How long does mehndi last (and how can you make it last longer!)

and The Drawbacks of Mehndi (before you begin)

 

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Mehndi usually lasts for at least one to two weeks. I have heard of people saying that mehndi can last from two to four weeks; however, this figure is misleading because the length mehndi will stay depends on a number of factors.

  How often you wash your hands
  What kind of soap you use
  Your skin quality and heat in your body
  Location of the mehndi on the body
  The ingredients you add to your henna paste

 Henna works by staining the outer layers of the epidermis, permanently. The reason why your stain itself is impermanent is because of a magical, mystical, mystery. Or not. Your skin exfoliates off, right? So the deeper your mehndi stains, the longer your design lasts. Thus, it is important to be aware of the contributing factors to a henna design's latency. Strong soap and hand-washing shortens the life of a henna stain because it exfoliates your skin. Therefore, after getting mehndi applied, do not wash your skin for at least twelve hours, and do not use any harsh antibacterial soaps as long as the stain remains upon your skin. If we take our exfoliation theory farther, we note the palm of one's hands exfoliates much faster than the back of the hands; thus, henna on the palm lasts less than half as long as henna on the back of the hand.

Adding essential oils adds another dimension to henna; while the oils, which contain terpenes, can increase the stain quality of the henna, they will greatly compromises the staining depth of your henna, and thus will make the stain disappear in one week rather than the normal 1-3 weeks.

Applying these properties: How to remove henna

Given the qualities of a henna design, you can use my tips in a converse manner.  When you and your friends first start doing mehndi artwork, you may end up with a disastrous mehndi design. But do not lose hope.  If you decide that your design is not up to par, follow these instructions.

  1. Remove the henna paste immediately: I know this goes without saying, and you probably noticed that you didn't like the design only after you removed the henna, but removing the henna quickly after application, using water, will prevent the henna dye from sinking below the most external layers of skin.

  2. Take a Bath:  Seriously now, a nice soak in hot water will not only keep you cool, calm and collected, but it will also cause your skin to exfoliate; thus, the layers of skin which have absorbed the henna design will flake off sooner if you soak it in water.  Many artists suggest that you soak in a hot tub - the chlorine in the tub will definitely help to take the henna right off.

  3. Wash your hands:  Stronger soaps, like a soak in the hot tub, cause skin to exfoliate to a greater degree.  To get rid of henna sooner, choose the antibacterial soap at your local drug store instead of regular glycerin.

  4. Wait: I have to tell you that there is no hard and fast way to remove henna from the skin immediately. Some artists recommend soaks in mild, *dilute* bleaches. In general, use my tips carefully; scrubbing too hard and soaking in the bath for too long may just give you red, prune-shaped fingertips.

Chances are, however, that you will love your mehndi design and will want to keep it on your skin for as long as possible.  But remember that mehndi is no ordinary tattoo, and as time passes, your henna will fade. Body heat and skin quality have a great deal to do with the quality of the design on a particular person.  People who have dryer skin and a lot of body heat tend to have darker mehndi. I have known people who have had a mehndi design on for over a month for this reason alone. And I think that some people just always get good henna stains. I'll call these lucky ones "hennaphilic."

Hennaing Dark Skin

Avoid the misconception that being darker skinned prevents you from being able to have dark mehndi.  This is certainly not the case.  Although people with very dark skin may have to use only the best henna pastes, skin color has very little to do with the final hue of the dye.  As a dark-skinned Indian myself, I can tell you that my mehndi comes out as a dark brown on both sides of my hands, and I can get a nice, dark sienna on my legs.  If you are African-American, for example, don't be afraid to try mehndi.  If your skin is very dark and you believe you would not be able to receive the correct contrast between your skin and the henna, try your design first on the palms of your hands; this area of the skin inevitably takes henna better than other parts of the skin in people of every color.  Perhaps start with a small design to be sure, but be assured that even some very fair-skinned people can't get a good stain out of the mehndi.  And remember that this is an art that is used all over the world, on people of all different skin colors.

Strategies for a long-lasting design

All too often I receive e-mails from people who wonder why they got a nicely colored henna design while their friend's design did not get beyond a light orange (the message comes of the other way around as well). Plainly and simply, people are different from one another and different skin types take dyes differently. When you compare your design with a friend's don't just consider ethnicity differences, consider the skin quality differences which go with the ethnicity. At the same time, feel free to experiment; your skin might need more or less essential oils to get a good design. Work at it, get the best henna powder, do your work till you get the chemistry right.

So, to optimize the quality of your mehndi design, choose a place on your skin that is free from oils.  Make sure it is clean, dry, and hairless. Do not add lotion to the skin before putting henna on it; your henna will slide right off, or it will at least result in a coloring less vibrant than you would otherwise be able to attain.  Furthermore, certain parts of the body work better than others due to variations in oiliness of skin and body temperature. Usually the palms of the hand and soles of the feet work optimally for mehndi design. I also like to apply mehndi to the back of the hand, wrists, lower arm, tops of feet and sometimes the shins. The best skin prep for a henna design is a light swipe with an alcohol swab or witch hazel; if you don't have these, just wash your skin well with soap and water.

Please note that you will have less luck with an armband or navel mehndi design than you will have with an anklet or bracelet.  If you choose to put the mehndi on a cool body part (versus the hands), the time that it lasts can vary.  For example, the inner side of a mehndi armband tends to be darker-stained than the outside of your arm.  That is not to say that the mehndi stain will definitely be bad if you get it done as an armband or such; you just have to make sure that you leave the mehndi on as long as possible to get the most out of your design.  Also, if you choose to apply mehndi, you always stand the risk that the color will not come out as dark as you want it to. The darkness of the mehndi depends strongly on skin type and where you apply the mehndi. Mehndi will always come out better on the palm of your hand than on the back; however, on the palm of the hand, the mehndi washes off more quickly.

The Drawbacks of Mehndi as a Long-Lasting, Temporary Design

Whether or not to get mehndi is also an important decision because of other properties of henna. For example, henna leaves have a very distinctive scent, and after the mehndi dye is removed from a person , his/her skin will still retain this scent. Many people like the scent, which usually resembles a combination of eucalyptus and henna and various other essential oils, but it is very strong and can become bothersome and distracting. Additionally, other enhancing products, such as tea, coffee, cloves, lemon, and lime, are sometimes added to mehndi -- and all of these ingredients can increase the scent. The good and bad thing about the scent of henna is that the oil scents usually wear off after a few days; the henna scent stays for the first 4-5 days. A way to alleviate the scent problem is to place the mehndi on a part which you don't hold near your face too often, such as the foot.  People who are sensitive to perfumes should definitely think twice before getting mehndi done, although the scent probably won't remain with you for the ENTIRE two weeks of the stain's duration (most often the scent lasts for a few days into having the stain. I for one, love the stain of henna, and sit around smelling my fingertips whenever I have a design, but not everyone feels the same way I do!

Before choosing to get mehndi applied on yourself, you should also carefully consider whether it's the right time. Henna designs are expensive, and you probably should be willing to keep the paste on your hands for an extended period of time - at least 2 hours - if you wish to get a dark, long-lasting stain.  Plus, will henna get you in trouble with work? As for me, I wear henna wherever I go, but as a hennafanatic be prepared to get comments - great ones at first, but more questioning ones later on. As the mehndi starts to fade it may look blotchy. 

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Updated July 18, 2000 by Rupal Pinto
Photograph by Rupal Pinto, Pictured is navel mehndi design, 1998
Copyright Rupal Pinto 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000.  All rights reserved.