A mehndi artist applies henna to the skin — usually the hands and feet — in intricate designs which dye the top few layers of the epidermis. This color is temporary and will disappear as the skin sheds. The practice originated in India, but has since spread to the Western world. In rural areas of India, it is primarily practiced by family members, while urban residents usually hire mehndi artists. The mehndi artist most frequently paints women and children for special events — weddings in particular.
Fresh-made or previously prepared henna may be used by Mehndi artists. Traditionally, the mixture was prepared with henna leaves, oil, and a wide array of other possible ingredients. Some mehndi artists prefer to use prepared henna, which can be purchased in cones from which the dye can be dispensed directly onto the skin.
The color, texture, and preparation method of freshly-made henna can vary widely among different artists. After grinding henna leaves and mixing them with oil, some artists also add honey or sugar for stain longevity. Lemon juice may also be added in order to increase acidity, which helps the dye to penetrate. Specific recipes for henna dye tend to vary among mehndi artists and may include several other ingredients.
Often a mehndi artist will clean the subject’s skin in order to prepare the area for the henna. Soap and water are usually sufficient. Witch hazel or alcohol may also be used in order to more thoroughly exfoliate the area before painting.
Once the area is prepped, the mehndi artist begins to paint the design. Henna dye can be applied in several ways, including a paintbrush, Mylar cone, syringe, or a jac bottle, which is a small vessel with a pointed tip for application. The inside of the palm is one of the most popular places for the design because the ink tends to absorb more readily and last longer. Other common areas for the design include feet, hands, and the lower part of the arms and legs.
The method of creating henna designs depends upon the skill of the artist. Traditional artists tended to paint elaborate designs by hand. Now artists also have the option of purchasing stencils.
When the artist has finished painting the design, the painted areas are sealed to the skin with ingredients such as lemon and sugar, glue, or hair gel. Then the designs are covered in order to keep the mixture on the skin until it has been fully absorbed. Common covers include plastic wrap, light gloves, socks, gauze, and tissue. The henna is left on the skin for a couple of hours before being removed to reveal the design.