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Troubleshooting a Poor Henna Stain

There are a LOT of factors that can influence the darkness of a henna stain. Some are under your control, some are not. Lets have a look first at the things you cannot change that will impact how dark your henna stain is.

Things you can't change that make a light henna stain

Location. Where you put a henna design is the first and foremost significant factor in how dark it will be. The closer you get into the body, generally the lighter the stain will be. Palms of the hands and soles of the feet give the very darkest, followed by the top of the feet and hands. Then it gradually gets lighter the closer in to the torso you go. The lower torso gets darker than the upper torso. Upper backs, necks and upper chests stain the lightest (and not coincidentally are also the oiliest part of the body.) Faces are a mixed bag. You never really know what you are going to get with henna on the face. It is likely to be very patchy and fade quickly. Scalps generally don't last long on healthy people, but people undergoing chemotherapy have other factors that impact how fast their skin renews itself so it can last longer OR shorter than usual. Henna is usually medium light on the scalp.

Hormones. Believe it or not, your hormonal cycle can have an impact on the quality of your henna stain. Many women find that there are particular times of their cycle when they get a bad stain no matter what they do.  The mechanism for this is unknown, but hormones have been known to affect skin chemistry. 

Skin chemistry. Some people just don't get good stains, no matter what they do. If you've checked off all of the factors in this section and the one below, and you still can't get a good colour, then unfortunately it might just be you. Things that can impact skin chemistry include menstrual cycle, prolonged stress, and prolonged illness. 

Age. The younger you are, generally the lighter your henna stain. There are advantages to having more mature skin! A child has skin that renews and turns over at a supercharged rate compared to an adult. This means that the number of layers of skin cells available to the henna molecule is lower in a child, and those dead skin layers that are there are usually gone very quickly. Henna stains tend to be lighter and fade faster on children.  I personally find around a week is the maximum for hands and feet on most kids.  As you get older, your skin gets thicker and slows down it's rate of renewal. That's great news for henna lovers as it means that your henna dye molecules have more to soak into, making it darker, and they will hang around longer as the skin does not shed as fast. Once an older person starts to find their skin thinning, they may also find they get lighter henna stains, but what henna stain they do have may linger even longer.

Things you CAN change to get a good henna stain


Getting good quality products is the first step to achieving a good strong dark henna stain. We sell products that are always well within their useful lifespan, as we use them ourselves in our professional capacity as henna artists. 

Fresh henna

This might seem odd to some people -  henna is just henna right? It might help to understand that henna is a plant. The powder we use for body art is simply the young leaves stripped, dried, and ground to a find powder. Just like your bottle of dried marjoram that you never use loses its potency over time and becomes stale and near odorless when you eventually decide you need it for the lamb roast you cook annually, henna that is too old or stored poorly will lose its dye potential. Henna is perishable even in its powder form. Store your henna in an airtight container, keep it dry and away from direct sunlight. This is why good quality henna comes in a vacuum sealed pack with a foil or cardboard outer packaging. This provides air + light protection. Our henna powders are fresh and stored carefully.
You can freeze left over powder, but you MUST ensure that it is kept airtight. The biggest detrimental factor for storage of henna powder is moisture. We use it to activate the powder and make it ready to use, so getting moisture into your stored powder means that it will have some premature dye release (on a microscopic scale!) and this dye will break down and not be available to you when you attempt to make your henna paste. It will have already exhausted a portion of the available dye so your end result will be lackluster and disappointing. 

Fresh Essential Oils

Just like henna, essential oils have an expiry date. Essential oil that is too old will lose potency. Essential oils are quite volatile and are damaged by air exposure and do decline with age. They have a very complex chemical composition. It also matters to get good quality essential oil in the first place. Just like anything, there are degrees of quality. The bake-yourself croissants you get from the supermarket are not going to be a patch on the succulent morsels from the Vietnamese bakery down the road. Quality matters. If you're not getting the results you expect and have ticked off all the other factors in this article, try changing your essential oil supplier. 

It is very important to make sure that you get a 100% pure essential oil, not one that is labelled as water soluble, or is in a carrier oil. The carrier oil will seriously inhibit your henna stain, and the water soluble ones do not have enough of the correct type of alcohols that are useful to henna. Essential oils are not actually 'oils' and should never feel greasy. They are primarily alcohols and evaporate readily. Most essential oils are not vulnerable to light, but some are. That is why the convention of storing in dark bottles came about. Exposure to air is the biggest culprit with essential oil storage. Remember that every time you open your bottle of essential oil you are exposing it to air and damaging it a little further. Only buy what you think you can get through in no more than a year at most. Big bulk packs are only suitable to suppliers who get through it quickly before the oils are damaged by oxidation. Lavender in particular breaks down into substances that will irritate the skin if it is too old or stored incorrectly. Air exposure effects Lavender essential oil quite strongly so only buy what you need for a short time. Keep your oils cool. Store them in the fridge if you can, but be mindful of safety. Most essential oils are toxic taken internally so be cautious how you store them if children might get a hold of them. Safety should be your first priority when selecting where to store you essential oils.


Preparing your henna paste

 Make sure you are following a tried and true recipe for your henna - the best ones are the simplest. Save the fancy witches brew fun recipes for until you have your stain sorted and you can play around. Until then, simple is best!  Your resting time will vary according to your local temperature and where you place your paste. The temperature of your paste is the most relevant factor in determining when it is ready. We strongly suggest investing in a thermometer you can put INTO you paste to keep track. Make notes and record the temperature, and resting time and what the results were like when you tried the paste.
A 5 minute spot test is useful. Put a small spot on the heel of your hand, leave it for 5 minutes and then wipe it off. It should be a bright pumpkin orange. Some lighting will mask the orange enough to make it look pale, so check the colour in sunlight if you can. Start checking from 1 hour with Rajasthani henna powder, from 4 hours with Jamila if you are in a hot climate. Keep testing until you get that bright pumpkin spot. WRITE DOWN THE TEMPERATURE AND RESTING TIME! Cooler climates will take much longer for your henna to be ready. Getting your henna paste too hot may cook it and render it useless. The dye will release and demise before you get a chance to use it. We find that 23-27 Celsius is a good temperature range. Don't ever use hot liquid to mix your henna powder. You must wait for it to cool. Warm is fine. If you can put your finger in it comfortably, you can use it in your henna. But beware that it may speed up your paste readiness considerably. How much sugar you put into your paste is important too, it will help it to stick well

Caring for your henna design while the paste is still on the skin

Preparing the skin

Make sure there are no barriers to the henna dye molecules getting where they need to go. Things like lotions, oils, moisturizers, and fake tans can create a physical barrier that is difficult for the dye to pass. Make sure your skin is clean, dry, and free of anything that may create a barrier. No lotions or potions for 24 hours before hand if possible! Sunscreen is an often missed culprit of a poor stain. It is advisable to clean the area you intend to put a design with witchhazel or an alcohol swab. 

Body Temperature and Henna

Temperature matters even when the paste is on your skin. Once you managed a good strong bright spot test you know your paste is good. Now you need to know how to get the best out of it. Keep warm. Cold skin doesn't help henna. Keep yourself toasty warm (but not sweaty! your paste will melt). If you have trouble keeping your hands or feet warm, a heating pad or heat pack may help. Skin temperature once the paste is off will influence the final colour as well. 

Time and Henna

Keep your henna paste on for 2 hours at a minimum, and up to 8 hours. If you remove it after 15 minutes the dye hasn't had enough time to migrate into your skin layers and the result will be bland. You need to give the new design time after you've taken off the paste. If you are familiar with natural henna you will realise that the henna stain takes time to fully bloom into it's final colour. Don't judge your stain too harshly until at least 2 days after paste removal.

Water and Henna

Henna stains and water do not mix. Do not wash off your henna paste when it's time to remove it. Scrape it off. This is one of the most common mistakes that many henna enthusiasts make. Do not wash off the paste, and don't get the new baby henna stain wet for as long as you can. We suggest keeping your paste on until bed time, then keeping it dry until the morning. Longer is better if you can, we aim for a full 24 hours water free on the stain area when possible. If you must get it wet, eg for ritual washing before prayers, then keep it as brief as possible and dry straight away. 

Good Aftercare is Essential for a Good Henna Stain

We've covered some of the most relevant points above, keep it on, keep it dry, and keep it warm. An extended article on before and after care can be found here. These last two still apply after the paste comes off the skin. Keep your skin warm to assist the chemical reaction to take place efficiently. Keep it dry - water interferes with stain development. And most of all, give it time. Natural henna will never be dark immediately. If the product you are using is dark straight away, you need to stop using it.  Only products with chemical dyes and solvents will stain the skin immediately. Check out the article on Black henna and other risky business for some information on this.


Still Have Questions About Getting A Good Stain?
Comment Below And I'll Answer

I do love getting comments, so I'm always checking!


I really hope that this helps you to resolve your henna stain issues! Make sure you're controlling all the variables carefully and it should take no time at all to narrow down where you're running into trouble! I'd love to help you out if you're still struggling, so comment below if you have questions or suggestions to help out other commentors.





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