Learn about Henna

The Basics

What is henna, and how does it work?

Henna is a small tree, and its leaves contain a dye which stains your skin - similar to turmeric or beets. However with henna, the dye molecule (lawsone) binds to the keratin in your skin, which makes it a permanent stain!

Henna paste is applied to your skin and dries to a dark brown-black color. The paste is removed after a few hours, and the resulting stain is initially a bright orange. It gradually oxidizes to a dark red-brown after about 48 hours. It may be nearly black in solidly colored areas and where skin is thickest (like the palms or soles of the feet).

Henna penetrates only the top few layers of skin, so as your skin exfoliates away, so does the henna stain. This is what makes it temporary compared with a permanent ink tattoo. Ink tattoos use a needle to penetrate deeply enough that they will not exfoliate away.

The stain will gradually darken over the course of about 48 hours. This happens because of oxidization. Air oxidizes the henna stain much like it does an apple.

Health and Safety

Is henna safe?

Natural, unadulterated henna is extremely safe, and has been used as a natural form of body art for thousands of years. Henna is the dried, powdered leaf of the henna plant. It's mixed with a liquid, sugar and essential oils to get the proper consistency for body art.

It is extremely rare for someone to have an adverse reaction to henna. Some people may be allergic to those other ingredients used in making the paste, usually the essential oils. You should always ask the artist about the ingredients in their paste. The Dermatology Online Journal writes, “Contact dermatitis as a reaction to pure henna is extremely rare despite its frequent and repeated use over thousands of years all over the world.” ¹

Those with the rare disorder G6PD deficiency (or are allergic to aspirin or fava beans) should not get henna, nor should children under age 6 because they may have undiagnosed G6PD deficiency.

Bad press related to henna has to do with adulterated products containing harsh chemicals that are not meant for skin. These are typically found in the mass-produced "henna" cones sold on eBay or at some Indian markets. Henna is not shelf stable - it must be kept frozen until ready for use. If the product looks to be mass-produced, is not stored frozen, or is shipped overseas, avoid it. Side effects from these products can range from itchy rashes to scarring and even organ failure. Read more about the dangers of chemical henna and how to avoid it.

¹ Wolf, Ronni MD; Wolf, Danny MD; Matz, Hagit; & Orion, Edit. (2003). Cutaneous reactions to temporary tattoos.Dermatology Online Journal, 9(1). Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5dd6616d

I've heard henna is beneficial -- how?

Henna has been called "healing" for a variety of reasons. I love to use henna to create henna crowns for those who have experienced hair loss during chemotherapy. My clients have described their experiences as "healing", "empowering", and "warm". If you're interested in this service, visit henna crown information.

Henna also has a cooling effect on the skin. Some people have found it to be an effective relief from Hand Foot Syndrome (HFS/PPE), which is a painful side effect of many drugs including capecitabine, sorafinib and regorafenib. Read more about using henna for HFS relief in this journal article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24021017

Henna is an excellent conditioner for the skin as well conditioning and strengthening the hair. Note that this is different from many "henna" hair dyes found on store shelves, which typically include many other ingredients (some being quite harsh). The conditioning and strengthening qualities come from pure, natural henna (100% lawsonia inermis).

How HENNA works

How long will my design last?
Anywhere from about 1-3 weeks. Many factors are involved, but generally the darkest, longest-lasting stains will happen where your skin is thickest: the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. The stain is lightest on your torso. Take a look at this picture.

Additionally, skin that is more alkaline tends to stain better, as well as the skin of people that are younger, healthier and more active. Warmer body temperatures will also help to darken the henna!

Visit my Preparation and Aftercare page for more information about how to get a great stain and maintain it. Your own aftercare will have a big impact on how long your design lasts.

I never get good henna stains even though I take good care of them, how come?

In addition to some of the individual factors mentioned above, good quality henna matters too. Henna has a short shelf-life and must be stored properly and used within a couple of days. It may be that the henna paste was old. We only use fresh, homemade paste - every time!

The location of the design matters - if your henna was done on your neck or torso, for example, the resulting stain will be much lighter.

Were you able to take good care of the henna? The henna paste should be left on for 6+ hours, and then it should be scraped off (not washed off). You should avoid water for 12-24 hours after removing the paste, and then avoid chlorinated water, salt water, and any other exfoliating agents in order to preserve the design.

Your body chemistry plays a role, too. Thin skin may not stain as well, and even certain medications you might be taking can all contribute to different results.

What if I get a suntan or sunburn while I have henna on my skin?
Henna-stained skin actually blocks sunlight, and will prevent that area from tanning or burning. After your design fades, you may end up with a reverse henna pattern on your skin!

How do I care for my design?
Getting great results is 50% the quality of the artist's product, and 50% your aftercare. If you've come to us, then you have the quality product. Now, take a look at my aftercare instructions to make sure your henna turns out gorgeous!

I would love to try to do henna myself! Where can I get started?
I sell henna kits and all of the supplies that you need in my online store: SARAHENNA Shop. I sell from the same stock that I use for my clients as well, so you can be sure that they are fresh. I specialize in sourcing high quality certified organic ingredients. Your skin is your largest organ, so I prefer to use only the safest, most natural ingredients.