Advanced Henna Chemistry
When I was in college, I had a bad case of what I called Artist’s ADD. I was never able to focus on one medium long enough to really master it. I’d see a little glass work, and I HAD to know how that was done. I would see some polymer clay sculpture and have to try that, and so on, and so on. Then I found henna! I think the thing that keeps me focused on henna all the many facets of henna to learn. I just can’t ever get bored. If I tire of actually hennaing, I can go study the cultural aspect for awhile and learn about traditions and motifs of different regions. If I get tired of that I can study henna farming, or draw some new designs, or work on my recipe, or study henna chemistry. This may be true for any art that one feels passionate about, but if that’s the case, henna is the medium that finally captured my passion.
I was never a fan of chemistry in high school, and in college I managed to dodge it all together. When it comes to henna though, I’m absolutely captivated! Considering my complete lack of education in chemistry, I’ve been moved to teach myself the things I should have learned when I was young in order to better understand just how henna works. I’ve been looking over this problem for 6 or 7 years with a great amount of frustration. I know that Lawsone is the name of the dye in henna, and that it is activated in a stable way by a mildly acidic solution. I know that it binds to keratin in skin. I know that exposure to air oxidizes the henna causing the color to get darker. I get kinda fuzzy on the details…
But here is one well written article about how it all works! The focus in on henna for hair, but chemistry is basically the same except for small differences in the proteins that make up the keratin in skin and hair. Check it out!
Also check out a more recent, far more detailed article about henna chemistry here: The Chemistry of Henna for Body Art.