Doing henna is fun, and can be very beautiful. It’s a nice way to have a ‘tattoo’ without the pain and expense of a permanent tattoo. Plus, it goes away after a while, so you don’t have to worry about how to get rid of it if you change your mind. Also, henna tattoos are often more socially acceptable than permanent ones – for parents and potential employers, at least.
With a little bit of preparation, you can be more assured of results that you will like.
You’ll need the henna powder, an acidic liquid (I suggest lemon juice), a small container, something to mix it with, and something to apply it with. You will also need rags or napkins to wipe off mistakes or smears. I suggest keeping some toothpicks nearby as well, so you can carefully fix small mistakes.
It’s a good idea to make a quick sketch on paper so you have an idea of how you want the finished design to look. Some people like wide open designs, some like intricate ones. You can make pictures of things like flowers, or just a pattern of lines and shapes. You can check online for ideas.
For the liquid, lemon juice works better than vinegar. For the container, you can use almost anything, but keep in mind that henna stains. I’ve used small bowls, shot glasses, and even those little scoops you get in powdered iced tea. I like something that allows me to scoop out the henna easily. I’ve used different things to mix it – a spoon, toothpicks, even a kitchen match.
Take a spoonful of the henna powder and put it into the container. Mix it with an acidic liquid – lemon juice is stronger than vinegar. It should be approximately a toothpaste-like consistency. Let it sit about 5 or 10 minutes or so – but not long enough for it to dry out. Make sure to have some napkins and extra toothpicks around to fix any mistakes or smears (which must be done quickly).
While you’re letting the henna sit, you want to prepare your skin. Wash the area you will be working with, dry it really well, and don’t put any lotion or anything on it – until after you wash the dried henna off.
Use a syringe (with no needle) or a toothpick to make the design. You can try other methods – such as a plastic bag with a small hole in it (like what is used for cake decorating). It’s best to start on the part of your skin that is “far away” and work your way ‘back’, to avoid smearing it. It might not be a bad idea to practice on a napkin for a little bit until you get the hang of it.
Make sure not to disturb the design until it dries, or it will smear and get ruined (like nailpolish). I often curl my hand over somewhat – put it on a tennis ball or something, to help avoid ‘cracks’ in the design, and also to help prevent smearing. Make sure (especially when using a syringe) that all of the henna is actually touching the skin. Carefully push it down to the skin with a toothpick if needed.
If possible, “set” the henna with a hair dryer (or hand dryer) – the hot air will dry the surface, as well as make the design darker. Leave it on as long as possible – overnight, if you can. It will peel off on its own, for the most part (it will look kind of like little mouse droppings). If you want to keep it on overnight, once it’s dried, you can cover it with gloves, mittens, socks, or wrap it in cloth. Use something you don’t mind getting stained.
Gently scrub off any bits that don’t fall off, or if you need to take it off earlier. Soak it in water, and use something like an old toothbrush to take it off. If you use a washcloth, just be aware that it could get stained.
The dryer and rougher your skin, the darker it will be – so you might have some areas that are lighter or darker than the rest. If it’s really noticeable, you can re-do the lighter areas.
Henna art can last days or even more than a week. If you like your design, you can re-do it when it starts to fade, to make it last longer.
You can wash your skin as usual, but the harder you scrub it, the faster it will fade. Henna stains skin. The only reason it goes away is that the skin cells fall off. It lasts a very long time on nails (although it sometimes takes several applications before it ‘takes’ on nails – I’m not sure why). If you decide to do your nails, be aware that it will stain the edges and the cuticle more than the nail. I usually end up re-doing all but the very edges. You can leave it as it is, or cover it with clear nail polish. If you paint over it with colored polish, it will be there when you remove the polish – but you’ll have a strip without henna if it’s been a while (as your nails grow). If it’s been there long enough, it will almost look like a reverse French manicure!
The more you do henna, the better you should get at it. It can be fun to do it with a friend – you can help each other out by drawing the henna designs on each other (since it’s easier to do it on someone else than on yourself).
By Suellen El Hanafi