The Henna Page Journal
New Woad
Catherine Cartwright Jones
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An alternative to “Black Henna”

At the New York Serious Henna Conference, a discussion was held on the problem of public demand for “black henna temporary tattoo” and the need to provide a safe alternate body art. Agreement was reached that it would be best if that product not resemble in any way “black henna”, as that might imply credibility for that product, and encourage people to seek such. It was also agreed that if a viable, distinct alternative to “black henna” could be found, preferably something that already had positive associations and some recognition in the public mind, such a medium would expand the henna artist’s repertoire and potential market and fill the “temporary tattoo” demand safely.

Body Art as an Expression of “Roots”, if only for the weekend

People often want body art that has meaning and that feels “rooted” in their identity. Body art has caught people’s imagination. People fantasize about times when life was simple, dangerous, and wild, when manly men heroically slew dread enemies, women were seductive sorceresses, and both wore powerful tribal tattoo images pierced into their skin during smoky rites of passage. Most of these people don’t want to live an epic myth for longer than their paid vacation, but they would like to look the part for a few days. In other words, people want fake tattoos. Clients ask henna artists for a “black henna tattoo”. Urban legend and PPD black hair dye feed the fantasy that a person can be an awesomely ornamented archetype with fearsome tribal black tattoos while on vacation, and then have it all disappear in time to go back to work or to have dinner with Mom. Henna art is imperiled by this misconception due to the injuries, lawsuits and unfortunate legislation resulting from the demand for “black henna tattoos”.

Serving the Demand for Tribal Body Art without Hurting People

Henna artists who wish to expand their repertoire and income beyond traditional henna work can serve the hunger for tribal connectedness and fantasy safely, without adding to the confusion over “black henna”, or harming clients. Woad body staining should serve this need. Celtic tribes prior to Christian conversion used woad and tattooing to ornament their bodies with blue patterning. “Braveheart” and other media creations have whetted the popular appetite for woad. Though woad and indigo will stain skin, application is more difficult than henna, and most attempts give poor results as well as having the characteristic “sheep urine” smell. If reliable woad results were easily obtainable, woad would surely have captured the North American and European popular body art market rather than henna. I had been looking for a potential “new woad” for several years, testing different potential stains, but safe blue dye molecules do not penetrate the upper layer of skin easily, and the smaller molecules of coal tar dyes are unsafe to use on skin. No blue dye yielded reliable, safe stain results with any level of malleability and detail.

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