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What is Mehndi Body Art?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By HennaDesign — On Nov 04, 2013

Nice article. Black henna can be very dangerous, and unfortunately, a lot of people get it while they're on the beaches and are long gone before their skin starts reacting to the chemicals.

By alensmith — On Nov 27, 2011

Mehndi Designs is always on top of the latest trends and is becoming more popular day by day all over the globe. I remember last year I attended one henna party which was organized by some Indian people here in NYC.

By abundancer — On Feb 24, 2011

@healthnwell--First of all, before having it done again, I would definitely find out if this black henna the artist used is PPD free. If you did not do this, try rubbing olive oil on the tattoo each morning. Sometimes that will help it to absorb into the skin a little better. It will also make it last a little bit longer. This is what I did after having one done.

By healthnwell — On Feb 22, 2011

I recently attended a grand opening of a woman's wellness center where they had a henna tattoo artist. It is beautiful, I had her put one on my hand and goes up the forearm. The paste she used was black which now scares me, I hope there was no PPD in it.

My tattoo did not take very well, does anyone know of something you can do to make it last longer, or get darker? I followed the directions of the artists, but my hand is much darker than my forearm. Thanks!

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