Henna Tattoos: Beautiful or Dangerous?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved getting my mendhi done. Mendhi — or henna — is a dye used in the southeast Asian culture to temporarily tattoo skin or to color hair. Every time a holiday or wedding came around, I begged my mom to let me cover both sides of my hands with the beautiful patterns. I especially loved going to school the next day to show them off to all my friends. 

Honestly, I still love painting elegant designs on my hands for any occasion. However, my most recent experience with mendhi has turned that love into fear. As a Muslim, I participate in a holiday called Eid that celebrates the end of Ramadan (a month of fasting). Like every other Eid, I decided to get henna on the backs of both of my hands. So, I drove with my cousin to a family friend’s store, where someone was applying mendhi. 

After scrolling through Pinterest and finding a design I liked, I showed the artist and waited patiently for her to finish. She did a great job, but after she was done, I noticed something off about the color of the mendhi— it was red. Mendhi can show up as a few different colors, usually ranging from a dark brown to a light orange. But, when I looked at my hand, I noticed that the mendhi was a bright red. 

Confused, I asked the artist why the color was different and she explained that there was a chemical dye added to turn it red. At first, I was a little bummed because I liked the classic brown color, but I didn’t think anything of it. 10 minutes later, I noticed my hands starting to burn. After my cousin was done with hers, she drove us back to my house and that’s when the burning got really intense. After I peeled the dry mendhi off, I stuck my hands into a bowl of ice water to numb the pain. 

When the red color started to fade after a few weeks, I noticed that my hand was covered in sensitive rough patches and the design had seared into my skin. It’s been a few months, and I still have the scars. 

As a society, we are getting more comfortable with putting harmful chemicals in all products— not just mendhi. The fruits and vegetables we eat are caked in pesticides. leaning supplies are filled with ammonia— another substance that can burn you. The number of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis is not something to be complacent about. Something has to change or else more and more people will end up with illnesses or burns from something that was supposed to be harmless.