Saturday, August 15, 2009

It's a Lot Less Easy on Myself

I'm going to the NY Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo tomorrow, as I've done every year since its inception 32 years ago. Before I got into this business, I'd go every summer and get a henna tattoo. Now, though, I keep henna in my freezer, so I pre-henna myself. Yesterday was the day.

The idea in my head was difficult, I must say, to execute on my own ankle and leg. Not being a contortionist, the angle was a tad trying, but I think I did a fairly good job, though I didn't get quite the composition for which I was aiming...

What is henna, you ask?

It's a paste made from a powdered plant and various essential oils. It is drawn onto the skin, where it remains for several hours, leaving a stain in the top few layers. Note, please, that the henna paste in the photo is brown. Henna, real, true henna, is only ever brown. If you see "black henna," run. Run like the wind. What is dubbed "black henna" is really PPD, a chemical used in hair dye, in a much higher concentration than you find in the box on your drugstore shelf. Even at CVS, the boxes warn that the dye should be kept away from the skin. Think, then, of the danger of increasing the potency and leaving it on the skin for an hour... on purpose. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous "henna artists," knowing that many people are looking for instant gratification, use the "black henna" PPD to give a quick black stain.

I myself had two "black henna" tattoos done before I knew what it was and how dangerous it could be. Thankfully, I was not insantly allergic to it. My friend was. She had a raised, painful, itchy red welt across her shoulders for months after her one and only "black henna" tattoo. Thing is, this is something to which you actually build an allergy. Had I continued letting people use black henna on my skin, I could end up eventually with a similar welt, or worse. I could have been scarred and burned. For more information on the effects of "black henna," look here. There are photos, though, so don't look before you eat... unless you're dieting.

Why, then, would anyone in his right mind use or want "black henna"? Because this is the stain achieved with natural brown henna...

... at least when the paste is first removed. It is a light or bright orange. It is over the next couple days that the stain darkens to a nice, deep brown, and then lasts from one to three weeks. The attraction of a quick black stain becomes obvious, especially when these "artists" don't warn their customers regarding the dangers.

And this is what the henna stain looks like the next day when the tattoo is done with natural brown henna, as it should be.


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