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Mehandi - The Art of Henna

Updated on June 13, 2014

the art of natural body painting

Most people will recognize "mehandi" by its Americanized name, as the art of henna body painting.  Although often mistakenly identified as a "temporary tattoo" henna is done on the surface of the skin, not into it as with tattooing.  Henna is an organic plant material, dried and powdered, and then mixed with water and essential oils to make a temporary stain on the skin.

The customs of painting elaborate henna skin designs hail from India and the Middle East, but the practice has spread to Europe and America and can be found there in traditional and pop culture applications. 

The traditional body paint of South America was jagua, a fermented fruit juice that turns blue-black on the skin. This too is a stain which can last for several weeks.

Henna Books and Mehandi Kits

Set aside most of a day if you're going to do henna painting. The best results come from being able to leave the henna on the skin for anywhere from about six hours to overnight. If someone says you'll get good results from only an hour or so, chances are they are using an illegal hair dye additive in their henna formula, which can cause serious and permanent skin damage to allergic individuals.

Mehandi, The Art of Henna

Mehandi or henna is a body painting form that is traditionally found in India and the Middle East. The henna plant is dried and powdered, then mixed with essential oils and water to make a thick paste. This is daubed or squirted on the skin in elaborate patterns and leaves a reddish-brown dark stain. These designs last for several weeks before wearing off. Henna will stain the skin any color ranging from orange to very dark brown. It does not stain the skin black which is a common misperception.

Henna is used traditionally as a decoration on the hands and feet of brides in India. Elaborate floral and decorative motifs of gods and goddesses are painted, with the belief that the longer the stains last, the more blessings are brought to the newly married couple. In Islamic cultures, henna (which works by staining) is considered to not be polluting to the body like makeup or other substances that sit on top of the skin.

Sadly, unscrupulous body painters in the US have started to add a black hair dye to their henna pastes in an attempt to make darker stains and this can lead to serious skin reactions that can cause permanent scarring in some individuals. Be sure to educate yourself about the so-called "black henna" before letting anyone paint you with henna.

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Jagua Body Paint

In South America, the fruit of a flowering tree was picked and fermented slightly and then painted on the skin. Jagua is a stain which oxidizes, developing a blue-black color on the skin and lasting for up to a fortnight.



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