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12 September 2011

Henna حِنَّاء

Henna is a natural dye which is very popular here in Tunisia.  It is used not only as a hair dye but also on the hands and feet during celebrations such as weddings.


This distinct pattern on the palms of the hands resembles a peacock.




(The hands and the foot in the above photographs are not mine but belong to the mother of a young woman I met during my physiotherapy sessions.  I first obtained permission before taking these photographs and then asked whether I could use them in my blog and the mother gave her consent).

"Henna (Lawsonia inermis, also called mignonette tree) is a flowering plant used since the Bronze Age to dye skin (including body art), hair, fingernails, leather and wool.   In several parts of the world it is traditionally used in various festivals and celebrations.  The name is also used for dye preparations derived from the plant, and for the art of temporary tattooing based on those dyes.

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.

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 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."   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henna
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