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You may have seen many women from the Middle East as well as certain Asian countries sporting attractive henna tattoos on their hand. Have these beautiful temporarily made tattoos caught your eye and left you wondering about the science behind the henna stains? If yes, then this article will tell you how henna stains your skin.
Pretty brides of many Asian countries and Middle Eastern countries as well as certain African nations love to sport henna tattoos on their hands during their wedding. Henna tattoos are not like permanent tattoos that you can get at a tattoo parlor. Henna is a natural dye that stains the skin temporarily and helps one sport intricate designs on their hands. You will find the Internet is full of henna designs and information related to henna color care. However, there are very few websites that offer information related to the science behind the henna stains. In this article, we shall discuss how does henna work and stain our skin. So, without much delay, let us get our facts straight.
What is Henna?
Lawsonia inermis or the mignonette tree are different names for the same flowering plant called henna. The name 'henna' is derived from an Arabic name 'hinna'. The leaves of this plant are used to dye skin, fingernails, hair and even leather or wool since the Bronze Age. This form of tattoo art is used extensively during festivals and celebrations, especially during weddings. The leaves of henna when crushed do not stain the skin. They will stain only after the release of lawsone molecules present in the leaves, after smashing them with something mildly acidic liquid like tea. Thus, henna leaves are dried and ground into a powder to make a paste of toothpaste-like consistency. This paste is applied on the skin or hair for staining. This dye is completely natural and has no side effects. Side effects if any, arise only when natural henna is mixed with adulterants like carmine, pyrogallol, orange dye, chromium, silver nitrate, etc., that help in altering the effect of henna stain on skin.
How Does Henna Work?
After the application of henna, the dye leaves a burgundy stain on the skin. The color of the stain depends on individual skin type and the amount of time that henna was allowed to stay on the skin. The color on the skin is due to the lawsone molecules present in the leaves. These lawsone molecules are more concentrated in the petioles of the leaves. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, lawsone molecules are released only when the leaves are crushed with a mildly acidic liquid. Thus, many people trade henna in the form of powder that is made by drying, milling and shifting the leaves. When one needs to apply henna tattoos, the powder is mixed with lemon juice, tea or similar mildly acidic liquids. A thick paste is formed and used to apply intricate, detailed body designs. Few drops of essential oils like eucalyptus, Cajeput, lavender or tea tree are added to henna paste. These oils contain monoterpene alcohols that help in improving the staining characteristics.
Our skin is made up of a number of cell layers. The outermost layer of the skin is called stratum corneum. It helps keep away dirt and other infectious agents from the lower layers of the skin. This layer of skin is thick on certain parts of the body like palms and foot soles (especially the heels) and may be thinner on other parts like the ear skin. The stratum corneum is made up of keratin which also makes up for fingernails and hair. When henna is applied on your skin or hair, the lawsone molecule is small enough to penetrate the skin cell. It enters the columns of skin cells and does not bloat or spread out like a drop of ink would on a tissue paper. Thus, the stains remain sharp and clear, till the complete exfoliation of the upper layer of skin. Henna stains darkest on the cells that are in close contact with the dye and the skin cells farthest from the dye have lighter shades.