How to Get a Dark Henna Stain in 4 Easy Steps

A common worry of Indian brides is "will I get a dark henna stain?" Folklore says that the darker the stain, the greater the love of the husband, and in some cases, the more the bride's mother in law will like her! Superstitions aside, a beautiful henna stain is always desirable, and it's not hard to achieve. In fact, the main ingredients are fresh henna and a large dose of patience.

Fresh henna is mixed by the mehndi artist especially for your event. Fresh henna does not come from a "Rani cone" your auntie brought back from India or Pakistan on her last trip. Fresh henna does not have chemicals or "secret" ingredients in it. Fresh henna does not smell like kerosene or hair dye.  And fresh henna is never black! A reputable artist will tell you their ingredients and will talk you through the process of caring for your design.

Step one: the mehndi is applied to clean skin that is free of any oils or lotions. Darcy  used an organically cultivated henna from Rajasthan and mixed it with distilled water, sugar, and pure essential oils of Cajeput and Cardamom.

Freshly applied henna sometimes looks blackish, but the real stain is below the surface of the paste.

Freshly applied henna sometimes looks blackish, but the real stain is below the surface of the paste.

Step 2: Once dry, the mehndi is sealed with a sugar solution. The stickiness of the sugar keeps it, well, stuck to you. The longer it remains in place, the better. A minimum of 4-6 hours is recommended. Traditionally 8 hours or overnight is preferred. You can gently wrap your mehndi in tissue or gauze to avoid mehndi crumbs in your bed. If you use saran wrap, always put a layer of absorbent tissue first. Sweating can melt or dislodge your mehndi while you sleep.

Step 3: After 4-8 hours (or overnight), gently pick off the henna paste, or rub it off with a paper towel. Never wash it off or you will ruin the stain. It should be a bright orange color when you pick it off. If possible avoid water for an additional 12 hours. If this is not possible, generously oil your design with coconut oil, shea butter, or any other greasy vegetable-based oil. For our demonstration design, we oiled up with coconut oil and showered immediately. The water beads up and rolls off the oil barrier.

Immediately after picking off the paste, the stain is orange. But don't panic!!

Immediately after picking off the paste, the stain is orange. But don't panic!!


All oiled up.

All oiled up.

Step 4: Continue to avoid water. You will see your design start to darken as it oxidizes throughout the day.

24 hours after the paste is removed, the henna has reached a rich reddish brown color, considered by many to be optimal. The stain will always be darkest on the palms, where the thicker skin can absorb more henna, and lighter toward the thin skin of the wrists and arms.

Stain at 24 hours is a rich reddish brown.

Stain at 24 hours is a rich reddish brown.

48 hours after paste removal the stain can go even darker on some skin. We had some fun with our new camera's "art filters" and played with a "grainy film" setting and a "cross process" setting for some high-contrast  shots which really highlight how dark the henna got. Yet, all this is achievable with a high-quality natural henna. If you're patient,  you too can get results like this for your wedding henna. You will notice this design shows up especially well in photographs because of the negative space. Sometimes an overly-busy design just shows up as dirty hands in wedding photos. Even a small amount of open space will make the overall design "pop". These kinds of high-contrast and super-saturated images are typical of dramatic wedding photographers capturing the color and texture of an Indian wedding.

Cross-processed image makes the henna look even darker!

Cross-processed image makes the henna look even darker!

Leaving negative space in the design helps the henna show up well even in a black and white image.

Leaving negative space in the design helps the henna show up well even in a black and white image.