The origin of henna – also called "mehndi" – is sketchy and information varies greatly. What is known for sure, however, is that it has been used for cosmetic and healing practices for at least 5,000 years. Traditionally, and still today in Indian and other cultures, henna is applied to women before major life events, such as marriage.
In Milwaukee, most people get henna tattoos just for fun. Because they last seven days to a few weeks, they're a lesser commitment than a real tattoo, much cheaper and serve as a way to mark an event or simply adorn the body.
So what is henna? Henna is a small shrub found in hot climates in places like India, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt and the Middle East. The leaves, twigs and flowers are ground into a powder, mixed with hot water, put into a cone similar to a frosting sleeve and then applied by an artist to the skin.
Henna tattoos are usually applied to the hands and feet, where they last the longest. Pregnant bellies have also become a very popular henna "canvas." Henna artist Anita Reed, who runs a small business called Hands of Henna, worked at a local spa for a few years and would apply henna after Brazilian waxes for what she called "Pretty Kitties."
"Usually I henna arms, hands, ankles, bellies and backs. I have hennaed the bald head on occasion and even the entire face," says Reed.
When the paste is initially applied, it's chocolate brown, almost black, but after a couple of hours it dries, flakes off and stains the skin brown, orange or rust depending on skin color.
Henna lasts anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on how long the paste is allowed to dry and the wearer's lifestyle. For instance, scrubbing or swimming in chlorinated pools will cause henna tattoos to fade prematurely.
The medicinal affects of henna are debatable, but some believe applying mendhi can treat certain skin conditions, stop the thinning of hair and protect against evil. Who knows?
Prices vary from henna artist to henna artist, a 15-minute henna tattoo will cost some where between $15 and $25. There are a variety of henna artists in Milwaukee who work from studios, festivals, malls or right from a customer's home. Here is a list of them.
Hands of Henna By Anita, (414) 263-4557
Hands of Henna on Facebook
Anita Reed, a MIAD graduate with a degree in drawing, was mentored by an Indian woman now living in Chicago. Reed will provide henna this summer at Locust Street festival, Bastille Days, Glendale Days, Pride Fest and more. She will also travel to your home for parties or private sessions.
Lunaria, (414) 840-5465
Lunaria is a new art gallery, massage parlor and henna studio in Riverwest. Starting July 1 (and by appointment earlier), veteran henna artist and painter Luna Simone will offer henna tattoos from 2 to 10 p.m. on Fridays. Appointments are accepted, but not necessary. Pick from one of Luna's designs or bring your own.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.