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Not Fair: how to master the art of long-lasting henna

June 28th 2016 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru

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Mehndi is the new mani: I spoke to the world’s fastest henna artist to find out her ultimate henna how-to

If you thought henna was just for weddings or festivals, think again. It now could replace your monthly mani.

Quick, surprisingly inexpensive and stunning to look at, the art form is fast becoming more accessible than ever. And the woman at the helm of the henna wave? Pavan, the Guinness World Record Holder for being the fastest in her trade and who with Selfridges, is bringing her body of work to the masses. “It’s all about changing people’s perceptions that henna is; 1) bad for the skin and 2) that it takes a long time to do,” says Pavan.

“We’re hoping to change that whole stereotype and let people know that you can do it at any time, wedding or otherwise. It can be as simple as getting your nails done.”

So what’s the secret to professional-looking, long-lasting henna? I asked Pavan for her ultimate henna design dos and don’ts.

1. Do choose the right type

When it comes to henna, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Choosing the right kind to suit both skin type and occasion could make the difference between it lasting a matter days or a matter of hours. “There’s a range of different types,” explains Pavan. “We use the original - a dark chocolate one which is completely safe on the skin and lasts for 10-14 days. It’s organic and has only clove and eucalyptus oil and water in it. Traditional smelling mehndi can be strong, so we’ve deliberately added oils for an aromatherapy feel and to also enhance the colour.

“In terms of other types of henna, there’s one that can be used on the hair called black henna however, it is illegal in this country due to the dyes in it which carry a risk of reaction. We can’t take that risk so we prefer using the dark chocolate one as it’s less harsh on the skin.” Pavan advises exercising caution when it comes to believing any black henna hype. “If someone says their henna is black and natural, it never is as nothing natural can dye the skin black. As an alternative though, you can have temporary transferable black, gold or coloured henna tattoos done which can last up to 5 days. They’ve all been designed by myself and so are very much in keeping with traditional henna tattoo designs.”

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2. Do the right prep work

To give your henna extra staying power, keep obstacles between product and skin to a minimum. “If you’re getting real henna done, make sure you’ve got no creams or oils on the skin and ensure you’ve waxed, had a pedicure and/or had a tan beforehand,” recommends Pavan. “Keep the skin bare so there’s no barrier preventing the henna reacting with the skin.”

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3. Don’t take it off too quickly

For a darker finish, greater pigment favours the patient. “Leave the henna on the skin for at least an hour. It’ll crumble by itself,” says Pavan. “Also make sure it doesn’t come into contact with water for at least 5-6 hours. For added intensity, some leave it for up to 24 hours.

“It’ll turn an orange colour at first which will then deepen over 48 hours because of the skin’s temperature. I often recommend to brides to have their henna done 48 hours before their wedding day because of this.”

If you have cold hands (warm heart) like I do, dry heat is your henna’s best friend. “The warmer you are, the darker it gets. If you have cold hands, put them on a heater or on a source of dry heat,” says Pavan. “You could use a hairdryer, but I’d advise against it as you’re aiming for it to stay on the skin for as long as possible and not to crumble too quickly.”

4. Don’t apply it to broken skin

Does henna hurt? If you have unbroken skin, then no. “With henna paste, some girls get a tingling sensation, but it’s just the henna attracting heat to the skin - a Vicks-like effect,” says Pavan. “Avoid applying henna on broken skin or on cuts as it’ll sting though,” she warns.

However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to modify the practice to suit different skin types. “If you have eczema, it could be applied on the palms, but what we’d do in that case is just use an eyeliner instead to extend the pattern onto the wrists,” explains Pavan. “We’ve used this technique on cancer patients too when creating henna crowns for their heads.”

She adds, “If you have super sensitive skin and are concerned about the use of oils, an oil-free henna won’t be a better alternative as henna itself is potent even without the oils. I’d recommend using the temporary tattoos in that case. If you are worried though, opt for a patch test.”

5. Don’t apply oily or creamy products...

...on transferable henna tattoos to ensure your temp survives the test of time. “Avoid any oily or creamy products while it’s on the skin and while they should hold in the shower, you don’t want to scrub them too hard. Lather the soap rather than scrub,” says Pavan. “If you do want it to come off quicker though, apply baby oil.”

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6. Do apply sugar and lemon

On the other end of the spectrum, lightly dabbing a simple mixture of sugar and lemon can help both intensify and bolster the longevity of your henna. “The citrus of the lemon makes it darker and the sugar makes the henna paste stick for longer,” explains Pavan. “However, the reason I don’t encourage this normally is because people often get the consistencies wrong. What you want is a syrup-like consistency, without too much lemon in it.”

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My eye-catching flash henna tattoo

7. Do use Vicks VapoRub

I love a drugstore buy and no henna fan’s bathroom cabinet should be without this budget beauty essential. “The following day, apply Vicks VapoRub - it really helps increase the colour by attracting heat to the skin and contains the same oils as the henna itself,” says Pavan.

MORE GLOSS: The best foundations for olive and dark skin tones if you’re on a budget...

8. Do use steam (if needed)

When it comes to shortening the lifespan of semi-permanent henna, unfortunately there isn’t a quick fix. “Once the stain is on, it’s on,” says Pavan and it can’t be removed by any other way other than letting it fade over time. However, there are ways to speed the process along though...

“Non-acetone nail polish remover works for boosting the fading process as does steam or going into a sauna to bring the moisture out of the skin. This should help the henna come off when scrubbed in the bath. Alternatively, you could ask for your henna artist to alter the design of it, or to add to it.”

9. Do it both in-store and at home

Available on a much greater scale than before, the art of henna is now making the leap to the mainstream thanks to a bevy of celebrities embracing the art form with open arms, and The Henna Bar at Selfridges making the prospect of professional results more reachable than before.

“When it comes to in-salon options, we are the only go-to in London,” says Pavan. “It is important to me to make henna accessible for everybody. We’re growing really rapidly - we’re launching in Milan and Birmingham and are working on a couple more locations in London too.”

“You can also use our products at home,” she adds. “We sell henna cones shaped like pens so they are easier to hold. We also teach people at the bar how to use them best and how to apply the pressure evenly.”

With the trend of mindfulness colouring books now bigger than ever, I can personally vouch for henna’s relaxation properties both as a willing canvas and wannabe artiste. “I’m most relaxed when I’m doing henna - it’s the only time I have to chill and it acts as a nice way to de-stress,” says Pavan. “It’s a treatment for yourself, just like doing your nails.”

For further henna inspiration, check out Pavan’s new book, ‘Part Time Ink,’ £9.99, from WHSmith at Selfridges which includes top tips on how to make your own transfers and henna and 30 of her signature designs too. Prices at The Henna Bar, Selfridges start at £18 for a semi-permanent design and £10 for a flash tattoo.

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