epic henna ftw
July 22, 2010 1:55 AM   Subscribe

i'm planning a full-body henna tattoo. How do i prepare myself and the henna for best results?

i'm about to get the henna tatt of my dreams - a rose vine circling from my foot, up one leg, around my belly, back, and bust, ending on the back of my neck. I've had henna tatts many times before, mostly on my hands and arms but also lately on my back. My skin deals with henna really well, but this is the first time i'm doing a full body piece and i'd like to be prepared.

How do i mix up the henna optimally? I know some artists who prepare it with certain oils. My artist is a body painter but hasn't done henna before, and i'm used to prepared tubes, so this is a learning experience for both of us.

Is there a certain type of henna that's best? Or oils, liquids, etc, that help? I know the shops here sell 'henna oil' but i'm not certain of their quality,

how can i best prepare my skin before and after the henna? I imagine i'll be hopping around on one foot a lot! I know about using oil as moisturiser, but any other tips?

Also how can we best apply the henna and keep it on? The best results i've seen have come from tubes, but that might kill my artist's hands. I've had them applied by paintbrush but the colour wasn't as strong. Any other ideas? It seems it may be a thickness thing?
posted by divabat to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Also how can we best apply the henna and keep it on?

My experience only comes from going to pre-wedding mehindhi events. I have seen professional artists at work at these things (these were pretty fancy weddings). The darkest results I've seen come from the artist using a pastry bag type thing like the kind used for icing cakes. The artist even has different tips for the bag to create different effects. A pastry bag might be easier on the hand then a tube. I've seen them use a paintbrush or a tiny metal scraper/spatula to do finer work, or to provide gradations in color. I think the thickness of the paste definitely makes a difference in how dark the tattoo comes out. If you paint it on, it might be too light to effectively stain your skin.

Afterward, I haven't seen anything special beyond slathering the girl with henna oil and eventually wrapping her up in Saran wrap. The wrap seems to hold the henna in place, so you can move a bit more.
posted by bluefly at 4:04 AM on July 22, 2010

Oh, one more thing, the last time I was in India, I saw they sold henna "guns." It works the way a glue gun does using a trigger to dispense the paste. This might be easier on the hands as well. I haven't seen anyone use them though, so I can't say how well they work. You might check an Indian store.
posted by bluefly at 4:08 AM on July 22, 2010

Would exfoliating help, as it does for fake tan? Though I suppose that colours rahter than stains the skin.

The tattoo sounds amazing, by the way!
posted by mippy at 5:22 AM on July 22, 2010

Last thing, promise, I just talked to a friend of mine who's into henna. And she said while the thickness of the layer of henna matters, time matters more when it comes to darkness of color.
posted by bluefly at 5:41 AM on July 22, 2010

My only tip (weird that I even have a tip, but I do): seal the henna once it's dry.

There are a few different ways to do this; the only one I've personally witnessed was the lemon/sugar mix, but there are others.
posted by aramaic at 5:44 AM on July 22, 2010

My experiences have generally been that the warmer my skin is when I have it applied, the better. Stuff done in cool exhibition rooms hasn't lasted as long as outdoor summer festivals, and neither lasted as long as when I did it myself in my dorm room, where I could crank up the heat, wrap myself in blankets, and dry the finished design with candles.

Because I did a lot in my dorm room, my recipes were necessarily simple; the henna itself I would buy triple-sifted to keep from clogging my Jacquard bottles. I mixed it with lemon juice and Tea-tree oil. Once it was dry - and I'd expedite drying by holding my designs over candles - I would coat it with lemon juice and sugar. This is not the smartest idea if you are going to be in an area with a lot of bees or flies. Then I'd cover it with whatever I had and leave it on as long as possible. For maintenance, any massage oil seemed to work to help keep it bright.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:53 AM on July 22, 2010

Hi there, professional henna artist from Montreal here!

First of all, make sure of the quality of your henna powder to begin with. Most of the stuff found in ethnic grocery stores & shops are often old and stale, as you have no idea how long they've been sitting there. Some of the better brands of "BAQ" or "Body Art Quality" henna powder (ie: Jamila from Pakistan) are vacuum packed and have an actual crop date and expiration date on them. There is a difference between BAQ henna and that used for hair; the BAQ is better quality, and usually sifted much finer and has less grit, etc. in it.

*Never* use pre-prepared commercial cones that you find in a store! They almost always contain such things as PPD (hair dye) and often other chemicals such as gasoline, kerosene and other nasties including lots of preservatives.

Fresh all-natural henna paste has a "demise" time-frame. When it is kept at average room temperature it can last 3-4 days (depending on the henna powder you used and the room temperature. Heat makes it "die" faster.), in the fridge it can last 4-8 days on average. However, it if is well-sealed and stored in the freezer it can easily last 6-12 months! So obviously, if it's sitting out on a counter for god-knows-how-long, it's absolutely not fresh and no longer has any staining power and usually relies on chemicals to stain the skin.

Natural henna always stains in shades of browns -- from orangey-brown, to reddish-brown to caramel and deep chocolate shades, depending on the type of henna, the specific crop and region it came from, as well as your individual skin chemistry, as well as where it is applied on the body (thicker skin stains better than thin skin).

True natural henna is NEVER black and it is extremely dangerous to use so-called "black henna"; which is often what those commercial cones in ethnic stores are.

Your best bet is to make your own fresh henna paste, using good quality, finely-sifted henna powder, lemon juice, sugar and good quality essential oils. There are only certain essential oils that will work well as they contain "terpines" and help the henna to penetrate the skin cells better.

Also, not all essential oils are safe to put directly on the skin, so be very cautious of so-called "mendhi oils" -- they are often sold without a list of ingredients so be very wary.

Professional and experienced henna artists who are knowledgeable in their craft tend to stick mainly to cajeput oil and lavender, amongst others -- but those are two of the best, most reliable and easiest to obtain, especially from a specialized henna supplies provider. (Tea tree and eucalyptus are also used, but many find the scent too strong and medicinal.) When in doubt, use bulgarian lavender, as it is one of the gentlest on the skin that still can help the henna stain well -- that is what we use when doing pregnant women as their skin is often more sensitive when they are pregnant.

Professional artists are generally divided into two camps; those that use cones (usually made of cellophane or floral film), and those such as myself that use jacquard bottles or "j-bottles"). Some find one or the other more comfortable for them; it's a personal preference and each has it's advantage. It's better for your artist to get comfortable with one or the other before attempting such a huge piece of henna body art, because speaking from experience, it can easily take several hours!

The j-bottles come with different size tips for applying the designs. When I do tribal-style work with large solid areas, I just use the narrow plastic bottle opening without the metal tip; it's small enough to control, but large enough to speed up the process. Again, have your artist practice a lot beforehand.

Thicker, bolder and heavily applied lines of henna paste will stain the best, but take longer to dry. Thin delicate lines are pretty, but don't stain as deeply and fade much faster. So have your artist keep this in mind when creating your design.

You'll have to be really careful about applying henna paste around the neck and any other joint of flexible, bendable skin -- as you need to keep the dried paste in place for several hours. Generally speaking, the neck and face really don't stain well and it's hard to keep still without messing up, smudging or having the henna paste crack off too easily because the neck bends and flexes so much, especially over 6-8 hours!

One of the best ways to keep your dried henna paste in place for several hours is to use "medical tape" which goes by the name of "Hypafix" or "Medifix". It's lightweight, it breathes and is very flexible and fabric-like. It's designed to be used for several days in medical applications, so it definitely does the job of keeping the henna in place for a few hours. It's good to keep the henna paste on for a minimum of 6 hours -- 8 hours or overnight is even better, especially for a full body piece. You'll get a better quality, darker and longer lasting stain.

Lightly exfoliate your skin *before* your henna application. As your skin exfoliates, the design will wear away, so by taking off the top "loose layer" you generally can have it last an extra day or two. Do not apply any lotions or creams to the skin before your henna application as these can impede good stain. Protect your skin from water for the first 24 hours after removing the dried paste; this is extremely important, because doing so will allow the design to penetrate better, stain darker and last longer!

Afterwards, keep your hennaed skin moisturized, but protected from long exposure to water -- as it makes your skin exfoliate faster, as will exposure to chlorinated water, such as in pools and hot tubs. Some professional henna artists (such as myself), often offer "henna balms" which can help protect the skin with safe, natural emollients (no chemicals) and they often contain beeswax which helps to give it a water-resistance. So it's good to apply this henna balm several times a day, and especially before taking a bath or shower or going swimming. Abrasion can also wear away your henna faster, such as if it is exposed to a strap that rubs against your skin a lot.

You might want to have your artist drop by the forums at HennaTribe.com if they have any further questions; the artists there are extremely friendly and helpful. There is also a list of suppliers and you should be able to find a reliable supplier of good quality henna powder and essential oils closer to your location.

I've got some great photos of large scale henna body art designs in my online portfolio; there's a link to it in my profile. Many of them are shown with the dried paste still on, but it should be able to give you an idea of the possibilities!

Good luck and I hope my professional henna expertise proves helpful with your project!
posted by Jade Dragon at 1:12 PM on July 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

Wow! Thank you Jade Dragon and all else! I've started to develop a henna addiction and this makes for great learning.

Any suggestions for Australian suppliers? Aussie quarantine is very picky when it comes to plant material, so shipping from overseas could be tricky.
posted by divabat at 2:07 PM on July 22, 2010

As I mentioned, drop by Henna Tribe and post a request in the "Open Henna Circle" forum; I'm sure that the local Australian artists will be able to let you know where they manage to get their supplies...
posted by Jade Dragon at 10:48 PM on July 22, 2010

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