Henna: That'll Leave a Mark!
Now and then, I've thought about getting a tattoo -- nothing too flashy, but maybe just a small flower or butterfly, discreetly placed on a shoulder or inside the wrist. I've never actually committed to such permanent body art, though, partially because I'm a bit leery of the pain and needle involved.
What I have done several times, though, is indulge in getting temporary henna "tattoos," like those popularized by the Indian and Middle Eastern cultures.
Henna is a plant that grows in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and across other hot, dry regions in Asia. Its dried leaves are ground into a powder and mixed with other ingredients to make a paste which, when applied to the skin, will stain it in much the same way that a used teabag will stain a surface its left on. No needles are involved in the process, making it an easy and relatively inexpensive alternative to true tattooing, which can be painful to both the skin and the pocketbook.
At Walt Disney World, there are two places you can get a lovely henna tattoo -- in the Morocco pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase, and at the Mombasa Marketplace in Disney's Animal Kingdom.
The latter location is where I've had henna tattoos done a few times over the last year. The process is quite quick, and completely painless.
First, choose your design from a book chock full of photos that show not only the patterns, but suggested placement. Prices range from $15 for less complicated patterns up to $35 for the more intricate designs.
Once you choose your design, the cast member at the henna station will write an order for you, which you must take inside the shop so you can pay in advance. Take the receipt back out to the henna artist and have a seat.
Henna artists are skilled in drawing intricate patterns with the paste, which is applied with a type of pen -- sort of like a gel pen.
I'm so impressed with how quickly these artists work, and they do it all freehand. Obviously, they've had loads of practice, but they move swiftly and confidently, creating beautiful swirls and flourishes without mistakes.
Before you know it, your hand (or arm or leg or whichever body part you've designated for your henna) is decorated, and possibly even sprinkled with a little glittery "pixie dust." (That's a Disney touch -- I'm not sure whether traditional henna artists ever accent their work with glitter and jewels.)
The entire procedure from design selection to the application of the henna takes less than a half-hour (unless, of course, you have to wait for other customers for your turn with the henna artist). As I said before, there's no pain involved -- the paste has a strong odor, but it doesn't sting the skin when it's applied. There's just the light pressure of someone painting or drawing on you. (NOTE: If you have very sensitive skin or are prone to allergies, you may want to check with your doctor before getting a henna tattoo -- or perhaps test a very small amount of the paste on your skin to determine if you have a reaction.)
The henna paste must stay on your skin for several hours (the henna artists suggest at least eight) to really "soak in" -- the longer you can leave it on, the deeper the stain penetrates, and the longer the design should last. As the paste dries, it cracks and then gradually flakes off, revealing the henna "tattoo," which is initially rather orange in color. It darkens over the next day or so to a deep reddish-brown.
How long the stain lasts depends on a number of variables. Thicker skin, like that on the palms of the hands, holds the stain longer. Also, keeping the henna area moisturized, using body lotion or baby oil, may help it to last a little longer. Conversely, if you swim in chlorinated water, which tends to dry the skin out, the henna may fade more quickly.
With time, your dead skin cells flake off, and the dye fades away. As you can see, this henna had really faded after about 10 days.
The henna tattoos I've gotten have generally lasted about two weeks, despite my efforts to prolong them, but the henna artists I've spoken to say they've had the tattoos stick with them as long as a month.
As I said, that's not been my experience. For example, there's no trace of the latest henna tattoo I had -- it was applied at the end of April.
Guess that means I'm ready for another, the next time I'm in the World!