How to Make Henna Paste

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Henna body art is a tradition that has been practiced for over a thousand years. Making your own henna paste for body art or hair coloring is a fairly easy process, although you often get the best results when you practice often. Henna paste recipes can be tailored to your preferences. Most often, you have everything you need to make henna in your kitchen. Follow the rules of "S" (sour, sweet, sticky, skin-safe), and always use fresh henna, and you can be sure that you will get good results every time.

Things You'll Need

  • Fresh henna - body art quality, pre-sifted and 100% pure
  • Lemon juice, lime juice, rainwater, red wine, tea, or other sour acidic (low pH) liquid.
  • Sugar, honey, syrup, melted candy, fructose, or other sweet and sticky substance.
  • Essential oils that contain terpinols - Tea tree, Clove Bud, Lavendar, Ravensera, or Cajeput.
  • Non-metal mixing bowl and spoon or chopsticks for stirring.
  • Plastic wrap or lid
  • Plastic bags or carrot bags

Buy the freshest henna powder you can afford. Henna loses potency over time, so when the powder has lightened and turned brown, it won't leave a good stain. Look for brownish-green dark henna. Bright green henna may have dye added, to make it look fresh. The best hennas are pre-sifted, cheaper hennas may need to be sifted for body art. Store leftover powder in the freezer, where it will stay potent for at least a year.

Measure out henna powder into mixing bowl. For body art, use a teaspoon for a few small designs, several tablespoons for ten to fifty designs. For hair, use about 100g for chin length, or 200g for curly shoulder length. You can use freeze leftover paste for a few months, so don't worry if you make too much.

Add your sour liquid while stirring. You want a consistency between toothpaste and pudding, where the paste holds on the spoon and barely drips. Add the liquid a small amount at a time so it doesn't get too runny. Make sure you smash all lumps that form. For hair, add more liquid, or add water. It's easier to get into hair when it's thinner. For body art, it needs to hold together.

Add your sugar. Like the liquid, add it slowly, until you get a nice, stringy texture. It's perfect if you can draw it out into long lines without breaking. If you want, you can add the sugar first, then liquid, or both at once. Experiment to see what works best for you. If your paste is for hair, skip this step.

Add your essential oils. For sensitive skin, use lavender only or skip this step. Add about 1-3 drop per tablespoon of oil. You can use any oil that's skin safe, but only oils containing terpinols will darken henna (and eucalyptus isn't one of these.) The above list are some of the best, although there are others that may help darken henna. At this step, your paste should be smooth and thick.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, foil, or a lid. Set it in a warm place, and wait. Henna needs from 4 to 24 hours to release its dye. Check the henna every few hours. When a brown crust is on top, the henna is near its peak. When you see drops or puddles of dye, the henna is at or passing its peak. If the paste has become dark brown throughout, it's probably degraded and will not stain well. Timing henna takes practice, low pH and heat speeds up the process. If you need it to be fast, try leaving it on a warm coffee pot. To slow it down, put it outside on a cold night.

Use or store the henna when it's ready. You can either store it in sealable bags and freeze, or use it immediately. If the past seems too thick, thin it before using freezing. If it's for body art, you may want to strain it to make sure it's lump free. For hair coloring, you can now add conditioner, olive oil, eggs whites, yogurt, or any other product you like.

Tips & Warnings

  • Remember the Rules of "S" : Sweet, Sour, Sticky, Skin-Safe!
  • When using a certain powder for the first time, plan ahead since it's hard to tell when the paste will be ready.
  • Use zip lock bags, and when you thaw them, cut the corner to squeeze out the amount you need.
  • Henna can be as easy or as complex as you want. You can perfect a specialized brew, with a set amount of sweet/sticky/sour, or you can throw orange juice and henna together and call it done.
  • Keep a journal to know what worked in the past.
  • Make your sour liquid from anything in your kitchen. Popular henna brews may have fenugreek, tamarind, and okra for stickiness, or rosemary leaves, lavender flowers, and cardamom for a possibly darker stain. Make the liquid based on tea, juice, vinegar, or wine. You can add things just for scent as well, as long as you can eat it or have it on your skin.
  • Since henna takes time to be ready, and almost as much time to do its work on your hair or skin, plan ahead and be patient.
  • Henna is brownish red. The stain begins orange or orange-red, and darkens over a few days. Don't be worried about your bright stain or hair. If your henna doesn't darken, the powder or paste was probably too old for a good stain.
  • Never use henna on anyone under six years old. Since henna is a long process, it's best for adolescents and older. Children may not sit still for body art or hair dying.
  • Never use essential oils undiluted on your skin. If you have sensitive skin, use only lavender or avoid oils. They help with dye extraction and texture, but are not necessary
  • Don't add paint or pigments to henna, it won't help the stain. Never use "black henna" which is henna mixed with PPD, (the chemical in black hair dye.) This leaves a jet black stain, and can cause severe allergic reactions and long term side effects. Never let anyone put black henna on you. If you think you've had black henna, or have had a reaction from a suspicious henna tattoo, see a doctor. Remember, henna is brown, red, orange, but never black.
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