How to Make Henna Tattoos

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Henna is a beautiful, traditional way to experiment with body art without permanently marking your skin. Henna body art, or mehndi, is actually just designs drawn on the skin with henna paste made from dried ground henna leaves and other gentle, natural ingredients. While the best henna tattoos are done by experienced professional mehndi artists, you can do it at home by following these instructions.

Things You'll Need

  • Ceramic or plastic bowl
  • Plastic spoon
  • 100 gram bag of body art quality henna powder
  • Lemon juice
  • Sugar
  • Plastic wrap
  • Tea trea, cajeput or ravensara essential oil
  • Cup
  • Nylon stocking
  • Carrot bag
  • 1 ounce applicator bottle
  • Hair dryer

Mix the Henna Paste

  • Pour the contents of your bag of henna powder into a ceramic bowl. Always use high quality, body art grade henna (see Resources below).

  • Add 1 tsp. of sugar to the henna powder and mix in. The sugar helps the henna stick to skin, so that it will stay on longer without cracking, producing a deeper color. It also makes the henna paste smoother and easier to work with.

  • Add just enough lemon juice to get a brownie batter consistency. You could also use vinegar, wine or any other citrus juice. The sour liquid releases the plant dyes in the henna.

  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the paste sit until dye release is achieved. You'll know the dye has been released when the surface of the paste turns brownish (as opposed to the original greenish color when you started).

  • Add your "terp." Terpines are hydrocarbon solvents that release and darken the henna. Tea Tree, Cajeput and Ravensara are the most common terp choices. Aromatherapy grade oils are safest for the skin.

  • Re-cover the henna paste and refrigerate until ready to use (or freeze if you won't be using it within a few days).

Prep the Henna Paste

  • Strain your henna paste to remove lumps by placing a nylon stocking over a cup and spooning the henna mixture into it.

  • Pull the stocking out of the cup and put the toe-end, full of the henna paste, into a carrot bag.

  • Gripping the bag tightly with one hand, pull on the end of the stocking with the other hand so that the henna is squeezed out.

  • Pull the stocking out and the henna should be inside the carrot bag, smooth and ready to use.

  • Snip off the end of the carrot bag and squeeze the paste through the bag into a 1 ounce applicator bottle (see Resources below to purchase applicator bottles made especially for henna application).

Draw on the Design

  • Prepare the skin by washing the part to be tattooed in hot, soapy water. You can also wipe it with an astringent to remove body oils and allow the henna to stick better.

  • Choose a simple design with a lot of thick, heavy lines to start--it's easier for beginners. You can either hand-draw your own design, or use something you found as a reference.

  • Allow the henna paste to dry on the skin once you're finished.

  • Mix equal parts lemon juice and sugar together and heat on the stovetop. Allow it to cool.

  • Apply the lemon juice and sugar mix to the henna design once it's dry to the touch, but not yet flaking off. This will seal it so you'll get a deeper, longer lasting result. Apply it very carefully with a cotton swab or cotton ball.

  • Heat the design with a hair dryer to set the seal.

  • Scrape off the dried henna with your fingernails and gently remove the sealant by rubbing with some olive oil.

Tips & Warnings

  • These are beginners' tips for achieving basic designs using the simplest methods. For more details and professional application tips, see Resources below.
  • Avoid washing the painted area for as long as possible after application.
  • Never use black henna. Black henna contains para-phenylenediaime (PPD), a substance that can cause severe reactions in some people. Pure, natural henna is safe.

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