Henna Tattoo Guide

Henna tattoo in progress; © Beetle2k42 | Dreamstime.com

Henna is a paste created from a plant called Lawsonia inermis, and it's applied to the skin in a variety of intricate and detailed patterns. When the paste is dried and removed, it leaves behind a reddish-brown tint on the skin that eventually fades over time, which makes it an ideal medium for creating a temporary tattoo. Known as Mehndi in India and parts of the Middle East, henna has a long history of use as a temporary tattoo to mark special events and life changes such as weddings or the birth of a baby.

Applying Henna

Applying henna paste; © Debbie Arruda | Dreamstime.com

There are many different methods for applying henna, but the most common use either an applicator bottle or a mylar cone. Mix up the paste according to the manufacturer's instructions and place it in the bottle or cone.

  1. Clean the skin well to remove any lotion or sunscreen. Pat the skin dry.
  2. Trace the design you want to create onto the skin using a marker, pen or transfer paper.
  3. Place the tip of the applicator bottle or cone just above the skin and squeeze gently to apply the henna. The henna should emerge from the tip in a rounded tube; do not touch the applicator tip to the skin.
  4. Allow the henna to dry on the skin.
  5. Spray the finished design with liquid hair gel, and wrap a piece of gauze over it.
  6. Keep the design wrapped for approximately 12 hours. The longer you leave the henna on, the deeper the tint will be, which will help your tattoo last longer.
  7. Gently wash the dried flakes of henna off the skin, and see the tattoo design that's left behind.
Floral Arabic henna design; © Andrewblue | Dreamstime.com


Henna is ancient, but its currently popularity has opened up this art form to a variety of design styles. From free style to culturally traditional, some of the designs you might choose include:

  • Arabic Henna Designs: These include traditional designs such as flowers, peacocks and fish.
  • Dragon Henna Tattoos: Here you'll find several different dragon designs from the contemporary to the traditional.
  • Henna Tattoo Designs: This slideshow is filled with different images from traditional Mehndi to non-traditional designs.

Purchasing Henna

Henna is easier to find than you may think. You can get usually get it at your local Middle Eastern or Indian grocery store. However, this henna is often not the best quality. You may have to try more than one brand before you find one that you really like working with because different types of henna work better for different purposes. For example, some henna stays dark longer, while other types of henna may be easier to work with or have been sifted better. Your best bet may be buying henna online, where you can peruse product reviews before deciding which brand might be best for you.

  • Mehandi: Mehandi sells several different lines of henna, including kits. They offer photos of the various types of henna applied for varying lengths of time so you can gage the results before you try.
Creating a dragon henna tattoo design; © Tatiana Belova | Dreamstime.com
  • Radico: Radico makes very finely ground henna powder that's perfect for tattoos. They sell the powder alone, but you can also purchase kits that include design templates. They also offer precise mixing instructions so you get consistent results.
  • Natural Expressions: Natural Expressions sells pre-mixed henna that is ready to apply, as well as kits for both beginners and professional artists.
  • Earth Henna: Earth Henna carries henna kits aimed at beginners who are new to the art. In addition to pre-mixed and powdered henna, they also carry stencils and books on design tips.

How to Care for Your Henna Tattoo

Henna ink starts out copper or reddish brown, but it turns dark brown over time before it eventually fades. The dye will last on the skin for about one to four weeks; the more you wash the area with the tattoo, the faster it will fade. If you must get your tattoo wet within the first 48 hours after application, you should apply Vaseline or baby oil to protect it.

You can reapply the henna to your tattoo, but it will only work for four to five applications. After that, there is nothing you can do to keep your tattoo from fading.

Henna Tattoo Tips

Intricate bridal tattoo done in red-brown henna; © Ethnica | Dreamstime.com

To get the most out of your henna tattoo, follow these tips before, during and after application:

  • Practice using the squeeze bottle or mylar cone on a piece of cardboard or paper before applying it to skin so you get used to the rate of flow.
  • Use a hair dryer to help seal in the tattoo pigment, first heating and drying the henna, and then heating and drying the spray gel used to help set it.
  • Create unique and intricate designs by going in with a second color of henna the next day and highlighting areas of the tattoo.
  • Coat the finished body art with coconut oil or olive oil once you wash away the flakes to protect the tattoo and help it last longer.

A Warning About Black Henna

Some people use a product called black henna that gives temporary tattoos a black look. However, black henna usually contains para-phenylendiamine, which should never be applied to skin. Putting para-phenylendiamine on the skin can cause blistering and scarring. See your physician immediately if you develop any irritation, rash or blistering at the site of your tattoo.

There are other ways to darken henna, like using natural products such as tea tree oil. However, some professionals say you should never change the color of henna. If you have a professional artist apply the henna tattoo, ask which ingredients they are using. If you use a kit to apply it yourself, check the ingredients listing to make sure no para-phenylendiamine is included.

Get Temporarily Inked

Henna tattoos have been used in cultures around the world because they are safe, beautiful, and completely temporary. Branch out into some body art by applying your own henna tattoo, and see what you can create.

Henna Tattoo Guide