You may have seen henna cones being sold on store shelves or at fair booths. The average person I talk to is unaware of the potential implications of applying pre-made henna paste until it’s either too late (they have literally had their skin burnt), or they meet me and I scare them straight.
You won’t be hard-pressed to find pre-made henna cones for sale online or at your local Indian or Middle Eastern grocery store. I often peer into booths at our local festivals here in Edmonton, and see them being used on an unsuspecting customer. These cones are usually wrapped in colorful foil or plastic, with pictures of beautiful bridal mendhi. It is very common the cones are in packaging that claims to be “all natural”, “organic” or “chemical free”, which is far from the truth and nothing more than a deceiving marketing ploy. Often, they are clumpy, oily, smell strongly and have an inconsistent texture when being applied. Despite being difficult for an artist to apply, however, the real concern I have is with the ingredients in these pre-made, mass-produced cones.
The active ingredient in fresh, authentic henna is the leaves of a henna plant, which are dried and sifted into a fine powder. The leaves are mixed with natural ingredients (most commonly a simple mixture of fresh lemon juice and quality essential oils) to create a smooth paste. The paste sits for 24-hours to mature and release the natural pigment from the henna leaf. Once prepared, a professional artist must store their fresh henna in the fridge or freezer, or the paste will quickly lose its staining power. The artists who prepare these cones are proud to share their ingredient list because they know how much care and quality products went into making the henna.
Yet, the cones available in stores and the henna being used in some festivals are sitting out for weeks, months and even years before they are used. Most of the time, the ingredients are not listed. They are not kept frozen at any point, and authentic henna would have lost all staining power in this situation. This leaves you to wonder, what am I putting on my skin (or the skin of my friends/ family/ clients)? These cones, if they work at all (many have poor staining quality when compared with the real thing) do so because they contain a mixture of dyes, preservatives and other unlisted chemicals. If you get a stain, it is not because of henna, and often a stain from these cones will not last nearly as long as real henna.
In some cases, the cones are harmless, except for being a waste of money when they fail to stain. However, some of these cones cause serious health problems. You may experience a chemical burn (I have met several people who have showed me their scars). Or, the ingredients can soak into your skin and enter your bloodstream, where they may wreak havoc on your internal organs. Your skin is very absorbent and vulnerable to exposure to these chemicals! Why risk it when fresh henna is available that works wonderfully, creates a beautiful dark stain, and is so gentle (and beneficial) for your skin?
Unfortunately, there is no law in Canada to prevent someone from selling or using a chemical cone and stating that it is “all natural” and “totally safe”. The cones, due to being at a cheaper price point, are tempting to a beginner artist to try. This happens all the time, when in actuality the cone is far from safe. I have had to walk by a booth and witness a 2-year-old having fake, chemical henna being applied to her young vulnerable skin. This is a serious problem! It is a way to make a quick buck, while sacrificing your safety. The only way to ensure your own safety is for you to ask the right questions, and be aware of the risks. You can go one step further and share this information with others!
Personally, I will only ever use or apply henna to others if I know (without a shadow of a doubt) that the paste was made fresh, from scratch. The ingredient list should presented clearly and only include basic ingredients (henna leaf, lemon juice, sugar, pure essential oils). If you’re unfamiliar with a particular essential oil, it is worth looking it up to check it’s safety when applied to skin, as some oils will cause a burn when applied to skin. Examples of skin-safe oils are tea tree oil, lavender, eucalyptus or cajeput, while clove oil (found in some henna products) is known to be a skin irritant.
Fresh henna cones are available for sale locally (if you know where to look), or you can make them yourself! You can always contact us arrange to pick up some cones.