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Laura Hunt

Celebration of Henna

Text: Kara L.C. Jones,


Wouldn't it be fun to have a henna party as part of a bridal shower? You don't have to feel limited to decorating the hands and feet, but can have other body parts decorated as well. Kara read the article
about the Indian wedding, and was kind enough to write about her experience using henna.

Discovering Henna
Several years ago, some friends henna'd me as part of a women's celebration. At the end of the day, there was henna paste left over which they gave me. As I went about my normal week following the celebration, I wore my henna designs proudly, and people began to approach me about them, asking if I could henna them, too. Since I had paste left over, I agreed. Surprisingly, one of the people I henna'd actually paid me for the service! I had accidentally stumbled upon a calling of sorts.

Though I had been an artist in many media over the years -- painting, sketching, bookmaking -- it was not until I began to henna with skin as my canvas that I truly felt I had found something meaningful. Part of the exploration of my new-found art was to learn the history, traditions, various patterns, symbolic meanings, as well as health and safety issues involved in this body art. I hope to share some of those discoveries here with you today.

Henna History
For thousands of years, henna has been used in various cultures for celebration, decoration, and ritual. Early uses of henna may have been more utilitarian, being used as sunscreen or to protect skin from hot desert sands. Henna's history is spread from North Africa to South Asia and throughout the Middle East. As people have migrated to other areas, they have carried their henna traditions with them. Uses evolved to the decorative, associated with rituals such as weddings, high holidays, births, and deaths. And today, we can find many web resources to tell us about henna uses and traditions.

Being Safe with Henna
As henna comes more and more into mainstream use here in the U.S., I find that clients often do not understand how to create the safest possible options for henna use at their celebrations. They do not understand the differences between all-natural and chemical products. They do not understand health risks to be considered with G6PD and bilirubin levels. Again there are many sources available for reliable information on these topics, so please read thoroughly and know what to ask your henna artist before hiring her.

Natural vs. "Black" Henna
All natural henna paste is made from the henna plant, often mixed with lemon juice and honey or some other sweetener. Sometimes the paste will have an essential oil mixed in as well, such as lavender or cajeput oil. An all natural mix will need to be left on the skin for as long as possible, anywhere from 4 hours to overnight. The color will get to a reddish brick color or coffee brown. The stain will last anywhere from a week to a month.

But there are many people out there offering something called "black" henna, or more recently "brown" henna. Though the people using these products will not tell you this, they often have PPD hair dye chemicals mixed in them. These chemicals can scar and burn the skin. In some cases they have caused life-long chemical sensitivity! Often "black" henna users are told they only have to keep the paste on for an hour, the stain is guaranteed to be dark or black, and it definitely will last for a month. Be careful if someone is making these claims, do not let them touch you!

Medical Concerns
Another topic that is often overlooked is an actual medical concern when all-natural henna is used. It is easy to understand why people overlook this because the risks are statistically so low. If people have G6PD deficiency or hyperbilirubinemia, you do not want to henna them.

Let the Celebration Begin
Once you are certain you have an all-natural artist hired and that all your guests can be safely henna'd, you can set about celebrating with henna! Along the way, I've had clients hire me to henna for things like bridal showers, student events, bat mitzvahs, birthday parties, baby showers, and more.

At a recent "night of the henna" for one bride who was marrying with some of the traditions of India in mind, we gathered all the women who were in the wedding party as well as family and friends. In a bit of a break with tradition, there were also a few men present. There was plenty of Indian music, lots of food and drink, plenty of sharing stories. First I made sure the bride was henna'd. For her, we decorated both feet and legs up almost to the knees. And then both hands from the wrists, and wrapping around her ring fingers. Other people that night had their feet, hands, ankles, or even just their toes henna'd. Lots of photos were taken, and I'm glad to share the following photos with you.

Whatever the cause of the celebration, whether a large gathering or a small one, I always bring lots of design books with me. Designs vary depending on the part of the world from which they might evolve. The books offer designs from traditional Indian, to more Islamic-based designs of Morocco, to more decorative designs from Kurdistan Jewish traditions and more. Often when doing henna for a bride, we'll consult before the henna night to talk about how much henna she wants, what traditions she's trying to honor, and any specific designs or symbols she might want included.

The bride and groom in this photo wanted to have sri yantra symbols done such that they were only complete when their hands were together.

One thing to note about these photos – and others you might see online – is that often photos show the all-natural henna paste *still on* the skin! The paste will be left on for as many hours as possible. When the paste first comes off, it will be a pumpkin orange color and then will take 24 to 48 hours to darken to a red-brick or coffee-brown color. Photos showing the paste still on the skin are NOT the same as black henna! We at HennaHealing in NO WAY condone the use of chemical black henna! To see more about the color progression of all-natural henna, please see:

Creating Your Own Henna Celebration
If you are thinking of having your own henna celebration or using henna as part of your wedding, shower, birthday, or other party, there are many ways you can find all-natural henna artists. If you live in the Seattle Area, HennaHealing is located on Vashon Island, in the Puget Sound area.

Please read also:
A Traditional Indian Wedding
Part I
A Traditional Indian Wedding
Part II
Wedding Cake Indian-style


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