What Does Henna Do For Your Body?

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Diwali might have passed, but for hundreds of thousands of Hindu women, the spirit of the festival of light is still very much alive. Though the pomp and show has died down, woman all over the world still bear bear traces of the festivities, with hands beautifully adorned in intricate patterns of different burnt sienna hues. 

The tradition, prevalent among North African and South Asian communities, dates back centuries, and involved at its earliest, using a mixture of henna (a natural dye) and turmeric, to create patterns symbolic of the sun. Described in the earliest of Hindu Vedic ritual books, the practice centres around the spiritual idea of “awakening your inner light” by paying homage to the sun through design.

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But what exactly is henna, and what are its benefits?

Scientifically, henna is the dye extracted from the flowering plant Lawsonia genus.

Culturally, henna is more than just its latin name. It is a sacred tradition, dating back over 6000 years, that serves to beautify women. Its aesthetic benefits are varied. Sold in a semi-solid form in papered cones, henna is used to embellish the palms (and sometimes feet) of women during weddings and other important celebrations, with designs incorporating flowers, ethnic patterns, and creative references to the sun and other natural elements. Oftentimes, designs are interspersed with glitter, beads, and sequins to add modern-day pizzaz to otherwise traditional designs. 

As a natural dye, henna is also used to impart a rich reddish or mahogany tinge to hair, and a quintessential component in many DIY or natural hair masks.

As henna has become more globalized, some artists in the West have created a new  misnomered form, dubbed ‘white henna,’ that has become an Instagram favourite. Names aside the two hennas have very little in common. White henna doesn’t really contain any henna, but rather is a mixture of body adhesives that have been specifically adapted for henna body art. Keeping with the tradition, this white, glue-like paste is packaged in a cone, and can be overlaid with glitter, pearl shimmer powder, or other additives.

But henna’s beauty benefits go deeper than the purely cosmetic.

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Used for centuries in Asian and Indian cultures, the modest plant packs big health perks beyond its characteristic smell and sepia tones.

Traditionally, henna oil, bark, and seeds are noted for their anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, antibacterial, astringent, and antiviral effects, making them a natural bounty for all things beauty and health.

One of the plant’s key benefits is to hair health. Henna helps maintain overall hair quality and keep strands strong, moisturised, and shiny. It seals the hair cuticle, preventing breaking, and also seems to inhibit hair loss or baldness and improve texture. Henna also prevents premature hair fall as it helps in retaining and restoring the scalp’s natural pH balance. It also helps prevent premature graying, and is an effective natural cure against dryness. It forms an excellent hair mask that nourishes hair from root to tip.

Henna also cools down, moisturises and keeps areas affected with dandruff, scabies, fungal infections, and eczema clear of bacteria. A popular cooling agent, henna is applied to scrapes and burns in many parts of India.

Since the leaves of the henna plant are astringent in nature they are also used against a host of skin diseases from ringworm to athlete’s foot.

With all these benefits, it’s hard to believe that the Western world hasn’t yet caught up with henna the way it has other exotic natural ingredients like turmeric and ginger. 

So the next time you get your hands done or see someone with henna, ask for some spare cones (or boxes). You never know when it might come in handy. 

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