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The art of... body adornment: Henna artful alternative to the needle

By Carly Davis & Carrie Stern
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Jan. 31, 2002

An alternative to permanent tattooing is Mehndi, the ancient art of applying henna-based paste to skin. Since antiquity, the leaves of henna plant (Lawsonia Inermis) have been used as a skin, hair and nail dye.

Since it is a dye, it may be preferable to more invasive methods of body art, such as tattooing, where ink is injected into the dermal layer of the skin. Henna staining may be a good description of the process - not henna tattooing.

This art has gained popularity for modern professional artists such as Sylvia Cox of Ancient Art.

"(Henna is) a very nice alternative for someone who is contemplating a tattoo," Cox said. "It is for people who aren't positive that they want a tattoo."

A client could spend much less money on henna than on a tattoo, also.

"The maximum someone might spend is $30," she said.

The time investment is comparable to tattooing, though. The design could be a pre-made pattern, or freehanded by the artist, which takes time.

"It takes time like a regular tattoo, but it's not as uncomfortable. It takes time and patience (to apply the henna dye)," Cox said.

The aftercare is simpler than for tattooing; the client need only keep the henna protected from moisture long enough to set the dye.

"When you leave (the studio), cover the design for six to 12 hours," Cox instructed.

Henna is also available at several stores, as are books of Mehndi patterns and history.

At Spencer Gifts in the Tucson Mall, a "For Lovers Only" kit is available for $19.99, said Angela Misner, the store's manager.

"A lot of couples buy it," she said. "You could write all over your partner's body."

For the less adventurous there is another kit. "It's powder-form henna with stencils," Misner said. "It's $8.99."

Whether pre-mixed in a tube, or powder-form to add to water, the thick, greenish, spinach-smelling henna will dye your skin a light-orange to dark-brown color, depending on your skin.

By itself, henna can only produce those colors. Henna dye products can obtain greater color range by mixing with other plant extracts, such as indigo.

But beware of black henna, because it is probably not henna at all. Black henna is likely made from PPD, or p-Phenylenediamine, which is used in hair dye and known to cause severe allergic reactions.

Essential oils such as clove and lemon are often mixed in for fragrance. Feel free to ask the artist what ingredients are in the henna paste.

Sylvia Cox is available at Ancient Art Tattoo, 2108 S. Alvernon Way. For an appointment, call 747-3340. Spencer Gifts is open during regular mall hours; call 293-0150.


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