Look Gorgeous with Do-It-Yourself Henna!

There are few things I enjoy more in life than having a tiny brown peacock on the palm of my hand.Henna, or mehndi as it’s called in Hindi, is the perfect compromise between a temporary tattoo and a permanent tattoo.
Temporary tattoos will flake (yuck) and wash off within a day, and permanent tattoos will never wash off (which is terrifying enough in itself), but henna stays on your skin for one to four weeks before fading away. It’s beautiful, it’s painless, it’s natural, and you can do it yourself.
Yep! You heard that right. Even if you have no artistic ability, henna is very forgiving, and most designs are abstract enough that you’ll be able to pass off almost anything as something gorgeous.
First, you’ll need the henna. Most Indian grocery stores stock it, so just do a quick Google search to find the store closest to where you live. It’s cheap—you shouldn’t have to pay more than $5 for the powder you need. You can also buy it online. The Henna Page has an entire list of retailers that will ship henna.
Henna cones are also available, but I find the quality in a pre-made cone isn’t as good as what you can get from mixing your own henna and making your own cone.
Once you have the henna powder (about 50 grams should be enough for at least 5-10 separate uses), you can mix up your henna paste. All henna artists likes to put different ingredients in their pastes, but the basic recipe is 1-2 tablespoons of henna (sift it first if possible, to remove any lumps), about ¼ teaspoon of lemon juice, and enough water to make the paste’s consistency resemble smooth yogurt. If you have too much water, put in more henna…if it’s too chunky or thick, add a little more water.
To get a darker stain, I usually mix my henna with coffee instead of water. Other people like to add turmeric, black tea, cinnamon…all kinds of things! Feel free to experiment.
Now you have to let your henna marinate for a while. Find the warmest place where you live, cover the container you mixed the paste in tightly with plastic wrap, and leave it in that warm place for 12-24 hours. Treat it like rising bread…you want it in the warmest place possible, and you don’t want to peek at how it’s doing by removing the plastic wrap.
You’ll be able to tell when it’s ready because it will have changed from a greenish color to a murky brown, and drops of moisture might be clinging to the bottom of the plastic wrap.
Peel off the wrap and make your cone. You can use Mylar gift-wrap or cellophane tissue, but I always use a Ziploc sandwich bag. Here are some detailed instructions on how to make a cone using a Ziploc freezer bag. You probably won’t need a cone that big, so you can just sub in a smaller sandwich bag. Basically, you cut off a square of the bag or gift-wrap, roll it into a funnel, and tape it into shape. If you want, you can put tape all the way around it to hold the shape better. Then scoop in your henna. You may want to tie off the top with string or a rubber band.
Once you’ve made your cone, clip a tiny opening in the bottom of the funnel so that you’ll be able to do the henna in a way similar to frosting a cake. And that’s it! You’re set to go. For design ideas, try this design gallery or hennadesigns.org (though theirs are pretty complex, and you may have to simplify).
After you’ve applied your henna, leave it on for at least an hour and optimally up to four hours. The stain will be darker if you can dab a cotton ball soaked with sugar and lemon juice on your designs (a friend helps) every 20 minutes or so. When you can’t stand it any longer, peel the henna off instead of washing it off. Your hands will be red for a few minutes, but the design will stain better.
If all this seems like a lot of work, it is. But it’s also worth it. Henna is one of the most beautiful forms of body art there is, and your canvas is waiting.

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