Since long before boxed hair dyes were in existence, people have been using henna to dye hair, skin, fingernails, fabrics, and other materials. The dye preparation is referred to as henna, sharing its name with the flowering plant from which the dye is derived. The temporary skin art that is created using the dye is also called henna. The henna plant is native to regions of Africa and southern Asia. As a plant, henna typically grows into a small tree with many branches. The small shrub produces brown fruit and small flowers. The color traditionally associated with henna is derived from the leaves. It should be noted that henna leaves in their natural, whole form will not dye or stain clothing or skin.
Henna has been used to create body and nail art and to color hair and materials since the Bronze Age. In many areas around the world, henna is an integral part of cultural traditions and celebrations. In many cultures and societies, it is still common to see brides and wedding guests tattooed with henna.
When creating a skin dye, henna is worked into a thick paste using fresh leaves or dried henna powder. The ground henna is mixed with a mildly acidic liquid such as strong tea or lemon juice to create a thick and workable paste. Plain water can also be used, though results will not be as successful. For best results, the henna mixture should be left for 6 to 24 hours before being applied to the body. This allows the lawsone, which is responsible for staining the skin, to be fully released from the leaves or powder. Once it is applied to the skin, the henna paste must be allowed to dry and set on the skin for several hours. The longevity of henna designs vary depending on skin type, quality of the ingredients used in the paste and the length of time that the paste is allowed to set on the skin. Designs can remain on the skin for a few days to a month.
Henna paste can be applied to the skin using various methods and tools to create the desired design. Henna stains appear as an orange color shortly after application. Over the days following application, henna stains will grow into a darker hue which will slowly fade over time. Hands and feet can hold henna stains the longest due to the thickness of the skin in these areas.
As a hair dye, henna has a long history dating back 6,000 years. Cultures in India, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe can all trace the use of henna hair dye for many centuries. Today, it is possible to purchase commercially packaged henna hair dye in countries all over the world. Color results can vary greatly when using henna dye so instructions should be followed carefully. Resulting hair color can range from auburn shade to a deep burgundy or even black hue. The results of using henna hair dye are impacted by the freshness and origin of the henna, the person's natural hair color, the length of time the henna is left to set on hair, and proper application and processing.
Commercial henna dyes commonly contain perfumes or herbs to improve the dye's fragrance. Hair care professionals recommend applying henna dye to hair that is clean and dry. For best results, hair should be covered while the color sets. A shower cap or disposable plastic can be used for this. The aim is to lock in moisture and heat. Henna dye takes longer to process than popular boxed dyes and should be left on hair follicles for several hours. The paste can then be rinsed out of hair to complete the coloring process.
Henna has been used for many other purposes over time. When used to dye fabrics, it simultaneously preserves the material and provides anti-fungal benefits. Over time, henna has been used to celebrate many different types of momentous events and milestones, including births, war victories, weddings, birthdays, holidays, local festivals, and religious occasions. The use of henna can be traced back to 3100 BC or earlier and it continues to be a popular beauty product around the world today.