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Henna tattoos are a safe and easy way for your clients to achieve a fashion-forward, exotic look without the pain or commitment an ink tattoo requires. Traditionally used in India to adorn the skin of brides, henna has made its way across the globe to become a mainstream fashion accessory that makes a perfect complement to various types of nail art. How can you make this fun and lucrative salon add-on a part of your repertoire? Read on to discover how easy it is to get started.

Henna 101
The henna used for tattoo art is a powder derived from the henna plant (lawsonia inermis), which contains natural dyes that organically stain the skin an orange to deep reddish-brown color. Through the ages, henna has been used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes in Ancient Egypt, parts of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia. It has been used as a balm for scrapes and burns, a sunblock, a cure for ringworm, a cure for cracked nails, a headache remedy, a dye/nourishing treatment for hair, and more.

Basic application technique for henna tattoos is the same across the board.The henna powder is mixed with lemon juice and essential oils to bring out the darkest color of henna and also to make the paste smell wonderful. The henna application, like a massage, should be pleasant and relaxing, and essential oils of lavender, eucalyptus, and other essences contribute to the experience. Once the paste is mixed, it is applied in a design onto the skin either freehand or with stencils, and then allowed to dry. When the dried paste is removed, the stain is revealed on the skin. Your client should keep the paste on her skin a minimum of one hour, and even overnight if possible to allow for a longer-lasting, darker stain.To remove, the paste should be brushed off, rather than using water. After removal of the paste, the stain will darken further over 24-48 hours. This henna stain “tattoo” will last until the skin exfoliates, which varies from person to person, but the average duration is one to three weeks.

There are many different henna products available. Some of these include different types of henna powders and different essential oil blends for mixing. You can also buy pre-mixed pastes, which take the guesswork out of getting exactly the right proportion of ingredients. “Most salon owners/techs don’t have the time to mess around with henna recipes, mixing henna paste, filling cones, etc.” says Shadow Diessner, vice president of Kona Henna Inc. “We make it simple. By providing pre-measured batches of henna powder and bottles of mixing solution, all you have to do is pour one bottle of solution into one bag of henna powder, and rub together to mix. It only takes about 30 seconds to mix a batch of henna, creating an easy, convenient, and efficient system for salons to incorporate henna into their menu of services.”  

Besides the henna itself, there are other products and accessories you may want to purchase for henna tattoo art. Sealants (often made of lemon and sugar) set designs to the skin, and aftercare balms for the client will help keep her design fresh and vibrant. Transfer designs and stencils are available for those who prefer to leave freehand design to the more artistically inclined.

No licensing is required to do henna tattoo art, but it takes practice to learn to do it well. There are many free online resources, including instruction videos, blogs, Facebook groups, and even conferences devoted to henna. Amy Gustafson, a nail tech at Diamond Nails Studio, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, has just recently begun experimenting with henna and is teaching herself. “I have about 10 professional henna design screen shots on my tablet,” Gustafson says. “I looked at them for the first two attempts for inspiration, but ideas are flowing better now that I’ve done a few. I originally wanted to try it to broaden my nail design ideas, and now my clients all want henna tattoos done because they see them on me. I’ve done about five clients now, and I’m getting better each time.” Because Gustafson is still learning, she’s offering the henna tattoos by donation, which she says has turned out great because clients are giving her double what she would expect or charge.

As simple as it is to get started with henna services, there are a few caveats to be aware of. According to henna artist Heather Caunt-Nulton, be sure to buy high-quality henna from a reputable supplier. And be aware of black henna especially. “Most things marketed as ‘black henna’ are actually a harsh chemical dye called PPD, which the FDA (in the USA) has banned for use on skin,” Caunt-Nulton warns. “Using PPD on the skin can cause chemical burns that leave awful scars. There used to be ‘black henna’ suppliers who sold this in the U.S. to unsuspecting customers who did not know the risks, but the FDA has cracked down on them and they no longer sell PPD masquerading as ‘black henna.’ However, there are suppliers based in other countries who will still sell the stuff to unsuspecting customers — buyer beware!”

With those cautions aside, Caunt-Nulton goes on to say that henna is one of the safest cosmetics ever used, and allergies are so rare as to seem nonexistent. “I have never had a customer report an allergy to henna itself, even those who have many other allergies,” she says. “But a patch test is still a good idea if your client’s skin is particularly sensitive.” Citrus allergies are fairly common. Because there are often citrus ingredients such as lemon juice used in henna paste, be sure to ask your client if she has citrus allergies before proceeding with a henna tattoo.  

Quick Look:
License Required: No specialized license required.
Startup Cost: Very minimal. Most techs will want to start with kits, which can be had for as little as $12 and go up to about $100, and there are plenty of free tutorials online.
Average price charged: Prices for individual henna designs range from $5-$25, but more may be charged for very elaborate, large, or time-consuming designs.
Logistics: Most designs, if on the hands and arms, can be done right at the manicure table. An esthetics bed or chair and/or curtained off area may be preferable if you plan on doing larger designs on the body.

Product Roundup:

Amerikan Body Art offers all the henna supplies a novice or expert needs, including this starter kit that includes fresh Jamila brand henna powder; a pure essential oil blend of lavender, cajeput, and geranium; a metal-tipped applicator bottle; complete mixing instructions; and online resources. It retails for $11.99 and provides enough product to create more than 75 henna tattoos.

Kona carries a variety of kits ranging from beginner to professional. The professional kit shown here includes a hard shell carrying case, 10 batches of certified organic Kona henna powder and certified organic Kona henna solution, 100% pure certified organic eucalyptus oil, two sizes of applicator tips, cotton pads and swabs, step-by-step pictured instructions, and five pages of henna transfer designs. The kit retails for $95.

Artistic Adornment offers a professional Mohana henna kit that includes 100 g. of Mohana henna, 1 oz. of cajeput oil, 20 henna applicator cones, a carrot bag for filling the cones, and foolproof henna mixing instructions. It retails for $31.

To see a henna design demo from Heather Caunt-Nulton of Artistic Adornment, click here.

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