Add something SOUR!  Henna releases dye efficiently at PH 5.5 (slightly sour).
Sour stuff helps break up the cellulose on the henna leaf particles so the henna dye molecules are released so they can penetrate your skin.  Other things will break up cellulose, but the mix must be acidic!  Otherwise the henna dye molecule, hennotannic acid, or Lawsone, will lose it's hydrogen atoms and be unable to bind with the protein in your skin. 

Add some lemon juice, grapefruit juice, or something else sour, a little bit at a time.  Bottled juice works just as well as fresh as fresh squeezed lemon juice!.

Keep stirring and adding the sour liquid.  Some henna needs a lot of liquid, some needs less, so there's no way to say "add precisely THIS amount of liquid". 

You can use anything to stir up your henna as long as it's sour.  Rainwater is slightly sour.  Vinegar and wine are sour.  Any citrus juice, fresh or bottled will do. Cola drinks will do. You can simmer dried lemons, limes or tamarind, strain off the sour liquid, and use that to stir into your henna powder. If it degrades the cellulose enough that the hennotannic acid is released from the plant cells .... it's good.  It doesn't make much difference what you use ... but some things smell much nicer than others!. 

Add whatever sour liquid you want to use, a little bit at a time, stirring it in.  When your henna paste is a little thinner than mashed potatoes, you've stirred in enough sour liquid for a start.  Cover the henna paste with plastic wrap, press out all the air, and let it rest for a while.

How long should you let it rest?  Let your henna rest until there's DYE RELEASE! That depends on the temperature and your henna! 

Remember: every henna is different!  Some hennas like one sort of sour stuff, others like a different one! Try things out yourself and write the results down in a notebook!

How do Henna Page Artists add the sour stuff?

Willowhawk: "Lemon juice from a bottle is the only thing I use and I use quite a bit of it.  After I mix some eucalyptus oil and sugar into the powder I begin to add lemon juice that has been heated.  When I get close to the consistency I desire I will add a my hot liquid tea mixture. 
The hot liquid mix has been made from boiling the following together:   very strong black tea, dried lime slices (3 limes worth), fenugreek seeds, sugar/jaggery, cloves.  I bring this to a boil and then let it simmer for 30 minutes before straining it.  Once it's strained I pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it, then store the cubes in a zip lock baggie.  That way I can put 2 cubes in the microwave for 2 minutes before I add that to the henna paste I am making."

Zimra: "I like to use dried limes as my acidic component (again, the first remarkably dark stain I ever achieved was with dried limes). Slice limes (generally into 8 slices per lime) and dry them in a low oven for several hours. Leave them out an additional 24 hours to ensure that all the moisture is gone. For the henna mix, I boil a generous handful of lime slices in 1-2 cups of water, allowing them to boil until the water turns red (add more water as needed)."

Alissa: "I use lemon juice concentrate, and economize by buying the largest bottle available as it will keep for a good while in the refrigerator. I find the convenience of using bottled lemon juice concentrate a must -- no lemon seeds, pits, pulp, or any sifting required."

Faery Ring: My recipe is 10 grams henna powder, 20 grams water, and 1 gram citric acid powder.  The paste will be very thick but I will add essential oils and more water to adjust the consistency after the henna dye release has taken place.  I like to use citric acid powder because it keeps indefinitely and I can store it in the cupboards instead of taking up room in my refrigerator.  I can find it at the ethnic grocery stores or at health food stores.  I like to add the henna powder and liquid into a plastic Ziploc bag and knead the ingredients together.  It saves me the trouble of having to wash a bowl and spoon.  The biggest advantage is that you can zip up the plastic bag while kneading and it helps to prevent the henna powder from flying everywhere while mixing. 

All text and images on this page
copyright 2003
all rights reserved
Catherine Cartwright-Jones
The Henna Page

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