Saudi Arabia and Popularity of Henna

henna 1

Henna is very popular in Saudi Arabia among both men and women.  Women will use henna to make exquisite designs on their hands, arms and feet for special occasions such as weddings and during the two Eid’s.  Henna is also used by both men and women for the hair as well.

However if you are not familiar with henna, you are probably wondering what is it?  Where did it come from?  How can it be used for both the body and the hair?

According to Wikipedia, henna is a flowering plant, the sole species in the genus Lawsonia in the family Lythraceae. It is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, southern Asia, and northern Australasia in semi-arid zones.  Henna, Lawsonia inermis, produces a burgundy dye molecule, lawsone. This molecule has an affinity for bonding with protein, and thus has been used to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather, silk and wool.  The word “henna” comes from the Arabic name for Lawsonia inermis, pronounced /ħinnaːʔ/ or colloquially /ħinna/.

Henna is used in various festivals and celebrations. It is applied from a tube (similar to a tube of toothpaste) and the paste is left on the skin from a few hours to overnight and the stain can last a few days to a month depending on the quality of the paste, individual skin type and how long the paste is allowed to stay on the skin.  Covering the henna paste with a mixture of lemon juice and sugar and then wrapping the hands in loosely covered plastic bags also will make the henna dye darker and last longer on the hands.

Henna has many traditional and commercial uses, the most common being as a dye for hair, skin and fingernails, as a dye and preservative for leather and cloth, and as an anti-fungal. Henna flowers have been used to create perfume since ancient times, and henna perfume is experiencing a resurgence on the Internet.[5] Henna will repel some insect pests and mildew.

Henna has been used to adorn young women’s bodies as part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. The earliest text mentioning henna in the context of marriage and fertility celebrations comes from the Ugaritic legend of Baal and Anath,[12] which has references to women marking themselves with henna in preparation to meet their husbands, and Anath adorning herself with henna to celebrate a victory over the enemies of Baal. Wall paintings excavated at Akrotiri (dating prior to the eruption of Thera in 1680 BCE) show women with markings consistent with henna on their nails, palms and soles, in a tableau consistent with the henna bridal description from Ugarit.[13] Many statuettes of young women dating between 1500 and 500 BCE along the Mediterranean coastline have raised hands with markings consistent with henna. This early connection between young, fertile women and henna seems to be the origin of the Night of the Henna, which is now celebrated world-wide.

Henna was regarded as having “Barakah”, blessings, and was applied for luck as well as joy and beauty.[19] Brides typically had the most henna, and the most complex patterns, to support their greatest joy, and wishes for luck.

In Saudi Arabia henna is always applied for weddings and Eid’s.  Young women will usually have intricate henna designs covering their hands.  Some women, but not all in Saudi, may also choose to have henna applied to the feet.  The older and more traditional women will apply henna to their fingertips and sometimes just a simple brown “ball” of henna in the middle of their hand.

Most Saudi women who choose to color their hair will also use henna.  In addition to using henna as a hair color, henna also thickens the hair and leaves it both silky and strong.  However henna applied to the hair is best for those who are brunette.  Henna can add very attractive red highlights to hair.  Henna should not be applied over commercially covered hair!   In fact, when one is in Saudi Arabia, you never know how many women out wearing their abaya, hijjab and niqab may also have an application of henna processing atop their hair as they shop.

henna-hair

When I lived in Pakistan and also in India, I would get henna applied to my hands and feet each month or more often if there were a special occasion.  Personally, I believe that skillfully applied henna with an intricate design is very feminine and attractive.  However one time in Pakistan I happened to have the woman who applied henna create a small kitty cat tattoo on my right shoulder.  Little did I know at the time that the man who is now my husband, when he first saw the cat on my shoulder was very concerned whether or not I was a woman who liked tattoos!  (I’m not!)  He was quite relieved when he learned it was simply henna and disappeared within a week.

This web site for those interested in more details about henna and how it is used provides excellent information and illustrations.

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22 Responses

  1. Henna is great for celebrations! Usually I have one of my friends from Pakistan do it for me, because most of them seem to know how to do such intricate artwork on my hands without making a mistake.

    Is the henna used in KSA, dark brown or more orangish? I was told that in some of the gulf countries, the henna may be really dark. I think it’s prettier when it’s dark.

  2. @Jameela – I have seen dark and orange henna in Saudi but the dark has been more prominent where I’ve been in Saudi.

  3. I have to comment on your statement that you wouldnt know if a woman wearing hijab out and about had henna in her hair…because it generally has such a strong smell…mixed with the heat of the day…you can pretty much smell it if your near her (and sometimes from a distance…lol). In the past (when I first came here) women would even put some petrol or gas in the mix…this was supposed to make the stain so much darker…so they walked around smelling of gas for awhile…I havent a clue what would have happened if any of them were smokers (not a common occurence among Arab women generally speaking thank goodness).

    On another note….women have been asking me for 23 years what type of henna do I use to make my hair this shade of red…sorry ladies…its all natural ;) hee hee. and unfortunately henna only turns to a bright orange color on my skin no matter what type I use and how long I leave it on. :(

  4. Do the Saudi women decorate their hands the way yo showed in that firts photo? I’ve seen that mainly with Pakistanis and Indians. My mother-in-law does the clenched fist around the ball of henna.

    There’s also a pretty reddish henna that you can use for your nails.

  5. @coolred – I’ve been out multiple times with different sister-in-laws while they have henna on their hair under their hijjab. But what they do is also put a plastic cover over their hair before putting on the hijjab. As a result, the scent of the henna is not noticeable.

    I’m wondering if the same ingredients as henna are what is also used for the tanning lotions?

  6. @munaqabah – For special occasions many of the younger women will have their hands decorated similar to what is shown in the image. But the majority of older women I’ve seen wearing henna in Saudi (50 and older) does the “clenched fist” style.

  7. Moroccan weddings traditionally include a henna day for the bride and women guests. A henna artist does the hands and feet of the bride, and the hands of the women and girls. They used to use a traditional instrument to apply the henna, then set it in lemon juice and hold it in place cotton wool. Now they use a syringe with no needle. The women guests usually have elaborate decorations on the backs of their hands and sometimes the palms. Only the most tradition have nails and finger tips done. I’ve never heard of the ball in the fist before. Interesting!

    I also prefer it dark, not red, even prefering the design before the henna is removed, since it looks like black lace gloves. I’ve never had it done though, it takes too long to wear off, and would require too much explanation as a professional in my line of work. LOL :)

  8. interesting! ironically though i dont like henna! and i even hate the smell of it! im not having it for my wedding!
    but i’ve noticed alot of American women here love to apply henna to thier hands!

  9. Henna is getting popular everywhere. Nice blog about the henna. Enjoyed going through it. Nice pictures, Keep it up the good work.

  10. American Bedu…ah I forgot the infamous plastic baggy over the head…that explains all. :)

  11. Henna? Did someone say HENNA?!

    I first got my hands on some henna about 13 years ago and haven’t been able to put it down since. So much fun! It’s also a great way to make money at fairs and festivals. Americans think it’s soooo exotic. LOL

    And forget about hands, feet and hair…..in the next month I have appointments to do henna work on two pregnant bellies. The places they want their henna!

  12. There was a girl in the gym yesterday that had an awesome tattoo on her shoulder on to her back…a very deep purplish color…sort of like a tribal tat but different….and it was done with henna…very cool.

  13. Oh wow – petrol mixed in with henna! yikes!
    More often, very strong coffee or tea is used to mix into the henna powder & yields a pretty strong color.

    This is a great post on henna, Bedu.

  14. I love henna’s smell….but…the last i had was when i was 12 years old….(that’s 25 years ago!) :)

    Henna is popular in some regions and in some tribes, but not in Jeddah at (all)! Some young girls here find it disgusting …

  15. @Maha – what a shame! I so enjoy henna and believe it is so exquisite (on the hands).

  16. i want more dising in henna

  17. i am a professional henna artist in riyadh if anybody wants henna they can take an appointment

  18. @arshia,

    Can you please give some more information such as what type of designs, how much you charge and how you can be contacted?

    Thanks, Bedu

  19. my designs vary from arabic to indian,pakistani,moroccon and modern my charges start from SR 20 and it can go up to SR 500(for very heavy intricate design) depending on the designs my customer selects from the catalogues i have.My customers are saudis,westerners,indians ect. you can contact me on my mobile 0533467391. I also conduct classes on how to draw henna and henna demonstrations (what is henna,history,uses and benefits ect)in social gatherings for ladies.

  20. Thank you arshia!

    I so enjoyed treating myself monthly to having henna on both my hands and feet. It just makes such an elegant addition!

  21. yea…i thinks its really crazy how allt his women are trying to get these diffrents products for there hair and all they need is henna formula..but im surprised that they can even do that.. men in that country are cowards beacause they abuse women …women are beatiful and the work of art..!! if they didnt noti e in the bible adam was not happy until god created eve.. SAUDI ARABIA NEEDS TO GIVE WOMEN THEIR RIGHTS

  22. im looking for henna tattoe expert in kobar,,,im pilipino man….plss

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