A mehndi tattoo is a temporary tattoo made with henna dye. Properly, mehndi isn't a tattoo at all, since tattoos are permanent markings made by forcing inks and dyes below the surface of the skin, but the terms “henna tattoo” and “mehndi tattoo” are very common, especially in the West. The art of mehndi has been practiced for hundreds of years in its region of origin, and it continues to be extremely popular around the world.
Mehndi decorations are applied throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. Some people associate the mehndi tattoo tradition especially with India. Traditionally, people apply mehndi to brides before weddings, and sometimes grooms may be decorated as well. Mehndi is also applied for special occasions ranging from parties to the birth of a baby, and some girls enjoy applying mehndi to each other for fun.
This temporary tattoo is made with plant-based henna dye. Natural henna will produce a brown to red dye which adheres to the skin for a few days or weeks, depending on how it is applied and how the skin is handled. Some companies also produce “blue henna” and “black henna,” forms of henna adulterated with darker dyes. This henna can actually be quite dangerous, as a coal tar-based dye is often used to achieve the desired color, and it can make people sick when it is absorbed through the skin.
Traditionally, a mehndi tattoo is applied to the hands, feet, arms, and legs, although people may be decorated all over. The designs tend to be very intricate, covering the skin in abstract geometric shapes, floral patterns, and a variety of other decorative themes. Some mehndi artists freehand their work, while others use stencils and guides to ensure that the mehndi looks even. The mehndi may be decorated with glued-on jewels and accented with bracelets, rings, and other ornaments.
Some stores sell mehndi tattoo kits, which include tubes of pre-mixed henna, stencils for applying the mehndi, and a variety of other supplies. Such kits are especially common in regions with a big Indian population. It is also possible to visit a mehndi artist for professionally-applied mehndi, and some tattoo studios offer mehndi in addition to conventional tattoos. Having mehndi applied can be a very fun experience, and many brides in the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa enjoy the calm and pampering of the mehndi session before their weddings.