It is a natural dye derived from green henna leaves and is used to decorate the body with intricate designs in India and Pakistan. The hands and legs of the brides and her friends are adorned with intricate designs using a paste made from ground henna and juice of lemon. Motifs include birds, animals and geometrical patterns.

Application of henna causes a cooling effect. It is also a fact that longer this stays on the hands more is the color darker. So after application to prevent the paste from flaking off, small amounts of lemon juice and sugar are applied. Usually after the night, it dries off. It is scraped off and hands are washed leaving behind an auburn colored dye designs on the body. It stays there for many days.

The paste is prepared from the green leaves of Lawsonia inermis, a small tree that grows in warm, arid regions of the world such as India, Pakistan, and Northern Africa. Numerous artifacts found in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries, dating back to 1400 B.C., show women with henna patterns on their hands. The earliest writing on an artifact that refers to the specific use of henna as an adornment for a bride or a woman’s special occasion is an inscription on a tablet from about 2100 B.C. found in northwest Syria.

It is commonly used as a hair dye. The material can also reduce dandruff, kill ringworm and head lice, act as a sunscreen. As it produces a cooling effect, in India, especially in desert areas where the temperatures are extremely high, henna was cool the body.

Staining properties of henna are due to the presence of the compound 2-hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinone, also known as lawsone, hennotannic acid, or natural orange 6. It is present in the leaves. The leaves are plucked and dried and ground into a paste.

English: Mehndi or Henna Lawsonia inermis India. (Photo credit: Amazon))

Henna paste is prepared by mixing crushed dry henna leaves with a mild acidic ingredient like juice of lemon which helps in releasing the dye from the petals. Different oils and herbs may also be added to enhance the scent of the paste.

At room temperature, it normally takes about a day for the acid to activate the dye and three days for the paste to lose its staining capabilities. The process is faster in hotter environments.

Lawsone dye infuses skin, hair, and porous surfaces but does not permanently or chemically alter them. The dye molecules, which are about the same size as amino acid molecules, migrate from the henna paste into the outermost layer of the skin. After the dried paste is scraped off the skin, air oxidation or perspiration can further darken the stain over the next 48 hours.

Ranjit Singh

I am working as a scientist in the India's premium E&P oil company. Besides the commitment to my job, I read lot of literature especially good fiction, history and science. I belong to Chandigarh and did my Masters in Chemistry from Panjab University Chandigarh specializing in physical chemistry. I am fond of surfing the internet for good articles, social networking and giving vent to writing for which I have aptly chosen the blog in Wordpress. Thanks

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