Your Guide to Henna and How It Works (2023)

It's safe to say most people have heard of henna tattoos, but how many people actually know more than a few basic facts about them? We're here to fix that. For those who don't know anything about henna tattooing, it's an ancient practice that uses temporary brown dye rather than ink to create designs with significant and often spiritual meaning. While the form of body adornment dates back a cool 5,000 years, it's generally used today to express luck and happiness, and is often featured at ceremonial events like weddings and births. If you attend a traditional Indian wedding, henna will almostalwaysbe a part of the celebration.

To learn more about specific henna designs and their meanings, we spoke with Shaily Savla, a henna tattoo expert based in Los Angeles. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about henna tattoos.

Meet the Expert

(Video) Your First HENNA - Tutorial for Beginners

Shaily Savla is a henna tattoo expert and founder of Gold Nine Ink, henna-inspired temporary tattoos.

What Is Henna?

While the term "henna" is Arabic and is tied to many cultures and religions, it's most predominant in India where it's known as mehndi. Savla explains that henna is a crucial part of many Indian celebrations, including Diwali, engagements, and weddings. The henna itself is a temporary dye that has gained popularity for its beauty, but among Indian culture it's considered more of a ritual. "There is often a dedicated event for the bridal parties to have their mehndi applied," says Savla. "There's a saying that the darker the mehndi is, the stronger the marriage will be."


Henna paste is is made from a powder derived from the henna plant. It’s been used for centuries as a natural dye for hair and nails, and now its most well-known use is for body art. The temporary dye has—and still is—most popularly used to adorn women and men as part of their marriage celebrations.

(Video) This Is What You Need To Know Before Getting A Henna Tattoo

How Long Does It Last?

Those unfamiliar with the practice may question if henna tattoos are permanent, and while they are temporary, there are a few factors that go into the longevity of them. Savla says, "Once applied, it’s said the longer you leave it on to absorb into the skin, the darker it will be. The darker it is, the longer it will last." She also explains how the placement of the henna will also play a role in how long it lasts. "Hands and feet, which are used often and exposed to water and soap, might start fading away after one week and fully disappear at two weeks," she notes. "Placement on the back or upper arm have potential to last an additional week or two."

Savla notes that while most henna pastes include natural ingredients to elevate the natural colors, black henna—a type of henna that's been laced with a harmful substance to make it darker and last longer—has gained recognition over the years. These additives can pose major risks to the skin in the form of chemical burns and allergic reactions.

Common Placements

Like ink tattoo, henna can be applied almost anywhere on the body, albeit certain locations hold more significance than others. For instance, henna tattoos placed on the palms have been said to allow the person to be able to receive and offer blessings. Also, the physical feeling of getting a henna tattoo plays a role. According to Savla, "henna has a natural cooling effect when applied, which is said to have nerve-calming properties before the wedding day when placed on the hands and feet." She adds that one would usually get the darkest color on the warmer parts of the body—especially the palms. "Commonly, the designs people get on their palms are the most intricate, and sometimes draw out a story using symbols and illustrations of the bride and groom," she notes.

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On the flip side, when henna is applied on the top of the hands, it suggests protection—traditionally, brides get their mehndi adorned all the way up the their elbow. Savla says thatits designs are usually not as elaborate as the palms—it’s more spaced out and bold (for example, a mandala at the center with vines or the same design down all the fingers).

Aside from the hands, the feet are also a spiritual place to get henna. "Just like the hands, getting henna on the feet is said to help cool the nerves with its herbal remedies," says Savla. "Designs on the feet vary but usually share the same aesthetic as the designs done on the hands." And, using religious symbols and designs on the feet may be disrespectful to the culture or religion.

Popular Design Ideas and Meanings

If you're new to the world of henna tattooing, you may be overwhelmed with your options. Below, Savla describes 14 different henna tattoo designs—along with their meanings—that you can't go wrong with.

  • Sahasrara: "This is a lotus-like symbol that represents unity, and is most commonly seen on the palms."
  • Peacock: "As the national bird in India, peacocks represent beauty and their feathers are believed to bring prosperity. Birds also signify the link between heaven and earth. Placement is commonly on the hands and back."
  • Dragonflies and butterflies: "These creatures are said to represent transformation or rebirth and new beginnings."
  • Paisley designs: "These mango-shaped designs are versatile and can be decorated in many ways on the inside and outside of the design. The origin of the shape symbolizes luck with fertility, but has now become a staple design and symbol in Indian fashion and art. Placement of the paisley can be commonly seen on the hands and feet."
  • Flowers: "Flowers are common designs, as they represent beauty and new beginnings, with the most popular being the lotus flower. It’s a symbol of grace, purity, and heart. Common placement for flowers is on the hands and back."
  • Vines and leaves: "These represent strength and longevity. The most common placement is on the fingers."
  • Eyes: "An eye or evil eye symbol reflects protecting one from any evil thoughts or wishes. They're most commonly seen on the hand or back of neck."
  • Snakes and lizards: "These are not as popular in traditional henna designs, but they are known to represent seekers of enlightenment."
  • Om: "The om symbol is a well-known spiritual symbol or mantra that broadly refers to the self and universal spirit. It's often adorned as a statement piece with designs around it, and is commonly placed on the hand, arms, and back."
  • Circles: Not only are round circles striking, but they're representative of the cycle of life and the fulfillment of destiny. Circles in henna can be designed in various ways, from dotted lines with empty spaces to bold, ink-filled orbs.
  • Golecha: Golecha is a natural dye that's often heavily saturated, and most commonly seen in tones of red. The result offers a bold look.
  • Moroccan: Moroccan henna designs are known for their geometric shapes and their ability to be worn by any gender. This tribal style often covers the entire hand.
  • Pakistani: Pakistani designs include a myriad of florals and leaves, plus religious accents, such as domes and mosques. Similar to paisley designs, these henna styles are extremely personal.
  • Arabic: Bold lines and empty spaces are used often in Arabic designs, which weave culture into the art of henna. These designs are typically elegant and have a long history of being used among royal figures. This design, which is full of flowers, offers a modern take on the traditional design.

How Do You Care For a Henna Tattoo?

While there are a few things you can do to help your henna tattoo last longer, they typically last for three to four weeks. After about 10 to 15 days, you can expect the dye to start fading, but before then it should have a strong color and opacity. Below are some care instructions for your henna.

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  • Don't touch it after application. Once it's applied, let the henna set for about 30 minutes to ensure it's dry and resistant to smudging.
  • Avoid water. Cover it up while you're showering, bathing, or doing dishes.
  • Avoid chemicals. Steer clear of salt water, harsh chemicals (including hand sanitizer), and chlorine.
  • Keep it moisturized. Like a self-tanner, henna requires hydration to prolong fading.

How Do You Remove a Henna Tattoo?

Ready to remove your henna? Exfoliate with a pumice or loofah and a body exfoliator like Yes To's Coconut Polishing Body Scrub. Or, mix a cup of olive oil with a few tablespoons of sea salt and apply the blend to the henna—this can help lift the dye from the skin.

How Much Does It Cost?

Henna tattoos are typically far less expensive compared to ink-based tattoos done with a gun or stick and poke tools—both of which can cost anywhere from $100 to $1000 depending on the size and where you go. Henna can cost as little as five dollars at fairs and craft shows. For larger pieces and more intricate designs, they can get pricier, but still nowhere near what a permanent tattoo can cost. Savla also notes that the experience and skill of the henna artist plays a role as well. "Skilled artists are quick and have mastered freehand drawing, as that is a lot of what henna is," she says. "But, if there's a specific design requested—as in a symbol—it could cost about $20." For bridal henna tattoos, it can take anywhere from four to eight hours to apply, and that would cost anywhere from $250 to $1000 depending on your artist and difficulty of design.

How to Learn to Henna

Interested in learning how to do henna yourself? If so, the best way to master it is simply to practice, practice, practice. Watching YouTube videos, reading books, and talking to experts are just a few ways to familiarize yourself with the art form and to get educated enough to be able to do it on your own. Once you've learned the significance of the patterns and symbols and feel confident in a few basic sets, you can then start to practice on your family and friends who are willing.Savla recommends trying to make your own henna paste so you can get the consistency that works best for you when applying. This also allows you to play with the combination of ingredients to get the best outcome in color, as well as finding a cone shape that works best for you. "When you find your own style, freehand and speed will be on your side, and it will definitely make you stand out from the others."

DIY Brow-Tinted With Henna

(Video) How to Apply Henna for Beginners


Is it better to put henna on wet or dry hair? ›

Damp or fully dry hair is fine. 7. It is best to do all of this right before applying henna, rather than the day or evening before.

How many hours should henna be soaked before applying henna? ›

Let Your Henna Mixture Soak

After preparing the mixture, it is recommended to let it sit a minimum of 3-4 hours. However, I like to let it sit soak as long as possible, to give henna a chance to fully release its dying properties.

How long do you leave henna to dry? ›

Henna takes around 30 minutes to dry fully so make sure to keep it safe and avoid bumping into the paste to avoid smearing. Try and leave the paste on for several hours (or as long as you can) as leaving the paste on your skin for longer will help develop a better, deeper, longer lasting stain.

What happens if you leave henna on too long? ›

The time you leave the henna on your hair also impacts the result. For example, leaving it on for 1-3 hours is good for getting highlights and 3-4 hours for getting rich color. However, henna exposure for more than 5 hours may dry out your hair and scalp and weaken the strands.

Do you rinse henna with hot or cold water? ›

Rinse Henna paste out thoroughly with warm water, ending with cool water. This can take some time. It's like rinsing mud out of your hair. Using conditioner quickens the rinsing process.

Is 2 hours enough for henna? ›

Apply henna for maximum 2-3 hours in one time, more than that will make hair excessively dry and it will start breaking up. 5. Preconditioning & shampoo should be done before henna application, rinse your henna with plain water only after the process. 6.

Does blowing on henna make it dry faster? ›

This is the time when Lawsone molecules of henna bond with protein cells of your body. But, if you are in hurry, you can use hairdryer and blow hot air to dry it faster or you can get near fireplace, space heater, or anything which is safe and provides heat.

How long should I let henna sit for dye release? ›

Henna only needs 3-4 hours to release its dye. you the absolute best color results.

How long should you avoid water after henna? ›

Avoid contact with water for 12-24 hours; delaying exposure to water will help maximize the darkness and longevity of your henna stain.

Why do you put lemon juice on henna? ›

Add a few drops of lemon juice and apply the lemon sugar mixture a couple of times on the henna once it has dried. The sugar keeps the mehndi in contact with the skin for deeper penetration, while the lemon juice acts as a catalyst for dye release and deep penetration of colour.

Does henna cover GREY hair? ›

Will henna cover gray hair? Yes, but it is a bit of a process. The short version is: for best results on gray hair, we recommend using Rouge henna first then applying a darker shade like Brun or Marron.

Does putting lemon on henna make it darker? ›

Does lemon and sugar really work in darkening the colour of henna? Yes, it does! You need to apply this concoction when the henna paste is completely dry. Once you apply this sticky solution on the mehndi, the sugar will help in sticking of lemon juice, which in turn will darken the colour.

Do you wipe henna off after it dries? ›

Once your henna paste has dried, leave it on. Do not wash with water. It's best to not scrape off the dry paste and to cover it with a breathable material.

Why is my henna tattoo not showing up? ›

Many factors affect the quality of henna stain - skin composition, temperature, humidity, and aftercare. If after 24 hours your henna freckles are not showing, we recommend thoroughly exfoliating, washing, and drying your face to remove all oils and makeup.

How many hours after henna can I shower? ›

You will need to wait at least 12 hours before having a shower after a henna design. It's a good idea to coat the design in an oil such as coconut or olive oil or alternatively, use some cocoa butter to protect the design from the water. Avoid scrubbing or soaping the henna design when showering.

Will henna be darker if you leave it on for longer? ›

The longer you leave the henna paste on the skin, the darker and longer lasting your color, because it stains more layers of skin cells. As the skin cells exfoliate away, there are still layers of stained skin below them, and that is why your tattoo will stay much longer if you leave the paste on longer.

Does henna get darker the longer you leave it on? ›

Henna stain will be light/dark orange at first. In next 48-60 hours the stain will get darker gradually. The gradual progression of color proves the Henna paste is natural like my Henna recipe.

What can I put on my henna to make it darker? ›

Essential Oils: Adding essential oils like lemon oil, eucalyptus oil, or clove oil can darken henna (1). You can also mix Mahalabiya oil (an essential oil with a pine oil base) to darken henna.

Why is my henna fading after 2 days? ›

The skin is dry.

Dry skin helps henna to take and get a nice deep dark stain, but it also fades the henna quicker as dry skin sheds its cells faster than moist skin.

What makes henna come off faster? ›

Reach for Oils

More specifically, baby or coconut oils, says Hayag. Like micellar water, these oils help pull out the dye and fade the overall color. She suggests leaving an even coating of either oil on the henna-stained area for 10-20 minutes before washing it off.

Should I apply oil after henna? ›

After applying henna, oil your hair using mustard oil, and shampoo your hair the next day. This will leave your naturally conditioned and soft, and the results will last longer.

Does water make henna darker? ›

Stay away from water

If you want to wash your skin, do it before the application. Water will wash away the top layer of the body art, which is not a great sign to get vibrant color.

How long does henna tattoo last? ›

Henna tattoos can last between 1 and 3 weeks, depending on how well you care for them. Because henna is a dye that absorbs into your skin cells, the faster you lose skin cells, the faster your henna stain will disappear. We've got some tips to make it last. Before you get your henna paste applied, exfoliate.

Why does henna peel off? ›

Exfoliation of the skin is what causes henna to fade. Excess washing of skin and friction from clothing will make the stain fade faster.

How long should henna stay on hand? ›

You should leave the paste on at least 30 minutes and may leave it on longer if you choose. Leaving the paste on longer helps produces a longer lasting stain! When completely dry, the Paste will not appear as raised (puffy) but will now have a dry crusty look and feel.

How long does it take for henna to darken? ›

Henna paste gives out bright orange dye called Lawsone. This dye oxidizes over 48 hours to turn from orange color to dark shades of maroon or brown.

How long does it take to see the results of henna? ›

Unlike most hair dyes which need well under an hour to develop, natural henna takes its time. Leave henna on the hair for 3–6 hours. Colour result can depend on the original colour and condition of the hair, but generally deepens and darkens the longer you leave the henna on the hair.

What should you not do after henna? ›

Avoid chlorine, salt water, dishsoap, bleach, other cleaning materials, and any other harsh chemicals. You can bathe and shower as usual. Avoid hand sanitizer – it is the #1 thing that unintentionally kills henna stains FAST. Acetone nail polish remover has also been known to fade henna stains more quickly.

Does VapoRub make henna last longer? ›

Dabbing on a mixture of lemon juice on sugar and semi-dried henna will make it stick to the skin for a longer time. You can also apply Vicks VapoRub after all the henna has flaked off and keep it overnight. Warming your hands close to a stove or fire helps too.

What happens when you put Vaseline on henna? ›

Vaseline for Protecting Mehndi from Water

Apply Vaseline on henna design area before taking a bath. Water, soap, shampoo and chlorine fade the henna stain quickly. Vaseline makes a thin layer on your skin making it water-resistant and keeps the mehendi stain intact.

What are the steps of a henna tattoo? ›

How To Apply Henna Tattoos
  1. Step 1: Cut the sticker stencil to desired size. ...
  2. Step 2: Remove the needle tip from the cone (keep track of your needle!). ...
  3. Step 3: Keep the tattooed area still for at least 20 minutes as the paste dries. ...
  4. Step 4: When ready, peel off sticker and throw away.

How do you remove henna after it dries? ›

Use half a cup of warm water, a full tablespoon of baking soda, and two teaspoons of lemon juice. Apply this mixture with a cotton swab and let it soak into your skin before removing it. Keep repeating until the henna can't be seen.

What do you put on skin before henna? ›

How To Get An Amazing Stain
  1. EXFOLIATE up until 3 days before your henna. ...
  2. REMOVE HAIR if you're comfortable with that, depending on where you plan to have the henna done. ...
  3. ARRANGE FOR HELP if you are having your palms or feet done. ...
  4. AVOID LOTIONS/OILS the day you get your henna.
Sep 22, 2022


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