What You Need to Know About Henna Tattoos

As the popularity of tattoos has grown, an inevitable by-product has been increasing demand for a less permanent, or more natural, alternative. This could serve as a trial run for a later indelible tattoo, or replace it altogether. In response to this, henna tattooing has also spread like wildfire.

The practise, originating in India, also marks the skin according to a custom design, but the image will last for a month at most, before fading away. This has made it popular among festival-goers, who don’t want their heat-of-the-moment decisions to mark them forever, and teenagers, as a compromise when their parents ban them from real tattoos.

But are there any downsides to henna? And how did this Indian tradition become such a Western mainstay, anyway?



Technically, ‘henna tattoo’ is a misnomer. The term ‘tattoo’ refers specifically to the act of placing ink below the skin with a needle, to create a permanent mark. Neither of these apply here. To be strictly correct, ‘henna’ is the substance being used, and the application of henna as skin decoration is called ‘mehndi’.

Due to the removal of skin piercing and needles from the equation, mehndi carries less risk of health complications than conventional tattooing. The henna plant is crushed into powder, then formed into a paste. This is applied to the surface of the skin, normally using a plastic cone or paint brush.


However, the one health risk that could result from the mehndi process is an allergic reaction to the henna paste. If you are concerned about this, perhaps due to a know predisposition towards allergies, you could have a small sample of the dye placed onto your skin before the full application of a design, to check for such adverse reactions.

Henna ink usually appears to be a reddish-brown colour when applied to the skin. After the process of application is complete, the affected area is wrapped up to lock in body heat, which helps create a more intense colour.

There have been occurrences of artificial dyes being added to henna paste to make it appear more black, and thus create a more convincing illusion of a ‘real’ tattoo. However, if your henna does appear more black than brown, or any other different colour, this adulteration can increase the likelihood of an allergic reaction.


Henna tattoos usually depict an intricate pattern, often influenced by mehndi’s Indian roots. Originally, brides were heavily decorated with mehndi, and it was also used by Mohammad, giving it acceptance among Muslim cultures. In other Arabic countries and around central Asia, it has been used for special occasions, and as hair dye.

Finally, there have been reports of western henna designs, themselves influenced by eastern imagery, finding their way back to the other cultures from whence mehndi came, bringing everything around full circle.

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