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What is henna?

Henna is
  • a flowering plant,
  • or dyes (tattoo ink) made from it,
  • or body art (tattoo) made with the dye.
Henna as a flowering plant Henna is a small tree or large shrub, growing to six meters high. It has lateral branches with leaves that grow in pairs, two to four centimeters long. Henna is a juvenile plant for the first two years. The leaves do not have high lawsone content, and the branches do not have thorns. In mature plants, thorns develop at the leaf buds during dormant phases. When hungry animals come to nibble the new leaves, they prick their tongues on the thorns and go look for another plant to eat. Henna will only grow where minimum temperatures stay above 50 degrees fahrenheit or 11 celsius. It will tolerate extreme heat and long droughts. It grows wild near desert oasis, and in semi-aid regions. It thrives in alluvial soils, where there is annual precipitation of 0.2 to 4.2 meters and a soil pH of 4.3 to 8.0 (4.1-31).

Henna as a dye (tattoo ink) Henna leaves have a red-orange dye (lawsone).
Dried henna leaves are crushed to make a fine powder. This powder is mixed with water to make a paste which when applied to the skin leaves a stain.
Wherever fresh henna leaves are available, they may be ground to a fine paste and applied on the skin for its staining properties.
The same paste can also be used to color (dye) the hair.
Henna is sold as a powder or as a pre mixed paste.

Henna as a body art (tattoo) Henna has come to be used for the stain (tattoo) left on the skin by the henna paste.
The henna dye (tattoo ink) in its paste form is applied to the skin in many ways, most common being
  • by a cone (baker's funnel)
  • by a nozzle or
  • by a spatula to spread it over a stencil
  • by a brush etc.
  • When the henna paste is left on the skin for a few hours, it leaves a mark (stain, tattoo, design...) on the skin. These stains are temporary.
    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.


Health effectsThe only known danger of Henna is to people with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD deficiency). This deficiency is more common in males than females. Infants and children of certain ethnic groups may also be especially vulnerable. Though user accounts cite few other negative effects of natural henna paste, save for occasional allergic reactions, 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 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does consider these risks to be adulterants and therefore illegal for use on skin. Some pastes have been noted to include: silver nitrate, carmine, pyrogallol, disperse orange dye, and chromium. These have been found to cause allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory reactions, or late-onset allergic reactions to hairdressing products and textile dyes.
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