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Sealing Your Henna - why and how?

Making it stay put! Getting the darkest henna stain by keeping the paste where you want it.

Well made henna paste can be potent stuff (here's a recipe!), but to get a good stain, you need it to stay in place for a minimum of 2 hours, up to a maximum of 8 (longer than 8 hours doesn't give enough benefit to be worth it). The longer you leave it on, the darker the end stain is going to be. That's a long time to keep it on your skin intact. Ideally, a perfectly balanced henna paste will stick quite nicely on it's own, but having to contend with changing weather and humidity can make it tricky. Sugar makes henna paste flexible and sticky. This enables to flex and bend and adhere to the skin well, without popping off. 
Paste with too much sugar will melt, too little will crack and fall off before it stains well. Some places are just too bendy and stretchy for even properly balanced paste to adhere adequately or need to be covered with clothing which will rub. So if you can't get it perfectly balanced every time, what do you do?

This is where using a sealant comes in handy!

 So what kinds of sealants are there?

Sugar syrup

Sugar syrup is traditionally made with lemon juice and sugar, I prefer to make it with water and sugar as some people are sensitive to citrus. I use equal amounts of water and sugar and stir it over low-medium heat in a saucepan. I add more sugar until I can't get any more to dissolve. This makes it nice and syrupy. You can increase the amount of sugar by a fair amount. The syrup can have a few drops of a skin safe essential oil for fragrance. Apply with a tissue or cotton wool ball, taking care to dab gently to not dislodge the paste before it is sealed. A thinner made sugar sealant (ie, less sugar) can be sprayed with a pump spray bottle, which can be handy. Multiple coats are often needed, allow to dry in between. 

henna paste sealed with sugary syrup

 

Pros and Cons: sugar syrup is runny and sticky, and this can be a pest. It also can leave a sticky residue after the paste is removed. We recommend cleaning up the stickiness with vegetable oil. Some places have problems with wasps and bees being attracted to the sugar, although I've never encountered this in Australia.   A benefit of using sugar syrup over tape is that you can still see the design, and you retain full mobility of the body part. It also re-hydrates the paste which helps to deepen the stain, and is the least likely to cause skin irritation or allergy reaction. Sugar syrup makes for better photos!

 

Tape

There are several different types of tape - paper tape, membrane tape, and fabric tape. Paper and fabric are the most commonly used.  Take care when choosing a brand, as the cheaper products can sometimes be irritating for people with sensitive skin. It is a good idea to always choose a hypoallergenic option.  

Paper tape is not particularly flexible, but is an affordable option for under clothing in non-stretchy areas.

Membrane tape is amazing, and you pay for that amazing. It is clear and breathable, and very very thin and flexible, yet apparently waterproof. Ie. you could theoretically swim with it on and still protect the henna underneath, however steam MAY be able to penetrate (eg in a hot shower). I would strongly suggest that you test out the limitations of the particular brand of membrane dressing you purchase before making any recommendations to clients or using it to protect a design you care about. 

Fabric medical tape is a common middle road option. It generally has decent flexibility and adhesiveness but you need to get a hypoallergenic option to avoid reactions from the adhesive for those with sensitive skin. It is cheaper than membrane medical dressing and more expensive than medical tape. It is suitable for under clothing. It will still limit range of motion to a reasonable extent. 



Pros and Cons: Tape protects henna designs well from being knocked off, it is durable and works well under clothing. It has limited usefulness in very mobile areas unless you are happy to loose the mobility. Paper tape may pop off in very mobile areas. All tapes may cause a design to smudge if you perspire although the membrane medical dressing is the least likely to do this. Some people will be sensitive to the adhesives. I don't recommend using tape on fine skin, or skin that is stretched like over a pregnant belly as removal is more likely to cause irritation.

 

Vet Wrap

Let me just say that vet wrap is the bomb, but it is only useful on limbs, hands and feet. It is not useful on the torso or thigh. Vet wrap is a cohesive bandage, which means that it sticks only to itself. It needs to be able wrap around itself to be useful. It stays in place well and holds henna well. It can wrap around the hand/wrist/arm easily. It comes in a range of fun colours. It isn't cheap, but it can be reused a few times (but does become stained). It does not cause irritation on the skin from pulling it off like the medical tapes can for people with sensitive skin. 

vet wrap on henna cohesive bandage

Pros and Cons: Vet wrap is probably the most expensive of these options, but it can be reused if you are careful about taking it off and re-rolling. You can get latex free vet wrap, so this makes it the least likely of the wraps/tapes/dressings to cause allergic reactions or irritation. It holds very well on arms, hands, wrists, lower legs, and feet but is not useful elsewhere. 

 

Sugar syrup and cotton wool

 This is a combination of the sugar syrup from above, with the added protection of cotton wool stuck over the top. This allows clothing to go back (gently) over the design, so works well on a torso or upper leg/arm and especially pregnant bellies. Simply dab the sugar syrup, with as many layers as you feel gives a good seal (allowing to dry in between) then press unrolled cotton wool balls over the top. This can be a little tedious, so it's possible to purchase larger rolls of cotton wool, then just cut off what you require. This is warm and soft, and cushions the dry henna paste from knocks and rubbing. I often (especially in warmer months) use tissues instead, although this doesn't provide as much protection. 

Pros and Cons: cheap, good protection especially for under clothing. Can be messy to remove.

 

Find this post useful? Have suggestions or feedback? Let me know in the comments below!

Whew! That was a lot of info! Every option has it's good points and bad points so choose what works for you. Consider where the design is on the body, and how much protection it needs when you make your choice, what you have available, and your budget. Remember, keeping that paste in place is the first step of aftercare to guaranteed dark colour!

 

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