Middle Eastern Body Art
August 13, 2008 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Staining the nails, skin and hair with henna is the favorite way of enhancing beauty amongst women in the Middle East. It is used as a hair treatment as well as a dye to make decorative designs on the skin. The art is known as mehndi. Henna markings remain on the skin for about twenty or thirty days.

Henna cosmetics are made from the Egyptian evergreen plant, lawsonia inermis. Stay away from black henna. Many people are allergic.
posted by netbros (35 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Henna is cool and all, but I prefer my women to be covered with permanent tattoos! Dead serious. Nothing's sexier than a tattoo'd lady, IMO.
posted by bjork24 at 5:23 PM on August 13, 2008

If you'd like to try mehndi yourself, here are some common questions.
posted by netbros at 5:35 PM on August 13, 2008

I love henna. It turns me on in the same bigoted way that stereotypical granola-eating, baja-hoodie-wearing, patchouli scented, dreadlocked, street-urchins turn me on. I want to take these women home and give them a long bath (I'm sick I know).

Thanks for killing this private fetish of mine with the link to black henna! Good post though.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:46 PM on August 13, 2008

My wife was very interested in tattoos for a while, but didn't want to do anything permanent. I bought her a henna kit, which has sat on the bureau untouched for like 3 years now. FYI.

Permanent tattoos are icky, but henna is cool. FYI #2.
posted by DU at 5:56 PM on August 13, 2008

Just watch out for Black PPD "Henna", saw some articles mentioning that PPD/Black is a serious skin irritant.
posted by so_ at 6:06 PM on August 13, 2008

Permanent tattoos are icky

Saying things like that is a sure way to break the ice at parties.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:08 PM on August 13, 2008

If you love henna mehndi and want to make it permanent, check out the tattoo artistry of Dawn Grace. Amazing stuff. Chicago's own.
posted by jeanmari at 6:14 PM on August 13, 2008

Also from Dawn Grace, mehndi style tattoo in brown. Gorgeous.
posted by jeanmari at 6:16 PM on August 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Saying things like that is a sure way to break the ice at parties.

Parties are also icky.
posted by DU at 6:44 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd like to see Doug Hennings hennaed.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:34 PM on August 13, 2008

I went to a wedding of an Indian couple, and I was surprised to see women putting mehndi art (or whatever the verbal phrase would be) on the bride-to-be . . . using brown and black Sharpies! When I asked why they weren't using henna, they told me that Sharpies were just a whole lot easier and faster and controllable, and that the use of Sharpies was now fairly common in India.

I don't know how true that is, but this was a very wealthy family who spared no expense in the rest of the wedding, so I just look at mehndi now as some romanticized as "exotic" in the West, but probably don't with the same sense of pragmatism as anything else in the rest of the world.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:00 PM on August 13, 2008

the sharpies is surprising, haven't seen that yet but then again haven't been to a wedding in India for some years now. however, knowing the 'beliefs' ;p i'd guess the sharpie thing came about maybe because it is believed that if the mehndi stains dark then you will have a long and happy marriage and the longer it stays dark and doesn't start to fade the longer and happier the marriage. of course mine started fading within days ;p pics of bridal mehndi being done on the street cos it was faster and cheaper, that's an old abandoned website
posted by infini at 8:13 PM on August 13, 2008

Nothing's sexier than a tattoo'd lady

Hey, Groucho certainly thought so...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:25 PM on August 13, 2008

There's an absolutely stunning picture of henna-induced allergic contact dermatitis in last week's New England Journal of Medicine. (Unfortunately, very few of you can probably see it, but here is a link for anyone with a subscription.)
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:21 PM on August 13, 2008

y'know, I doubt one can scribble Sharpies al over one's skin without some ill effect. It'd be worth looking at the WHMIS (?) sheet before using them on skin.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:41 PM on August 13, 2008

There's an absolutely stunning picture of henna-induced allergic contact dermatitis in last week's New England Journal of Medicine.

Wow, that's crazy. For people who don't have a subscription, imagine the drawn pattern translating almost precisely into an intricate blister.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:21 PM on August 13, 2008

When I was in India for my friends wedding about 4 years ago, there were no Sharpies to be found for miles. Proper henna was used all around.

The Sharpies could have been due to a lack of time, maybe? The longer you leave the goop on the darker the stain, from what I was told. I can't imagine sharpies fooling anybody close up though.
posted by inparticularity at 10:38 PM on August 13, 2008

nescafe is excellent when mixed with henna powder for staining hair. btw, nails get stained orange and never fade, they just get replaced by new nail growth so think twice before putting on nails unless you want half orange nails untill the whole nail bed replaces itself. In india, staining the nails is considered 'muslim' i.e. more popular in the muslim community, in malaysia the malay muslim ladies simply stain the fingertips but don't have the intricate complex patterns that are more common in india and I don't think they do the feet.

for a traditional hindu bride, doing the feet and hands is part of the "solah sringar" - the closest equivalent in a christian wedding would be "something borrowed, something blue" etc
posted by infini at 10:51 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Malay grooms will also often stain a few fingers of one hand for the wedding, which is cute.
posted by BinGregory at 11:24 PM on August 13, 2008

Slarty Bartfast: yes that article is related to PPD (p-phenylenediamine used in "black" henna) skin irritation.

posted by so_ at 1:49 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

And now, a different kind of mendi.
posted by bwg at 2:15 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sharpies? WHAT? Sacriledge!

My cousin does awesome mendhi. I got one done on my hand last week but it's faded already, bah. When my cousin does it it stays dark.
posted by divabat at 4:12 AM on August 14, 2008

jeanmari - Thank you so much for linking to Dawn Grace's work. I've always loved the idea of getting a mendhi-style tattoo done, but I'd never seen anyone do it. I chose the tattoo I have now (designed by Pat Fish, another incredible tattoo artist) in part because it had a lot of delicate vines in the design and they reminded me of henna art.

My favorite place to get mendhi is on my palms, in the traditional bridal style. It's a bitch to keep your hands still long enough to get a really dark stain but it looks gorgeous.
posted by elfgirl at 5:13 AM on August 14, 2008

The mehndi on a bride's hands can be used to indicate how well the bride is treated after she was married. Along with the bangles worn when getting married, significant activity will quickly show up. Having to wash things will tend to quickly fade the mehndi and physical labour (in the fields, etc.) will tend to damage the bangles.

Here's a picture of my wife's mehndi from our wedding last year.
posted by daveg at 5:44 AM on August 14, 2008

hi daveg, is that pic private to all mefi users or just random clickers like moi? ;p
posted by infini at 6:03 AM on August 14, 2008

> I'm willing to bet this was less about cost or tradition and had more to do with a bride saying, "What do you mean I have to sit here for 18 hours? Oh, HELL no."
posted by elfgirl at 6:37 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Am I the only guy here who does mehndi (on himself)? Chicks dig it, or, at least, the kind of chicks who I want to dig it, dig it. I don't have any at the moment, but you can see some on my ankle here.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:40 AM on August 14, 2008

Mehndi was a crazy fad for a while in the mid-90s in the part of the midwest I was living in at the time, and for a couple of summers I managed to earn a surprisingly decent chunk of money doing it at various events almost every weekend.

Years earlier I'd learned the basics from a Sudanese (I think) woman in the Kensington Market in Toronto. I have a reasonable facility for doodling and, as it turned out, the ability to adapt decorative designs from ceramics and fabrics in reasonably flattering ways onto the contours of human flesh. It was fun.

If you want a cheap practice medium before mixing up the real thing, go to a craft store and get some cheap squirt-bottle fabric paint (reddish-brown is realistic) and some brown paper. Also try washable non-toxic brown Crayolas (not Sharpies!) to get a feel for how designs look on actual body parts.

I haven't done it or even thought about it for a long time, but this is making me miss the nice planty smell of the paste. Maybe I'll mix some up before the summer's over. Thanks, netbros!
posted by tangerine at 1:04 PM on August 14, 2008

Mehndi was huge when Lollapallooza was still a novel idea. You couldn't spin a burning trash can at Lolla without hitting someone doing mehndi. (Or weaving those little cloth friendship bracelets.) The ones that cracked me up were the "stencil artists", where they slapped a plastic stencil sheet over the customer, then sort of globbed the henna onto the stencil. There were crusty, half designed stoned idiot everywhere.

For the record, I've been to two weddings where permanent markers were used instead of brushes and paste. One was traditional Indian and one was traditional Islamic. They weren't sharpies though, they were more like calligraphy brushes but with their own ink supply. The final lines looked exactly like henna. It was cool.
posted by dejah420 at 1:28 PM on August 14, 2008

Puts me in mind of Debra Winger's character in the movie, The Sheltering Sky, in which she (is kidnapped by/runs away with) a nomad in the African desert. She ends up getting henna-ed and more. Much more.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:31 PM on August 14, 2008

There are henna pens, which might have been the calligraphy brushes and might have been the sharpies.
posted by mendel at 1:59 PM on August 14, 2008

Not unless they say "Sharpie" on the side!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:02 PM on August 14, 2008

I miss the mehndi craze. Here in London you couldn't go ten steps without running into some little old Indian lady who could do the most beautiful, intricate designs. And afterwards you'd be walking around breathing that lovely, spicy henna smell-- the perfect antidote to the exhaust-clogged London air.

Now it's back to being the province of skeezy stoners doing dodgy kanji and generic "tribal" designs. I know I could find the real thing again if I dragged my ass out to Southall or somewhere, but who has time? One of these days, though.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:18 PM on August 14, 2008

I love henna.

Yes, well, I think it looks terrible.
posted by magic curl at 8:44 AM on August 15, 2008

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