Henna Painting in the UAE: The Oriental Understanding of Beauty

4:18 pm  |  11.05.2021
Henna Painting in the UAE

The tradition of decorating the body with temporary drawings according to scientists originated more than 5,000 years ago, long before the spread of henna. At that time, the Middle East used the fruit of the Lux tree as a dye. A henna painting for women in the Persian Gulf was routine, and the absence of drawings on the woman’s body indicated mourning or grief.

Henna, also known as «mendi» is a shrub plant growing in the hot and dry climate of the Middle East, Egypt, India and North Africa. Henna leaves are ground down to the powder state, then mixed with water and other ingredients to the paste state. This paste applied to the skin leaves a bright brown imprint that washes off after one or a few weeks. Thus, henna application, unlike tattooing, is a safe procedure that does not damage the skin (except in rare cases of allergy of sensitive skin).

Later, in the 16th century, henna tattoos began to be used in the United Arab Emirates to celebrate events such as a wedding or the birth of a child. 

The Bedouin who lived in the desert often simply dipped their feet (feet) and hands into their toes, without drawing, such brown feet and hands can be seen today in the UAE.

On one of the days of the wedding week, as a rule, 1-2 days before the wedding, for the bride and her girlfriends and relatives in the UAE are organized so-called «Cna Night» or «Laylat Al Henna». This peculiar Arabic «bachelorette party» becomes a real demonstration of beauty, dresses and decorations in front of each other. When all the guests are gathered, the bride comes to the center of the hall dressed in a beautiful outfit. Her appearance is accompanied by a drum rhythm and a special vocal ulukanya (adopted by the Arabs). The bride begins dancing in the middle of the crowd. The room is filled with music and special energy.

She is then seated in one of the corners of the room, approached with congratulations and gifts, photographed as a souvenir, and the henna painters begin to cover her arms to her elbow and legs with surprising vegetation patterns. 

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Henna paste gradually darkens and dries out over several hours, but the bride tries not to remove the dried hen until the morning, as the longer the paste lasts, the darker the painting. There is a belief in the UAE that the darker the henna pattern of the bride, the more she will be loved by her future mother-in-law. During the drawing, guests photograph the bride, dance and eat until the morning.

Unlike India (which is where the henna tradition is strongest), where complex geometric ornaments predominate, the Emirati’s henna drawings are more likely to be vegetative. 

Complex ornaments are made only on the eve of very important holidays. Recently, it has become popular to supplement the tattoo with various rhinestones, glitter and colored elements.

The technique of using a henna tattoo is not very different from that used several centuries ago. The skin on which the drawing is made must be clean and dry. It is worth discussing in advance the desired ornament and the place of tattooing. The salons usually have a large number of sketches and photos, from which you can select the desired sample.

The master applies a henna pattern to the technique of decorating a cake from a cupcake bag: in a conical bag with henna paste (by the way, such as you can often see in gift shops and bring with you) a small slit is made, from where the paste is squeezed directly on the skin. Within 1-2 hours, the paste dries and begins to fall off. At the application sites, a bright orange pattern gradually appears on the skin. Don’t be alarmed, for about 12 hours, it gets brighter, clearer, and darker to dark brown.

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The persistence of henna tattoos depends on many parameters: Composition of the paste and its additives, temperature, humidity, drying time, skin structure (On the palms, fingertips and feet, the pattern may be brighter and more stable than on the rest of the application, as the skin is denser and smoother). Try not to rub the drawing, don’t rub it with a loofah or scrub. Normally, henna tattoos made in the Emirates last up to 1 to 3 weeks.

You can get a quality henna tattoo in any beauty salon in the Arab Emirates (usually on the sign of such salons are hand-painted with ornament), but be ready for what in such salons do not speak English and will have to be explained «on fingers». Needless to say, men are prohibited from entering such salons.

It is possible to distinguish natural henna from a fake manufactured product not only by color, but also by other features:

  • Real henna dries up for several hours, and the “black henna” paint is washed off after 15 minutes. If the master who makes the painting claims that you will receive a beautiful drawing in a quarter of an hour – refuse the procedure;
  • The smell of real lawsonia powder is intense, with citrus notes, but poor quality “black henna” smells bad of chemistry;
  • If the painting has already been applied, remove a piece of paint from the skin and see how its color changes 5 minutes after application. Is your skin already dark? Rinse off and take medicine for allergies, unfortunately, you were deceived and painted with bad henna.

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During safari tours in the desert for tourists, Henna tattoos are often free. Of course, the flurry of applicants means that the drawings are usually simple and not very good quality, and the possibility of a good tattoo drying will not be possible, there is a great chance that the pasta will blur unseen for you, Then it will be difficult to explain to friends the origin of the brown stain on your body.

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