Vol.2, No.4

Henna tattoo ink

Henna ink is made from the henna plant and can be agugmented with other leaves and oils to make a paste for drawing on skin.

Henna tattoo on someone's wrist
Photo Credit: Danielle Rabbat
Henna ink is a paste made from the henna plant, a small flowering shrub that was originally from Asia, Australia, and northern Africa. Henna has many uses. It can be used to dye one's hair. It is thought to have medicinal properties that help heal bruises and headaches and athlete's foot. Supposedly it can be applied to an open wound as an antiseptic. The traditional cooling powers of henna make it a treatment for fever, especially in children. It has been used as a deodorant and to prevent hair loss. Most commonly, it is used to dye the skin and create semi-permanent tattoos. These tattoos can be intricate or simple, traditional or new age. Patterns can be carefully mapped like mandalas or lotus flowers on the palm of the hand, vines can trail up the back of the hand to the arm, or the entire sole of the foot can be dipped in the red or black paste. When a henna tattoo is applied properly, the color can last for almost two months.

To create a henna tattoo, one will need henna paste, lemon juice, sugar, cotton balls, a plastic knife, and olive or mustard oil, as well as whatever tools one intends to use to create the henna design (paper cones, squeeze bottles, toothpicks, etc.). Apply the henna paste, thick for dark color and thinner for lighter color. As soon as the henna dries, apply lemon sugar with a cotton ball. When the design is complete, wrap it in cotton. Some people find wrapping paper towels or cloth over the cotton helps prevent smearing. Heat helps darken the color and makes the pattern last longer. Let the color set for a few hours - the longer the henna stays on, the darker the color will be. When the paste is ready to come off, unwrap the cotton. Scrape at the dried paste, using oil when necessary to loosen the dark paste. The color will darken over the next day, especially if the skin is kept out of water for at least twelve hours.

There are many different ways to make henna ink. The main ingredient is ground henna leaves, whether fresh or packaged. Some people use just the ground up leaves mixed with water to create a think paste. Some people add other leaves as well to enrich the color, like fresh indigo, betal leaves, or lucerne leaves. One can mix the henna leaves with water to create the paste or with straight lemon juice. Cloves, black tea or dark coffee ground will also darken the color of the resulting paste and tattoo. Mustard or eucalyptus oils can also darken the color. A henna artist must experiment with different combinations, reading different books and even asking women who regularly adorn themselves with henna. Asking a woman how she mixes her henna paste is very personal, like asking her age. So the new practitioner must be prepared to experiment. Luckily, henna is not permanent. It always fades within a few months, and a new design can be applied.