Henna, the crushed leaf of the Lawsonia inermis plant, has been used since the Bronze Age for dying and conditioning the hair, nails and skin. Hand cultivated in the terraced gardens along the Drâa river valley, the henna grown at the sacred Rissani oasis in Morocco is famed for its high dye content and reduced dying times for hair. Grey hair becomes fiery-red and dark hair shines with red highlights. This henna is highly recommended for traditional Berber and Mehndi body art.
In dying the hair, henna imparts a deep metallic sheen and creates a range of tones from a fiery red-orange on grey hair to red highlights on black hair. This henna fades very little. However many women henna their hair on a monthly basis, or more frequently to cover grey hairs. On the skin and nails, henna leaves an orange-brown colour which will keep for about three weeks.
- 100g short hair
- 200g collar length hair
- 300g shoulder length hair
- 500g waist length hair
A basic recipe for henna hair dying
Mix 100g henna powder in a bowl with approximately 200ml of warm water, or a mixture of water and lemon juice. Mix into a smooth paste. Allow to stand until an orange fluid is visible in the meniscus of the fluid. Add 1-2 teaspoons of oil. Use thehenna mix straight away or freeze the mixture for future use.
How to dye the hair with henna
Cover the floor and delicate surfaces with newspaper or go outside. Wear old, dark coloured clothes. Place an old towel around the shoulders. Apply a fine, fast absorbing oil such as argan oil to the forehead, ears and neck to help avoid staining of the skin.
Wearing gloves, apply the henna to clean and dry hair. Section long hair on the head and apply henna to the hair at the nape of the neck first with the corresponding hair, gradually working over the crown of the head to the forehead, ensuring that every hair is coated right down to the roots.
Leave the hair uncovered for a while, enabling the paste to dry slightly, to minimize the risk of drips. Then cover the hair with an old scarf, a plastic bag or cling film and wrap the hair for between 2-3 hours to ensure coverage of grey hair. Keep the head warm to encourage dye release. Wipe any drips from the skin immediately.
Some women apply the henna before going to bed allowing the henna to release the dye overnight. In these cases they always add argan oil or a herbal oil formulated for the hair to the henna mix, to keep the hair in good condition and of course they cover their hair well and their pillow.
Rinse the hair thoroughly in warm water until the water runs completely clear. Rinse and wash the towels straight after use to reduce the risk of staining. The full depth of colour will appear in the hair over the course of the next three days, and then very gradually the henna will fade from the hair.
It's possible to adapt the colour of the henna using other widely available ingredients: Some people use stewed black tea instead of water to darken the mix or they add apple cider vinegar or lemon to the water mix. It is best to avoid mixing the hennawith coffee as this could cause a headache. Rose water or orange flower water is used instead of water and lemon to add a fragrant scent, especially during the Night of the Henna, the beginning of the Muslim wedding celebration.
Henna can be mixed with other herbal ingredients to alter the colour:
- Saffron to the henna to make it more blonde
- Walnut powder (unsuitable for people with nut allergies) for brown
- Woad to create chestnut brown
- Indigo for a black colour
How to decorate the skin with henna -- Mehndi art
Henna creates an orange-brown stain on the skin. Make the mix as above, but include 1-2 tablespoons of brown sugar to give a smooth sticky consistency necessary for piping and to slow down the drying time of the henna.
Cover the bowl and leave the mixture to mature for 12 hours in a warm room at 21ºC or 70ºF. At higher temperatures, such as 35ºC or 92ºF, the henna will mature in as little as 2 hours. During this time the plant cellulose will dissolve, liberating the lawsone dye. Some people like to leave the henna in the sun while it's maturing. Once the surface of the henna mix has turned brown, the dye has been released and thehenna is nearly ready to use – just add a little more lemon juice if the mixture is too thick and mix until a smooth consistency is obtained. Sieve the henna to remove any lumps and place the paste in a piping cone to allow a thin, continuous line of hennato be extruded. Using either templates or working free form, pipe the henna onto the skin.
To make the henna pattern darker and more enduring, while the henna is drying make the ‘sealing mixture’. Just cover some sugar with lemon juice in saucepan and bringing the mixture briefly to the boil. Once it has cooled, carefully dab this mixture onto the lines of henna paste and cover the skin in oiled gauze or plastic wrap, with further covers to retain the body warmth. Apply the seal indoors to prevent attracting wasps and other insects. Under wraps, the henna will dry more slowly and aided by body heat, the result will be darker still. Leave the henna covered, on the skin for 6-8 hours. Then remove the wrapping and wash the dried paste off the skin. The design will darken further over the course of the next few days, and then fade over the course of several weeks.
A mehndi artist, or in Arabic, al Hanaya is highly skilled. If you are going to practice on yourself, traditional designs can be found on the internet.
Do not use henna on people with a Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency also known as a G6PD deficiency as this can result in a medical emergency.
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