Traditional Henna Tattoos
Henna, or Mehndi, dates back thousands of years in India and East Asian countries, traditionally used on brides. In the U.S., henna is extremely popular at festivals and events. Henna can also be done on pregnant bellies, or as “crowns” on those experiencing hair loss from chemotherapy.
Henna starts as a powder made from the leaves of the henna bush. I buy the powder and mix it into a paste using only water, essential oils, sugar, and a tiny amount of lemon juice as a preservative. Henna is appropriate for ages over 7. Younger children may not be able to sit still long enough to receive a henna tattoo. It is usually applied on the backs of hands, wrists, forearms, and ankles, since the skin is more absorbent on these areas.
Henna paste is applied using a squeeze bottle or cone, then it needs to dry undisturbed for 15-20 minutes. During this time it is easy to smear, so be careful! Once the paste is dry, you can move around as normal, but leave the paste on at least 3-4 hours or more. The longer it’s on the skin, the darker it will stain! Once you’re ready to remove the paste, scrape it off with your fingernails or use some olive oil to dissolve it. The stain will then darken as it oxidizes over 12-24 hours. Henna usually lasts 1-2 weeks depending on your skin.
One important note: You may have heard about henna tattoos creating scarring or skin sensitivities. This is because some companies that make henna cones, add a chemical to enhance the stain called PPD, a toxic chemical used in hair dye. Rest assured, I never add harsh chemicals of any kind to my henna paste, and I only use paste that I make myself. Fresh henna paste is not shelf-stable, it is highly perishable. Therefore, you should never buy henna off the shelf, and if you see someone using henna in a store-bought cone, don’t get a tattoo from them! Real, fresh-mixed henna is extremely safe and allergic reactions are rare.
Plant-Based Jagua Tattoos
Jagua, pronounced “YAH-gwa”, is another option for temporary tattoos. Jagua is NOT the same as “black henna,” which is often created with chemical dyes and is not safe for the skin!
Jagua is an all-natural, skin-safe, plant-based jelly made from a tropical fruit (scientific name Genipa Americana) that when applied to the skin, leaves behind a dark bluish-black stain that looks similar to a real tattoo. Jagua lasts about as long as henna, sometimes longer, so it is only for the body and not the face. The same rules apply as for henna – where your skin is more absorbent, you will get a darker stain – such as your hands, feet, forearms, and ankles. Upper arms and back will also stain with jagua.
Jagua tattoos are applied using a squeeze bottle with a special tip. The jelly takes about 20 minutes to dry, during which time it must be left alone or it will smear. It will also stain your clothes, so be extra careful – jagua is quite unforgiving! Once it’s dry, leave it on for 2-4 hours. There is no benefit to leaving it on for longer, and you should definitely wash it with soap and water before bedtime as it will likely stain your sheets.
Once the dried gel flakes off, you may be surprised to see that there is no stain left behind! Don’t panic. This is how the process works. The gel absorbs into the top layers of your skin, then oxidizes over the next 24 hours. You should wake up the next morning with a nice stain where the jelly was, and voila! Your temporary tattoo is complete.
***Jagua is also a great way to test out ideas if you are thinking about getting a real tattoo, since it looks very similar to black tattoo ink on your skin! If you are not booking a party, but would like to book me for a custom “tattoo try-out” using Jagua, send me an e-mail here.
Jagua is even less likely than henna to irritate the skin. It has been used by tribes in the Amazon since ancient times, and is very gentle. I recommend jagua for children and adults over age 7, because of the long dry time and likelihood of it staining clothes if it gets smeared.
White henna is sometimes used for modern weddings or other dressy events. White henna is not actually henna, but is a skin-safe adhesive with pigment added to make it white.
The application process for white henna is the same as with glitter tattoos, except without the glitter. Skin must be clean, dry, and oil-free (I prep the surface with rubbing alcohol). The pigmented glue is applied using a squeeze bottle with a flat needle tip. Once dry, the glue is dusted with a light coating of translucent powder to set it and keep it from feeling tacky. That’s it!
To care for white henna, you just need to be careful not to smudge it during application, and try to keep it protected until the day of your event so that it looks fresh and perfect. I recommend scheduling your application appointment for the night before, since the glue will start to wear off after a few days. You can shower with it, just be careful not to scrub it. Don’t apply any oils or lotions over your tattoo. And dust it with some baby powder after your shower.
Touch ups can be done using a white eyeliner pencil, and if the tattoo needs to be removed, rubbing alcohol will take it off completely.