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Henna, a form of temporary tattoo, may be based in traditional world cultures, but in recent years appears to be becoming more and more popular. I actually only became aware of this style of art recently, but my knowledge of it has grown quickly over the last year, and I’m meeting more and more people who not only enjoy having the tattoos, but also like designing and drawing them themselves. It’s important to know that whilst I am using the term tattoo these should not be confused with ink tattoos. They will cause no harm or lasting effect, completely disappearing within a few weeks, and so are relatively safe for children. Having said that, it is possible to be allergic to the dye, just as with most natural substances, though this is extremely rare, but just be fairly careful the first time that you apply it.

The term technically refers to the dye, which is made from the plant Henna, and the tattooing is also known as Mehndi. The dye is also used for hair and fabric, but I’ve seen it most commonly used on the skin. It creates tattoos that not only are non-permanent, but are also more traditional and cultural looking than contemporary ink tattoos, being orangey-brown in colour, and so looking natural as well. It originated in Ancient Egypt and is used in the country still as well as other parts of northern Africa. It is also found in Asia, particularly India, and is an important part of many religious and cultural traditions across both continents.

When using Henna, it is very important to make sure you are using the natural orange dye, as opposed to Black Henna. This is a black powder made from the plant Indigo, and often contains other chemicals that may cause harmful effects. While it will stain the skin a black colour fairly quickly it may cause severe allergic reactions and sometimes scarring to the skin. It is also illegal to use Black Henna for tattoos in some countries because of this. Some cheap tourist attractions may offer to give black henna tattoos, because they can do it a lot more cheaply, and generally get away with it, so be very careful that everything is safe when getting Henna done by an artist.

Henna is painted on the skin by the artist, often on the hand or arm but also elsewhere, as a relatively thick paste. The paste will then harden on the skin in the shape of the design and should be left on for as long as possible, since the longer this paste stays on the skin, the darker and more durable the design will be. Eventually this hardened powder will peel away by itself, and at this point it will be okay to remove. Underneath will be left an orangey brown stain of the pattern in the skin. This will get gradually darker over the next few hours, before fading again over the following days or weeks. The duration that henna tattoos last also depends on the part of the body, and areas you wash more such as your hands may fade quicker. Also, where there is thicker skin it is likely to last for quite a while.

The henna can be bought in the UK in small plastic cones sealed with a metal pin, which are used very similarly to piping bags for decorating cakes. The easiest way to buy Henna is probably online, but it can also be found at other general shops or at international grocery supermarkets since Henna is a big part of cultural tradition in some countries and so must be available to those who follow this traditions.

Henna patterns often involve plant life, such as flowers and leaves, as well as other cultural symbols. For more information about how to draw your own Henna tattoos, besides knowing a Henna artist personally, the best way to learn is probably over the internet where there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube as well as images of pattern ideas.

At least from my experience, Henna appears to be growing in popularity in the UK recently, particularly with people from outside its traditional cultural background, and I’m excited by this change since I think that by increasing our mutual understanding of various world skills and experiences we can increase diversity and cultural understanding for everyone nationwide.     

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