Henna: Wikis


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Lawsonia inermis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Myrtales
Family: Lythraceae
Genus: Lawsonia
Species: L. inermis
Binomial name
Lawsonia inermis

Henna or Hina is a flowering plant, Lawsonia inermis, used since antiquity to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather, and wool. The name is also used for dye preparations derived from the plant, and for the art of temporary tattooing based on those dyes. The name is also misused for other skin and hair dyes such as black henna or neutral henna which do not derive from the plant.

The English name "henna" comes from the Arabic حــنــا, pronounced /ħinnaːʔ/ or colloquially /ħinna/.



Henna is a tall shrub or small tree, 2–6 m high. It is glabrous, multibranched with spine tipped branchlets. Leaves are opposite, entire, glabrous, sub-sessile, elliptical, and broadly lanceolate (1.5–5.0 cm x 0.5–2 cm), acuminate, having depressed veins on the dorsal surface.Henna flowers have four sepals and a 2 mm calyx tube with 3 mm spread lobes. Petals are obvate, white or red stamens inserted in pairs on the rim of the calyx tube. Ovary is four celled, style up to 5 mm long and erect. Fruits are small, brownish capsules, 4–8 mm in diameter, with 32–49 seeds per fruit, and open irregularly into four splits.[1]


The henna plant is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, southern Asia, and northern Australasia in semi-arid zones. Henna's indigenous zone is the tropical savannah and tropical arid zone, in latitudes between 15° and 25° N and S from Africa to the western Pacific rim, and produces highest dye content in temperatures between 35°C and 45°C. During the onset of precipitation intervals, the plant grows rapidly; putting out new shoots, then growth slows. The leaves gradually yellow and fall during prolonged dry or cool intervals. It does not thrive where minimum temperatures are below 11°C. Temperatures below 5°C will kill the henna plant. Henna is commercially cultivated in western India, Pakistan, Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Egypt. Presently the Pali district of Rajasthan is the most heavily cultivated henna production area in India, with over 100 henna processors operating in Sojat City.


Small Henna plant

Henna has been used since the Bronze Age to dye skin (including body art), hair, fingernails, leather, silk and wool. In several parts of the world it is traditionally used in various festivals and celebrations. There is mention of henna as a hair dye in Indian court records around 400 CE,[2] in Rome during the Roman Empire, and in Spain during Convivienca.[3] It was listed in the medical texts of the Ebers Papyrus (16th c BCE Egypt)[4] and by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (14th c CE (Syria and Egypt) as a medicinal herb.[5] In Morocco, wool is dyed and ornamented with henna, as are drumheads and other leather goods.

Use of henna for body art has enjoyed a recent renaissance due to improvements in cultivation, processing, and the emigration of people from traditional henna-using regions.[6]

In the King James Version of the Bible, the book Song of Songs / Song of Solomon refers to henna as "camphire." Modern English translations, however, render the word as "henna".[7][8]

Henna for sale at the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul

For skin dyeing, a paste of ground henna (either prepared from a dried powder or from fresh ground leaves) is placed in contact with the skin from a few hours to overnight. Henna stains can last a few days to a month depending on the quality of the paste, individual skin type, and how long the paste is allowed to stay on the skin.

Henna also acts as an anti-fungal[9] and a preservative for leather and cloth. It was listed in the medical texts of the Ebers Papyrus (16th c BCE Egypt)[10] and by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (14th c CE (Syria and Egypt) as a medicinal herb.[11]

Henna flowers have been used to create perfume since ancient times, and henna perfume is experiencing a resurgence.Henna repels some insect pests and mildew.

Henna's coloring properties are due to lawsone, a burgundy organic compound that has an affinity for bonding with protein. Lawsone is primarily concentrated in the leaves, especially in the petioles of the leaf. Lawsone content in leaves is negatively associated with the number of seeds in the fruits.[12]

Preparation and application

Henna powder

Whole, unbroken henna leaves will not stain the skin. Henna will not stain skin until the lawsone molecules are made available (released) from the henna leaf. Fresh henna leaves will stain the skin if they are smashed with a mildly acidic liquid. The lawsone will gradually migrate from the henna paste into the outer layer of the skin and bind to the proteins in it, creating a fast stain.

Since it is difficult to form intricate patterns from coarse crushed leaves, henna is commonly traded as a powder made by drying, milling and sifting the leaves. The dry powder is mixed with lemon juice, strong tea, or other mildly acidic liquids to make a preparation with toothpaste-like consistency, that can be used to make finely detailed body art. The henna mix must rest for 6 to 12 hours before use, to release the lawsone from the leaf matter. Essential oils with high levels of monoterpene alcohols such as tea tree, eucalyptus, cajeput, or lavender will improve skin stain characteristics.

The paste can be applied with many traditional and innovative tools, including resist, shading, thick-paste, and cellowrap techniques. A satisfactory stain may be achieved within minutes, but the longer the paste is left on the skin, the stronger the stain will be, and it may be left for several hours. To prevent it from drying or falling off the skin, the paste is often sealed down by dabbing a sugar/lemon mix over the dried paste, or simply adding some form of sugar to the paste. This also adds to the colour of the end result, increasing the intensity of the shade. At the end of the procedure, the dry paste is simply brushed or scraped away.

Henna stains are orange soon after applicaion, but darken over the following three days to a reddish brown. Soles and palms have the thickest layer of skin and so take up the most lawsone, and take it to the greatest depth, so that hands and feet will have the darkest and most long-lasting stains. Steaming or warming the henna pattern will darken the stain, either during the time the paste is still on the skin, or after the paste has been removed. Chlorinated water and soaps may spoil the darkening process: alkaline products may hasten the darkening process. After the stain reaches its peak color it will appear to fade, as the stained dead cells exfoliate.

Traditions of henna as body art

Mehndi on a hand

The different words for henna in ancient languages imply that henna had more than one point of discovery and origin, and different pathways of daily and ceremonial use.

Henna has been used to adorn young women's bodies as part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. The earliest text mentioning henna in the context of marriage and fertility celebrations comes from the Ugaritic legend of Baal and Anath,[13] which has references to women marking themselves with henna in preparation to meet their husbands, and Anath adorning herself with henna to celebrate a victory over the enemies of Baal. Wall paintings excavated at Akrotiri (dating prior to the eruption of Thera in 1680 BCE) show women with markings consistent with henna on their nails, palms and soles, in a tableau consistent with the henna bridal description from Ugarit.[14] Many statuettes of young women dating between 1500 and 500 BCE along the Mediterranean coastline have raised hands with markings consistent with henna. This early connection between young, fertile women and henna seems to be the origin of the Night of the Henna, which is now celebrated world-wide.

The Night of the Henna was celebrated by most groups in the areas where henna grew naturally: Jews,[15] Muslims,[16] Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians, among others, all celebrated marriages by adorning the bride, and often the groom, with henna.

An intricate Mehandi pattern

Across the henna-growing region, Purim,[15] Eid,[17] Diwali,[18] Karva Chauth, Passover, Nowruz, Mawlid, and most saints' days were celebrated with some henna. Favorite horses, donkeys, and salukis had their hooves, paws, and tails hennaed. Battle victories, births, circumcision, birthdays, Zar, as well as weddings, usually included some henna as part of the celebration. When there was joy, there was henna, as long as henna was available.[16]

Henna was regarded as having "Barakah," blessings, and was applied for luck as well as joy and beauty.[19] Brides typically had the most henna, and the most complex patterns, to support their greatest joy, and wishes for luck. Some bridal traditions were very complex, such as those in Yemen, where the Jewish bridal henna process took four or five days to complete, with multiple applications and resist work.

The fashion of "Bridal Mehndi" in Pakistan, Northern Libya and in North Indian diasporas is currently growing in complexity and elaboration, with new innovations in glitter, gilding, and fine-line work. Recent technological innovations in grinding, sifting, temperature control, and packaging henna, as well as government encouragement for henna cultivation, have improved dye content and artistic potential for henna.

Though traditional henna artists were Nai caste in India, and barbering castes in other countries (lower social classes), talented contemporary henna artists can command high fees for their work. Women in countries where women are discouraged from working outside the home can find socially acceptable, lucrative work doing henna. Morocco, Mauritania,[20] Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, as well as India and many other countries have thriving women's henna businesses. These businesses are often open all night for Eids, Diwali and Karva Chauth, and many women may work as a team for a large wedding where hundreds of guests will be hennaed as well as the bride and groom.

Health effects

Woman whose hair is dyed with henna

Though user accounts cite few, if any, negative effects of natural henna paste, pre-mixed henna body art pastes may have ingredients added to darken stain, or to alter stain color. The health risks involved in pre-mixed paste can be significant. The United States FDA considers these to be adulterants and therefore illegal for use on skin.[21] Some pastes have been found to include: silver nitrate, carmine, pyrogallol, disperse orange dye, and chromium.[22] These have been found to cause allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory reactions, or late-onset allergic reactions to hairdressing products and textile dyes.[23][24]



The United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved henna for direct application to the skin. It is unconditionally approved as a hair dye, and can only be imported for that purpose.[21][25] Henna imported into the USA which appears to be for use as body art is subject to seizure,[citation needed] though prosecution is rare. There are also some women who have been reported as being allergic to the henna plant itself.

"Black" and "neutral" henna

Natural henna stains only a rich red brown. Products sold as "black henna" or "neutral henna" do not contain henna, and may be derived from indigo (in the plant Indigofera tinctoria) or Cassia obovata, and may contain unlisted dyes and chemicals.[26] "Black henna" may contain p-phenylenediamine (PPD), that can stain skin black quickly but can cause severe allergic reactions and permanent scarring. The FDA specifically forbids PPD to be used for that purpose.

"Black Henna" is a misnomer arising from imports of plant-based hair dyes into the West in the late 19th century. Partly fermented, dried indigo was called "black henna" because it could be used in combination with henna to dye hair black. This gave rise to the belief that there was such a thing as "black henna" which could dye skin black. Indigo will not dye skin black. Pictures of indigenous people with black body art (either alkalized henna or from some other source) also fed the belief that there was such a thing as "black henna."

In the 1990s, henna artists in Africa, India, the Arabian Peninsula and the West began to experiment with para-phenylenediamine (PPD) based black hair dye, applying it as a thick paste as they would apply henna, in an effort to find something that would quickly make jet black temporary body art. PPD can cause severe allergic reactions, with blistering, intense itching, permanent scarring, and permanent chemical sensitivities.[27][28] Estimates of allergic reactions range between 3% and 15%. Henna does not cause these injuries.[29] Henna boosted with PPD can cause lifelong health damage.[30]

Para-phenylenediamine is illegal for use on skin in western countries, though enforcement is lax. When used in hair dye, the PPD amount must be below 6%, and application instructions warn that the dye not touch the scalp and the dye must be quickly rinsed away. "Black henna" pastes have PPD percentages from 10% to 60%, and are left on the skin for half an hour.

Para-phenylenediamine "black henna" use is widespread, particularly in tourist areas. Because the blistering reaction appears 3 to 12 days after the application, most tourists have left and do not return to show how much damage the artist has done. This permits the artists to continue injuring others, unaware they are causing severe injuries. The high profit margins of "black henna" and the demand for body art that emulates "tribal tattoos" further encourage artists to ignore the dangers. It is not difficult to recognize and avoid para-phenylenediamine "black henna":

  • if a paste stains torso skin black in less than ½ hour, it has PPD in it, and little or no henna.
  • if the paste is mixed with peroxide, or if peroxide is wiped over the design to bring out the color, it has PPD in it, and little or no henna.

Anyone who has an itching and blistering reaction to a black body stain should go to a doctor, and report that they have had an application of para-phenylenediamine to their skin.

PPD sensitivity is lifelong, and once sensitized, the use of synthetic hair dye can be life-threatening.[31]


See also

  • Genipapo, a plant that stains the skin blue-black
  • Achiote (urucum, annatto), another plant that stains skin orange-red


  1. ^ Kumar S., Singh Y. V., & Singh, M. (2005). "Agro-History, Uses, Ecology and Distribution of Henna (Lawsonia inermis L. syn. Alba Lam)". Henna: Cultivation, Improvement, and Trade. Jodhpur: Central Arid Zone Research Institute. pp. 11–12. OCLC 124036118. 
  2. ^ Auboyer, Jeannine (2002) [1961]. Daily life in ancient India: from 200 BC to 700 AD. London: Phoenix. ISBN 978-1-84212-591-5. OCLC 50577157. 
  3. ^ Fletcher R. (1992). Moorish Spain. New York City: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 978-0-8050-2395-4. OCLC 25834208. 
  4. ^ Bryan, Cyril P.; G. Elliot Smith (1974) [1930]. Ancient Egyptian medicine: the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publishers. ISBN 978-0-89005-004-0. OCLC 247258585. 
  5. ^ Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, Muhammad ibn Abī Bakr (1998). Medicine of the prophet. trans. Penelope Johnstone. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society. ISBN 978-0-946621-19-4. OCLC 40907417. 
  6. ^ Roy, P. K., Singh, M., & Tewari, P. (2005). "Composition of Henna Powder, Quality Parameters and Changing Trends in its Usage". Henna: Cultivation, Improvement, and Trade. Jodhpur: Central Arid Zone Research Institute. pp. 39–40. OCLC 124036118. 
  7. ^ http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Song%20of%20Solomon%201:14&version=KJV
  8. ^ http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/index.php?search=Song%20of%20Solomon+1:14&version=NIV&interface=print
  9. ^ Bosoglu A, Birdane F, Solmaz H (1998). "The effect of Henna (Folium lawsoniae) paste in ringworm in calves". Indian Veterinary Journal 75 (1): 83–84. ISSN 0019-6479. 
  10. ^ Bryan, Cyril P.; G. Elliot Smith (1974) [1930]. Ancient Egyptian medicine: the Papyrus Ebers. Chicago: Ares Publishers. ISBN 978-0-89005-004-0. OCLC 247258585. 
  11. ^ Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, Muhammad ibn Abī Bakr (1998). Medicine of the prophet. trans. Penelope Johnstone. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society. ISBN 978-0-946621-19-4. OCLC 40907417. 
  12. ^ Singh, M., Jindal, S. K., & Singh, D. (2005). "Natural Variability, Propagation, Phenology and Reproductive Biology of Henna". Henna: Cultivation, Improvement, and Trade. Jodhpur: Central Arid Zone Research Institute. pp. 13–18. OCLC 124036118. 
  13. ^ de Moor, Johannes C. (1971). The seasonal pattern in the Ugaritic myth of Balu, according to the version of Ilimilku, (Alter Orient und Altes Testament). Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker. ISBN 978-3-7887-0293-9. OCLC 201316. 
  14. ^ D̲oumas, Christos (1992). The wall-paintings of Thera. Athens: Thera Foundation. ISBN 978-960-220-274-6. OCLC 30069766. 
  15. ^ a b Brauer, Erich; Raphael Patai (1993). The Jews of Kurdistan. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-2392-2. OCLC 27266639. 
  16. ^ a b Westermarck, Edward (1972) [1914]. Marriage ceremonies in Morocco. London: Curzon Press. ISBN 978-0-87471-089-2. OCLC 633323. 
  17. ^ Hammoudi, Abdellah (1993). The victim and its masks: an essay on sacrifice and masquerade in the Maghreb. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-31525-6. OCLC 27265476. 
  18. ^ Saksena, Jogendra (1979). Art of Rajasthan: Henna and Floor Decorations. Delhi: Sundeep. OCLC 7219114. 
  19. ^ Westermarck, E. (1926). Ritual and Belief in Morocco Vols 1 & 2. London, UK: Macmillan and Company, Limited
  20. ^ Tauzin, Aline (1998). Le henné, art des femmes de Mauritanie. Paris: UNESCO. ISBN 978-92-3-203487-8. 
  21. ^ a b "Temporary Tattoos & Henna/Mehndi". Food and Drug Administration. 18 September 2006. http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/ProductInformation/ucm108569.htm. Retrieved 3 August 2009. 
  22. ^ Kang IJ, Lee MH (July 2006). "Quantification of para-phenylenediamine and heavy metals in henna dye". Contact Dermatitis 55 (1): 26–9. doi:10.1111/j.0105-1873.2006.00845.x. PMID 16842550. 
  23. ^ Dron P, Lafourcade MP, Leprince F, et al. (June 2007). "Allergies associated with body piercing and tattoos: a report of the Allergy Vigilance Network". European Annals of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 39 (6): 189–92. PMID 17713170. 
  24. ^ Raupp P, Hassan JA, Varughese M, Kristiansson B (November 2001). "Henna causes life threatening haemolysis in glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency". Archives of Disease in Childhood 85 (5): 411–2. doi:10.1136/adc.85.5.411. PMID 11668106. 
  25. ^ "§ 73.2190 Henna". Listing of Color Additives Exempt from Certification. Federal Register. 30 July 2009. http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=5162785de68f14cfc940b641e1b51594&rgn=div5&view=text&node=21: Retrieved 3 August 2009. 
  26. ^ Singh, M., Jindal, S. K., Kavia, Z. D., Jangid, B. L., & Khem Chand (2005). "Traditional Methods of Cultivation and Processing of Henna. Henna, Cultivation, Improvement and Trade". Henna: Cultivation, Improvement, and Trade. Jodhpur: Central Arid Zone Research Institute. pp. 21–24. OCLC 124036118. 
  27. ^ Van den Keybus C, Morren MA, Goossens A (September 2005). "Walking difficulties due to an allergic reaction to a temporary tattoo". Contact Dermatitis 53 (3): 180–1. doi:10.1111/j.0105-1873.2005.0407m.x. PMID 16128770. 
  28. ^ Stante M, Giorgini S, Lotti T (April 2006). "Allergic contact dermatitis from henna temporary tattoo". Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology 20 (4): 484–6. doi:10.1111/j.1468-3083.2006.01483.x. PMID 16643167. 
  29. ^ Jung P, Sesztak-Greinecker G, Wantke F, Götz M, Jarisch R, Hemmer W (April 2006). "A painful experience: black henna tattoo causing severe, bullous contact dermatitis". Contact Dermatitis 54 (4): 219–20. doi:10.1111/j.0105-1873.2006.0775g.x. PMID 16650103. 
  30. ^ lifelong damage from black henna http://www.hennapage.com/henna/ppd/index.html
  31. ^ Sosted H, Johansen JD, Andersen KE, Menné T (February 2006). "Severe allergic hair dye reactions in 8 children". Contact Dermatitis 54 (2): 87–91. doi:10.1111/j.0105-1873.2006.00746.x. PMID 16487280. 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HENNA, the Persian name for a small shrub found in India, Persia, the Levant and along the African coasts of the Mediterranean, where it is frequently cultivated. It is the Lawsonia alba of botanists, and from the fact that young trees are spineless, while older ones have the branchlets hardened into spines, it has also received the names of Lawsonia inermis and L. spinosa. It forms a slender shrubby plant of from 8 to io ft. high, with opposite lance-shaped smooth leaves, which are entire at the margins, and bears small white four-petalled sweet-scented flowers disposed in panicles. Its Egyptian name is Khenna, its Arabic name Al Khanna, its Indian name Mendee, while in England it is called Egyptian privet, and in the West Indies, where it is naturalized, Jamaica mignonette. Henna or Henn y is of ancient repute as a cosmetic. This consists of the leaves of the Lawsonia powdered and made up into a paste; this is employed by the Egyptian women, and also by the Mahommedan women in India, to dye their fingernails and other parts of their hands and feet of an orange-red colour, which is considered to add to their beauty. The colour lasts for three or four weeks, when it requires to be renewed. It is moreover used for dyeing the hair and beard, and even the manes of horses; and the same material is employed for dyeing skins and morocco-leather a reddish-yellow, but it contains no tannin. The practice of dyeing the nails was common amongst the Egyptians, and not to conform to it would have been considered indecent. It has descended from very remote ages, as is proved by the evidence afforded by Egyptian mummies, the nails of which are most commonly stained of a reddish hue. Henna is also said to have been held in repute amongst the Hebrews, being considered to be the plant referred to as camphire in the Bible (Song of Solomon i. 14, iv. 13). "The custom of dyeing the nails and palms of the hands and soles of the feet of an iron-rust colour with henna," observes Dr J. Forbes Royle, "exists throughout the East from the Mediterranean to the Ganges, as well as in northern Africa. In some parts the practice is not confined to women and children, but is also followed by men, especially in Persia. In dyeing the beard the hair is turned to red by this application, which is then changed to black by a preparation of indigo. In dyeing the hair of children, and the tails and manes of horses and asses, the process is allowed to stop at the red colour which the henna produces." Mahomet, it is said, used henna as a dye for his beard, and the fashion was adopted by the caliphs. "The use of henna," remarks Lady Callcott in her Scripture Herbal, " is scarcely to be called a caprice in the East. There is a quality in the drug which gently restrains perspiration in the hands and feet, and produces an agreeable coolness equally conducive to health and comfort." She further suggests that if the Jewish women were not in the habit of using this dye before the time of Solomon, it might probably have been introduced amongst them by his wife, the daughter of Pharaoh, and traces to this probability the allusion to "camphire" in the passages in Canticles above referred to.

The preparation of henna consists in reducing the leaves and young twigs to a fine powder, catechu or lucerne leaves in a pulverized state being sometimes mixed with them. When required for use, the powder is made into a pasty mass with hot water, and is then spread upon the part to be dyed, where it is generally allowed to remain for one night. According to Lady Callcott, the flowers are often used by the Eastern women to adorn their hair. The distilled water from the flowers is used as a perfume.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also henna


Proper noun

Henna (stem Henn-*)

  1. A female given name derived from Henriikka.


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