What do you do after applying mehndi?


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Why Do You Have to Keep the Dye on for So Long?

The next step in the process of applying mehndi is to wait, wait, wait. [see why below] Granted, this part of the process promises to be most difficult; some itchiness and slight discomfort can accompany the experience of mehndi paste drying on your skin.  But never fear: The discomfort is minimal, and after having henna applied many times, you will become used to the feeling.  However, Foot Mehndi Design (Susan)if you feel prolonged itchiness that makes you want to remove the henna immediately, please do so; the feeling could indicate the presence of substances to which you may be allergic.

After the mehndi dries a little bit, apply a fixative solution to the design which consists of lemon juice and a pinch of sugar.  You can apply this solution either by spraying it or dabbing with a cotton ball. Make sure that you periodically add more solution as the design dries more. Please note: adding the lemon-sugar mixture is not necessary, but it can certainly help increase the acidity of the henna design and the adherence of the paste to your skin. Another important property of adding the lemon-sugar solution is that it keeps the mehndi wet enough to continue going into your skin. Just make sure not to add the lemon-sugar prematurely; if you add it too early, your hard work may be destroyed if the design smears. 

I recommend that you leave the mehndi on your skin for as long as possible - i.e. 4-6 hours, to achieve the darkest color, but remember that good henna will produce a reasonably brown stain after an hour.  In any case, after at least 2 hours, scrape the mehndi off of your skin with a blunt knife or with your fingernails.  Next, rub some baby oil, eucalyptus oil, or lotion on your hands to remove excess henna and to improve the color of the mehndi.  The oil will additionally help to remove any stickiness caused by the lemon-sugar.  If you want to darken your stain immediately, you can put your hands in contact of some heat source (hair dryer) or hover your hands over the smoke of burning cloves. Otherwise, simply wait a day and your henna design will darken to a brown.

A word of warning: do not wet the area with your finished henna design for at least twelve hours.  Otherwise the color will not come as dark as it Mehndi Fadespotentially could. If you decide to leave mehndi on overnight to get the maximum dark color, apply a lemon and sugar juice before you go to sleep; allow it to dry, and cover your hand with a paper bag to prevent smearing the mehndi against another surface.  You can use various covering methods to protect your henna from the elements - some great suggestions I have received involve wrapping a lemon-sugared design with unrolled cotton balls, or by applying a skin mask like Freeman's Cucumber face mask to the henna design.   You can use a variety of other "wraps" to retain body heat while allowing your hand to breathe a little. Some people use a wrap of toilet paper when the henna is "crispy dry", then wrap with plastic wrap, and then wrap with packing tape.  As for me, I usually don't worry about anything since I can just apply mehndi whenever I want, but I usually wear mehndi on my feet overnight.   To protect the design, I wear old knee-highs to bed.  Try it -- it works very well, but you might want to wear another layer of socks or another pair of knee highs over it in case the nylons have a hole. I do not suggest that you cover your hand with a plastic bag because, having had a bad experience with this experiment myself, I find that the plastic prevents your hands from breathing, so the inside of the bag get very steamy and uncomfortable. 

An alternative to lemon and sugar:  In the hot sun at an outdoor fair, using lemon juice and sugar may invariably attract lots of bugs to your henna design before you have the paste removed.  A solution that many mehndi artists are considering these days is to use the product "New skin" over the henna design to bind it to the skin.  But be forewarned -- New skin smells terrible and will not make your hand smell that nice for the day that you have it on.  New skin is also difficult to remove.  Make sure to rinse it off with warm water, don't scrape it a lot or use soap.  I know that I previously told you only to peel off the henna paste -- with new skin there is an exception.

Why Do You Have to Keep the Dye on for So Long? I

It takes a long time for skin to absorb the mehndi dye, and the dye has to remain wet to work. To keep the dye wet, tradition designates that you should apply the mixture of lemon juice and sugar to your hands after mehndi is applied, with a patting motion using a cotton swab. Apply the mixture to any part of your hands where the mehndi seems to be drying.

Although this process makes your hands sticky and the mehndi rather difficult to remove, it will make the color last longer and have a deeper hue. Another way to improve the deepness of the color of your mehndi is to dry the mehndi over heat using a source such as a hair dryer. Alternate the wetting and drying over the period of time you keep the mehndi on your hands.

You will find that if you use my mehndi recipe, color can  turn out well after only ten minutes of having the mehndi on.  However, the design will not last as long in your skin and it will not become as dark as it would if you left it on longer.  If pieces of mehndi start to dry and fall off throughout the day, don’t worry about it, just leave the rest of the mehndi applied and the color and design will turn out beautifully.  If you desire, reapply the mehndi in those areas, but be careful not to lemon-sugar them until these areas are dry.  In my experience, I can get beautiful browns as final colors after leaving mehndi on my skin for between 45 minutes and 2 hours.  However, the longer-lasting, darker [near black] mehndi designs usually only come if you leave the mehndi on for over four hours to overnight.  Six hours is usually recommended.

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Updated August 19, 2001 by Rupal Pinto
Photographs by Rupal Pinto, pictured is foot design on Susan, 1997.
Photograph of ReaLemon™ juice and lemon -- for use in mehndi application
All text and images Copyright Rupal Pinto 1997, 1998, 1999.