Mehndi refers to temporary skin decoration with a dye derived from the henna plant. This is traditionally a key piece of South Asian bridal adornment. Women of that region apply mehndi for religious celebrations or just for fun. They decorate their hands and feet because the color stains darkest there. Mehndi designs are made up of linked motifs of things like paisley shapes, curved vines with leaves, scalloped lines, dots, flowers, tear-drops, peacocks, leaf shapes and diamonds.
In North America, plastic mehndi application cones are available for purchase at most Indian or Pakistani grocery stores for under $5.
Learning Mehndhi Designs
Find some simple mehndi designs, either from a mehndi design book or online (see Resources) and familiarize yourself with common motifs.
Trace your hand (or foot) on several sheets of blank paper. Practice simple motifs like diamonds or teardrops in attractive formations. Then try more complicated designs like paisley shapes filled in with dots and curved lines that look like leafy vines. Practice on these templates until you can easily draw a few motifs.
Hold the mehndi cone as you would a pencil, or a cake-icing cone.
Apply steady pressure to the cone so the mehndi squirts smoothly out and practice the same designs, this time on your hand or foot (or that of someone else).
Remove the mehndi by scraping it off with a spoon or a similar tool, then by washing. Repeat your application of the design on your clean hand or foot until you are pleased with the results. Unclog the mehndi cone hole using a pin or sewing pin to keep the paste flowing evenly.
Ease a toothpick underneath any wayward lines of the mehndi pattern. Work your way along the underbelly of the line gently with the toothpick. Once you have lifted the line off of your skin in this way, raise the line from one end with the toothpick and shift it where you want it to go, carefully laying the line down and easing the toothpick out from under it.
The FDA cautions that “black henna” may get its color from p-phenylenediamine, or PPD, which can only be used legally in hair dye. It may cause allergic reactions if applied to skin in some people.
The FDA has not approved traditional brown, orange-brown or reddish-brown color henna for skin application either because it may contain color additives which adulterate the henna. This is illegal. Exercise caution when buying your henna.