new skin in 1-12 weeks, depending on
individual factors. The henna, then, will last as long as 8 weeks on the thick soles of
your feet, or go away as quickly as 3-4 days on very thin parts of your skin. The
newly grown-in skin will not have a henna pattern on it. It is very unusual for anyone
to have an adverse reaction to natural henna, but it does happen. Henna is one of
the safest cosmetics ever used, but a patch test is a good idea if you're unsure.
It is certainly a part of wedding traditions for women and men, best known in the "night
of the henna" parties. Hindus use it as a part of preparations for weddings, as well as
throughout the Islamic world. Sephardic Jews used henna in a night of the henna
party, and in Armenia, Christian women and men also adorn themselves with henna.
If you warm your hennaed skin near a fire, or rest for an hour or two with a heating
pad over your wrapped henna, your henna will be much darker. Your henna will be
darkest in hot summer weather. It will be most difficult to get dark henna when the
weather is cold.
After the henna has been on your skin several hours or overnight, you can remove
the green paste to see the orange-brown stain underneath. If your water supply is not
strongly chlorinated, you can just rinse off the henna paste, and the henna will
darken with exposure to air. Rain water and distilled water will not harm your henna. If
you suspect that your water has a lot of chlorine, scrape the henna off with a dead
credit card, and let it darken without rinsing.
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