A couple of weeks ago I met a girl who had a lovely butterfly on her back. Unfortunately it was a puffy pink butterfly-shaped scar from a reaction to black "henna". These reactions apparently appear a couple of days to more than a week after the black stain has been applied. This girl's reaction happened after 3 days. It puffed up, got blistery and itched so intensely she lost 3 nights of sleep. The woman who applied it told her that one in 500 people have an allergy to black henna, and she was one of the "lucky" ones.
I could go on about how this statistic was misleading* or how even people who've used the black stuff without adverse affects can suddenly react to it. I could talk about how important patch tests are and about the responsiblity I feel henna artists have to know what they're dealing with. There are issues, however, that are more fundamental -- Like why this woman was using black henna instead of traditional red in the first place.
If mehndi is just yet another substitute for real tattoos, its rising popularity is no surprise. It's also no surprise that many people want their henna to be black or coloured to mimic those permanent and painful designs.
Mehndi, however, stands on its own. It represents the magic of transience, rather than permanence. It signifies beauty without pain. It symbolizes patience rewarded. It's not better than a tattoo but neither is it a trade-off. I have a permanent tattoo myself, and never compare the merits of one to the other. Mehndi is different. Period.
So many people tell me they can't wear mehndi where it will show -- they'll get in "trouble". People are afraid of being disapproved of. I understand this, but I still talk my clients into reconsidering. Why do I bother arguing at all? Because public disapproval is based on ignorance and fear. Explain that the more mehndi is seen, the less ignorance and disapproval there will be. People who want to use mehndi as a temporary tattoo will naturally want to have the design placed on parts of the body that are traditionally for real tattoos. Explain to them that mehndi works best on the extremities, on warm and sensative body parts. When clients ask for a black design, tell them henna makes a reddish brown stain and anything else is not henna. I wear henna myself to show what it can do (as well as because I simply love it!). I provide photos of mehndi, with and without the mud: this is much more effective than a book of designs on paper. The more people see proper usage of this medium, the fewer people will demand "black" or "coloured" or want it to take INSTANTLY or work on ANY body part. There will be fewer people with pink itchy butterflies.
Ironic, isn't it, that the girl I met wanted a painless, temporary design and she got the opposite? I've gladly given up the prospect of easy money with black henna in favor of being a "traditional" henna artist with integrity. If you need to break with tradition, do it with the designs you use.
Your clients who get rashes or barely-there stains won't come back for another design. They'll spread the word that mehndi is a waste of time and can harm you. Provide skillful service. Be honest with people. Love what you do and you will be rewarded.