Mehndi body art, a tradition of India and other Middle Eastern nations, has gained popularity worldwide. Resembling intricate tattoos, mehndi body art is applied to the surface of the skin using a paint-like henna paste. The paste stays on the skin for several hours. When it is removed, it leaves behind a stain that darkens over the following 24 hours. Mehndi body art can last one to two weeks or longer.
In India, mehndi is a form of beautification much like makeup or jewelry. While it can be worn routinely, it plays an important role in special occasions, such as weddings. Two days prior to the wedding date, the bride commonly attends a mehndi party thrown by friends. The bride’s hands are decorated from fingertips to elbows, and her feet are also decorated to the knees. Traditionally, the groom’s name is hidden somewhere within the mehndi body art, and he must find it before the wedding can take place. In some cases, the groom is also decorated with mehndi body art.
How long mehndi body art lasts on the skin depends on the quality of the henna paste, the amount of time it stays on the skin, the area of the body decorated with mehndi body art, and skin type. Henna stains the top layers of skin, so as the skin naturally exfoliates or loses cells, the mehndi body art fades. Mehndi tends to last longer on areas that generate more heat, like the hands and feet, though washing with harsh soaps will cause mehndi body art to fade sooner.
Henna leaves are green and crushed into powder to make henna paste. Once the green paste is removed from the body, a red-orange stain remains. Oils, other natural ingredients, and the application of heat can increase the depth of color to dark brown, deep coffee, or a brownish black.
Darker stains are desirable, as they create more contrast and can last longer. However, so called “black henna” is sometimes made from black hair dye containing para-phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD can cause blistering and other serious problems, and it is illegal to apply to the skin. If considering mehndi body art, be sure to avoid paste that contains PPD.
In the US, mehndi body art is typically offered at fairs, and increasingly at beauty salons. Mehndi artists may also be available in your local area and are sometimes referred to as “henna tattoo artists.” A license is not required to be a mehndi artist as no needles are used.