Before we start, if you are a bride looking for inspiration, we encourage you to read you the article on mehndi designs.
How do you describe henna? Exotic, romantic, traditional yet trendy! Mehndi has been romanticized and is generally associated with happy events such as weddings and festivals. We have the henna night and the mehndi ceremony which are opportunities to eat, dance and enjoy the company of friends and family.
As we showed in our other article “All About Mehndi“, henna has been used for thousands of years and has positive effects on the human health when used properly and in moderation.
However, there is another side of henna, a more mysterious and darker one.
Before we dive into this delicate matter, let’s take a step back. Let’s look at the superstitions surrounding this beautiful custom of adorning the bride’s body with splendid patterns called mehndi designs.
In many cultures including the South Asian continent, it is believed that the darker the henna pattern, the stronger the love of the husband for his wife. Since immemorial times, women in general and brides in particular employed various tricks to make the patterns darker and last longer. Among them, using a solution of lemon and sugar, not washing the hands for a certain period are only a few procedures used to make the mehndi designs darker.
However, nowadays we have a new type of henna paste that contains a chemical called paraphenylenediamine (PPD) and makes the patterns black. Interestingly enough, PPD is a legal substance used in hair dyes and other cosmetic products. Still, to make the pattern darker, black henna contains high doses of PPD which pose a risk to human health.
Among the most dangerous effects of using black henna, we list allergic reactions and skin burns. In some cases. Brides have even reported burning of the skin, stinging and blisters.
One of the dangers of using black Hannah is that you can become sensitive to PPD. In effect, you could become allergic to many of the current hair dyes in the market.
There have been cases where women or girls were left with chemical burns, permanent scars, and had to be hospitalized as a result of using black henna. FDA has banned many PPD containing henna paste products, yet the desire for dark mehndi is so strong that women take unnecessary risks.
In order to protect yourself, you need to avoid any many based that contains ingredients such as PPD or paraphenylenediamine.
Before you have the mehndi designed applied, perform an allergy test by applying black henna on a small portion of your skin. Only if you do not have any allergic reaction go ahead with the whole design.
It is a documented that henna was used in the past is a poison in several parts of the world including Mexico, Africa and Middle East. As a result of ingesting mehndi, people suffer renal failures and intravascular hemolysis. It is also toxic and damages your stomach, which is really scary to think about it.
For thousands of years, women have known that henna can lead to abortions. In the past, it had been mostly used, especially by prostitutes to cause abortions. As a side note, the also believed that Hannah prevents sexually transmitted diseases, so they dyed their hands and feet. That also gave them a more exotic and sensual look. Nowadays, in Africa, quite a few women end up in hospitals upon using henna as a means to get rid of unwanted babies.
If henna didn’t provoke an abortion, in many cases the newborn babies are dipped in henna and die, a terrible use of mehndi.
From Africa, let’s travel to another part of the world where mehndi is in high regard and look at some local customs.
In Rajastan, a northern state in India, there is a custom that requires a woman to commit Suttee if her husband dies. Originally, it was only the Maharajah’s wives who took their lives when the husband died. In many cases, the Maharajahs had hundreds of wives and you can imagine the carnage that followed their death.
With the passage of time, this terrible custom spread through Indian society, and women of all social conditions performed suttee when their husbands died. The practice was encouraged by members of the family who had a vested interest in inheriting the woman’s possessions.There are many documented cases where Indian women adorn their hands and feet with henna before performing suttee and even poems describing the appaling custom.
A more gruesome story comes from Fort Bikaner, where in the 15th century hundreds of Indian women committed suicide by sutee to join their dead husbands. Here, the women would apply henna on their hands and then imprint their palms shapes on a particular wall to document their earthly existence and sacrifice.
This is the most horrendous story of the new brides.
Traditionally, the Indian brides bring home a significant dowry. When they join their husband’s family, the women in the household spray gasoline on the new bride and burn her alive to collect the dowry. Afterwards, the groom will be looking for a new bride who will bring another small fortune as dowry and lose her life in a similar manner. The murders are blamed on cooking accidents/fires and even though everybody knows about this shocking practice, nobody is convicted of murder.
Claiming that the fires take so many young lives is ridiculous as we all know that the brides are not to perform any household duties for a few weeks after the wedding to preserve the henna designs intact.
There is an atrocious practice happening in India and North Africa where women have their genitals mutilated. As henna paste is antibacterial, it is used to disinfect and heal the wounds. As a side note, mehndi is also used in male circumcisions, especially in the middle East.
While in the West we associate henna with the henna party and mehndi designs used in weddings, there is a darker side about which very few people know or want to talk. If you want to help put an end to these awful practices, feel free to share the article.
The Darker Side of Henna by Marie Anakee Miczak