What Are Arabic Mehndi?

S. Reynolds

Arabic mehndi are intricate designs painted on the hands and feet made from a henna paste. Mehndi designs are generally applied to women who are about to get married, although many Western women simply use henna as a form of personal expression. Arabic designs are usually not as complicated as some other types of mehndi; the tattoos are dark reddish in color and stain the skin for a few weeks if applied correctly.

Mehndi tattoos are an art form that began in the Middle East.
Mehndi tattoos are an art form that began in the Middle East.

Mehndi tattoos are a type of ancient art form that began in the Middle East thousands of years ago. A typical bridal pattern consists of a sun drawn in the middle of the palm, surrounded by intricate floral patterns with areas of skin exposed. Many traditional Middle Eastern women decorate their hands and feet with Arabic mehndi shortly before they get married. Other men and women in the bridal party often decorate their hands and feet as well, but the designs are not as complex as the bride's designs.

Arabic mehndi are temporary tattoos applied with henna.
Arabic mehndi are temporary tattoos applied with henna.

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Women who are close to the bride typically prepare and apply the henna paste. The paste is made from ground up Lawsonia inermis plant leaves and mixed with oil. Other ingredients that create a deeper henna color include lemon juice or ammonia. Red henna is the most natural color, while black henna tends to have irritating ingredients that can actually burn the skin. The application procedure may take a few hours if the designs are complicated.

After the designs are painted on with a pointed instrument, the hands and feet are wrapped with plastic wrap for a few hours to allow the henna to stain the skin. Over time, the henna paste dries and darkens to a deep reddish or black color. Arabic mehndi tattoos last longer if the paste is allowed to sit on the skin for a few hours.

While traditional Indian henna tattoos often have several colors, Arabic designs are usually one color. Another major difference is that Indian mehndi are usually more intricate and cover most of the hands and feet. Arabic designs tend to be simpler, with a few floral patterns and no human or animal figures. Arabic designs are popular at wedding parties because the designs do not take very long to create.

Dozens of Arabic mehndi designs can be found online. Artists can print out the designs and adapt them for their own purposes. In Western countries, women use henna for decorating the hands and feet, creating temporary tattoos on their bodies, and dyeing their hair red.

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