Henna Tattoo: Beauty and Knowledge

You may have seen a henna tattoo in passing, or have a friend who got one on vacation, but how much do you really know about henna tattoos?

In another part of the world, hennas tattoos have a deeper significance than cool body art to post on Instagram. It is deeply enshrined in Indian culture and plays an integral part in religious ceremonies and other celebrations. 

Before you get your henna tattoo, take a moment to acknowledge and understand where it comes from. This way, you’ll have a greater appreciation of the art and can even share the beauty and knowledge with your friends!

What is Henna and how is it made?

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Henna, also known as Mehndi, is actually a paste made from henna leaves. Henna paste has been used by several cultures from the beginning of time for cultural and cosmetic purposes.

Mehndi is especially popular in the Indian and African culture. There is also wide usage of henna in places such as Somalia, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Afghanistan.

The leaves are dried, crushed into a fine powder, where they are then sifted and stored for later use. When it's time to make the paste, the powder is mixed with a liquid such as lemon juice, herbal tea, or water.

This mixture is made to sit for around 48 hours so that the lawsone molecules (the agent responsible for staining the skin) have time to be released properly. At this time, essential oils may be added to increase its strength. 

When the paste is ready, it may be applied with a stick, syringe, plastic cone, or piping bag. In a few minutes, it will leave a light stain on the skin. When left for a few hours or even overnight, the stain will become darker and brighter. 

During this time, no water comes in contact with the paste, even after it is scraped off. The henna oxidizes and changes from orange to a deep reddish-brown within a week. The skin is then stained with the design for up to 3 weeks in some cases.

In Egypt and parts of Europe, henna was prized as a hair dye to keep hair a deep red color. In the Middle East, Muslim men use it to dye their beards, and women are encouraged to dye their fingernails and toenails to emphasize their femininity. 

Is getting a henna tattoo considered cultural appropriation?

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If you’ve seen the term ‘cultural appropriation’ getting thrown around in online arguments and debates, then you may have an idea of what it means. If not, it’s where someone from another culture takes something from another culture to use for personal gain.

 Take kimonos for example. They are traditionally worn by Japanese men and women during weddings, funerals, festivals, and other special occasions. Nowadays, fashion designers and other people wear them for fun with no regard to Japanese culture. Many Japanese persons find this practice offensive. 

Getting a henna tattoo may be seen as cultural appropriation if one does not take the time to educate themselves about the practice. Henna is a part of the cultural identity of many people and to take from their culture without acknowledging that fact is disrespectful. 

What you are currently doing is called cultural appreciation. This means you have taken the time out to learn about henna, beyond the body art, and to gain a deeper appreciation. If you are still iffy about it, reach out to someone within the culture. If not in your local area, try DMing, someone, online to learn more.

How are henna tattoos different from regular tattoos?

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Henna tattoos are not the same as regular tattoos. The only real similarity is that they are applied to the skin. 


While they are both applied to the skin, they are applied to different layers and in different ways. 

A henna can be applied with pretty much anything it can stick to and be used to draw with, or anything it can be squeezed out of. It is applied to the top layer of the skin.

A tattoo is applied with special needles that pierce the skin and insert ink into the second layer of the skin, called the dermis.

Detail and Design

While there are many very detailed henna designs out there, there is greater flexibility and variation when it comes on to tattoos.

For starters, henna does not come in a wide range of colors and most times designs are pretty uniform and flat. Tattoos, on the other hand, can involve many colors and shading techniques. They can even be 3D!


A henna tattoo does not last very long and can begin to fade in as little as a week. It is a temporary stain that is removed as it oxidizes, and as the skin exfoliates. 

A tattoo is permanent and lasts for many years unless it is purposefully removed. It may fade but the majority of the ink remains in place.


Getting a henna tattoo should not be painful at all . It should feel sort of like glue or paint is being applied to the skin. This is usually a gentle process.

A tattoo is notoriously painful because the needles penetrate the skin for an extended period, depending on how large and how detailed the tattoo is. 


A henna tattoo may be easily removed with simple soap and water over the course of a few days.

A tattoo is removed using a laser. This usually takes multiple sessions and can be very expensive. 

Where can I get a henna tattoo?

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Getting a henna tattoo is pretty easy. DIY kits are available online and there are many youtube videos on how to apply it yourself.

Many immigrants, especially of Indian descent, offer henna tattoos as a service, and can easily be found with a quick Google search. Just type in “Henna tattoo in [insert your town/city]

Henna tattoos booths are common at concerts, fairgrounds, and other mass gatherings and events. Some tattoos artists also offer henna tattoos in addition to tattoos and piercings.

Are there any health risks?

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Like everything in life, henna does carry its own set of health risks. However, it is generally safe and most people use it without any adverse reactions. 

Though uncommon, henna may cause allergic reactions, usually due to other ingredients in the paste such as lime juice, herbal tea, or essential oils. These symptoms include redness, blistering, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and permanent scarring.

Henna is especially dangerous for persons with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, or G6DP deficiency. This is a very rare genetic condition more commonly observed in males of African, Sephardic Jewish, Greek, Italian and Arabic ancestry. Here, the body does not have enough of a special enzyme that helps red blood cells to carry out their functions. Henna may trigger this condition and cause a rapid breakdown in red blood cells. 

The FDA has not given henna the green light to be used as a skin dye, however, it has gotten the all-clear for use as hair dye. Note that not all packages labeled “henna” are actual henna. A good way to tell is by their color. Natural henna is brown, orange, or red. Henna does not come in colors such as yellow, green, purple, red, blue, and so forth. 


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Henna tattoos are perfect for persons who are too scared to get a real tattoo. They are also a great stepping stone for persons who are indecisive.

  • The use of Henna originated in areas of the world such as India, the Middle East, and Northern Africa.
  • Henna tattoos are temporary artistic stains on the skin from using henna, or mehndi. Getting a henna tattoo is pretty easy, and a quick Google search should reveal artists in your area who specialize in henna tattoos.
  • Henna tattoos are not the same as regular tattoos and differ in many ways including its application, detail and design, longevity, pain, and removal.
  • Adverse health reactions to henna tattoos are not common, but it’s ingredients have been known to cause allergic reactions such as blistering, redness, and irritation. Henna is also dangerous for persons with G6DP deficiency. 

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