Introduction and History of Henna Tattoos

Temporary henna tattoos have become quite the rage in recent times. However, henna has been around for a long time and has been used by Indian and African women for its coloring and nourishing properties. In fact, the beginnings of the use of henna can be traced back thousands of years to ancient Egypt. It is only over the past decade or so that temporary tattoos have emerged as the hottest accessory in the West. The absence of chemicals and temporary color are the main advantages of a henna tattoo.

The henna plant is native to Egypt and other parts of Northern Africa. The earliest known usage of henna dye on skin may be traced back 5,000 years to ancient Egypt, where the hands and feet of dead Pharaohs were dipped in dye prior to mummification to ensure a smooth trip to the afterlife. The Egyptians brought henna plants to India in the 12th century A.D., and the art of henna tattoos soon flourished. In the 17th century, Empress Mumtaz Mahal was the first Indian ruler to be painted with henna. Now, henna tattoos are available worldwide. Salons specializing in henna tattoo painting exist across the United States.

Henna (from the plant lawsonia inermia) is known as many names and is predominantly found in North Africa, Eygpt, India and parts of the Middle East. It is best known for its dried, ground leaves that produce a colorfast dye in shades varying from pale brown through to dark russet reds. It can be used to dye hair, skin, clothes and even finger nails, and has long been used as a treatment for sunburn, for its astringent qualities and also as a sedative.

The art of Henna has been practised for thousands of years in the countries mentioned above but in the last 5 years there has been a surge of interest from Western countries. It is now widely accepted as an art in self expression and individuality.

There is evidence of tattooing dating right back over 5000 years and the Egyptians were the culture that totally embraced it. They were probably the vainest of cultures when it came to beauty and personal hygiene. Henna was used in many ways to stain hands, hair and nails.

Henna is a life giving and therapeutic experience for anyone who wants to get in touch with their inner self. It has a history of spirituality and is linked with marriage, birth and death, and is probably the oldest art form known to man.

In the Middle East it is said that Arabs will not present their hand for henna if they are not speaking the truth and it is generally brides who are painted. Henna is known as a symbol of good luck in countries such as Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

In Morocco there are unique designs used for many different things. Pregnant women have designs painted on their ankles to protect them throughout childbirth and designs are passed down within the families, secret styles being kept in families for generations.

African designs have a geometry to them that is quite distinct and are less intricate than the very ornate and floral Indian or mehndi designs.

Celtic Art has beautiful intricate knots and animal designs that are more complicated to do in henna but can be mastered. Celtic designs are very spiritual and magical and have many deep meanings to many anglo Saxons.

Japanese and Chinese Art is used by western countries practising henna bodyart and the Japanese symbols are probably some of the most in demand designs for henna. The yin yang sign and all its variations is also very popular. Henna influences reach far and wide and never more so than in the fashion fields.

Look at all the crazy designs of designers in the late sixties and early seventies such as Ossie Clarke and Zandra Rhodes. Their flamboyant textile designs are making a huge comeback on the catwalks today and the new ‘hippy chic’ looks that incorporate not only henna body art but rich textile designs pulled from many cultures menhdi designs in particular show that henna bodyart is not dead!