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Henna/Lawsonia inermis (Henna Powder)
Henna (Lawsonia inermis, also called mignonette tree) is a flowering plant 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. Additionally, the name is misused for other skin and hair dyes, such as black henna or neutral henna, which do not derive from the plant.
Lawsonia inermis
Lawsonia inermis
Description
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.
Small Henna plant
Small Henna plant
Cultivation
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 UAE, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, western India, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Turkey, Somalia and Sudan. 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.
Uses
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, in Rome during the Roman Empire, and in Spain during Convivencia. It was listed in the medical texts of the Ebers Papyrus (16th c BCE Egypt) and by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (14th c CE (Syria and Egypt) as a medicinal herb. 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.

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 and a preservative for leather and cloth.

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 correlated with the number of seeds in the fruits.
Henna powder
Henna powder
Body art
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, which can be used to make finely detailed body art. The henna mix must rest for 6 to 24 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, a cone, syringe, Jac bottle or fingers. A light stain may be achieved within minutes, the longer the paste is left on the skin, the stronger the stain will be, and should 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. It is debatable whether this adds to the color of the end result some believe it increasing the intensity of the shade. After time the dry paste is simply brushed or scraped away.

Henna stains are orange soon after application, 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.
Hair dye

Henna has been used as a cosmetic hair dye for 6,000 years. In Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra and Nefertiti were known to have used it. It was commonly used for many centuries in areas of India, the Middle East, and Africa.

In Europe, henna was popular among women connected to the aesthetic movement and the Pre-Raphaelite artists of England in the 1800s. The fashion for Orientalism led young women with a bohemian inclination to begin tinting their hair with henna. Dante Gabriel Rosetti's wife and muse, Elizabeth Siddal, had naturally bright red hair. Contrary to the cultural tradition in Britain that considered red hair unattractive, the Pre-Raphaelites fetishized red hair. Siddal was portayed by Rosetti in many paintings that emphasized her flowing red hair. The other Pre-Raphaelites, including Frederic Leighton, Evelyn de Morgan, Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, and French painters such as Gaston Bussière (painter) and the Impressionists further popularized the association of henna-dyed hair and young bohemian women.

Opera singer Adelina Patti is sometimes credited with popularizing the use of henna in Europe in the late 1800s. Parisian courtesan Cora Pearl was often referred to as La Lune Rousse (the red moon) for dying her hair red. In her memoirs, she relates an incident when she dyed her pet dog's fur to match her own hair. By the 1950s, Lucille Ball popularized "henna rinse" as her character, Lucy Ricardo, called it on the television show I Love Lucy. It gained popularity among young people in the 1960s through growing interest in Eastern cultures.

Muslims also use henna as a dye for their hair and for the beards of males--following the tradition of their prophet Muhammad, who used to dye his beard with henna. It's considered a "sunnah" and akin to something fortunate/good. In one narration by him, he encouraged Muslim women to dye their nails with henna so their hands can be distinguished as feminine & from the hands of a male. Hence you will see this tradition greatly in the Middle East and Africa where women apply henna to their finger and toe nails, as well as their hands.

Commercially packaged henna, intended for use as a cosmetic hair dye, is available in many countries, and is now popular in India, as well as the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. The colour that results from dying with henna can fall into a broad spectrum, from auburn, to orange, to deep burgundy, chestnut brown or deep blue-black. To achieve a colour that is more brown or black, the user must use indigo hair dye as well as henna. The henna is applied first, to coat the hair. Once dry, the indigo is used. The following factors determine the hair colour that results from using henna:

  • user's original hair colour
  • freshness of the henna
  • region of origin of the henna
  • amount of time the henna is left on the hair to process
  • whether it remains wet on the hair, or is allowed to dry
  • the amount of heat retained on the head during the dying process

In this form, it is generally mixed with herbs and perfumes during manufacturing to give it a pleasant fragrance. It is prepared for use much the same way that it is prepared for body art: it is usually sold in block form, and is used in the quantity required for the desired shade of red, brown or black. This will vary according to the user's natural hair colour. The henna is grated into a non-metal container (metal may chemically interact with the henna and ruin the dye) such as a glass bowl. Then hot water is added to it, and the mixture is stirred with a non-metal tool such as a spatula. Once dissolved, the henna is spread onto clean, dry hair. The hair should then be covered with disposable plastic wrap to hold in the heat and moisture, which help the dye to activate. Since any henna that drips will dye skin or clothing, many users will then put a dark towel or a shower cap over the plastic. The henna typically requires at least four hours of processing time before it is washed out. Once hair is dyed with henna, the colour will gradually fade, but it will do so slowly, since henna dye is a protein that adheres to the hair.

"Neutral henna" and "Black henna"
Natural henna stains only a rich red brown. Products sold as "black henna" or "neutral henna" do not contain henna, but are instead made from other plants, or from other substances altogether.
 
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