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Hand painted with henna

Mehndi on arms and legs, (Gujarat, India)

Henna application

Mehndi or Mehendi (Hindi मेहन्दी, mehndī) is the name for the artistic ornamental body painting(bodypainting) with henna, originating from Northwest India, today’s Pakistan. It is done for cosmetic and ritual purposes and has been known since ancient times. It is said to have originated in Persia and spread from there to India, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. In India, Persia, the Arabian core countries, Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and Sudan, the bride receives an elaborate painting with henna on her hands, possibly forearms and feet for the wedding on the henna night. In Bangladesh, Kashmir and Sudan, the groom also receives a mehndi, but it is far less splendid than that of the bride.

Since stars like Madonna in the late 1990s brought body painting in the style of Indian Mehndis in fashion, the term Hennatattoo has also become common in German usage for this type of body painting, as they look similar to tattoos. Unlike real tattoos Mehndis fade within two to three weeks, because with these only the constantly renewing epidermis is inked and not as with tattoos the color is introduced subcutaneously.

From a medical standpoint, henna is considered safe for body painting. However, henna naturally dyes only in reddish-brown shades and requires a long application time. For a black colour and a quick colouring of the skin, the hair dye PPD (p-phenylenediamine) is usually added to the henna, which can trigger severe allergic reactions and lead to irreparable skin and liver damage[1] and liver damage. PPD is cheap and it is allowed on the European market to add up to six percent PPD to henna.

For this reason, doctors recommend to be suspicious and cautious when – not only in a holiday country like India, Morocco or Tunisia, but also in Europe – black dyeing “henna tattoos” and pastes are offered by “mehndic artists” or cosmetic companies. A mostly unmistakable sign that PPD is used is the assurance that the result will be permanently visible after only half an hour or a whole hour. For mehndis with pure henna, in contrast, one has to wait at least six to eight hours.

Web links

Commons: Mehndi– Collection of images, videos and audio files

  • Angelika Lohwasser Henna in Sudan. In: Mitteilungen der Sudanarchäologischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin, Heft 3, July 1995, p. 50f
  • Collection Of Mehndi Designs Photo gallery of the english-speaking forum for Mehndi lovers and artists

Individual references

  1. Björn M. Hausen, Martin Kaatz, Uta Jappe, Ulrike Stephan, Gunthram Heidbreder Henna/p-phenylenediamine contact allergy: Consequential dermatoses after henna tattoos. In: Deutsches Ärzteblatt 98, issue 27 of 6 July 2001, p. A-1822, B-1564, C-1449