One of the many ways Eid al-Fitr is celebrated is by painting henna onto hands. As the celebration begins this year, henna artist Pavan Dhanjal tells us why she got into the art form and shares her tips on how you can create beautiful henna designs at home.
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I got into henna by fluke. I was at a family wedding and I wasn’t keen on the design the henna artist was creating, so I started doodling myself. I practiced on friends who loved it and, that was it, I caught the bug!
I took a course in henna design and knew I wanted to be the best at it. I built up my speed and went for the Guinness World Record for creating the most henna armbands in one hour, which my dad really encouraged me to go for. I broke the record and got some mainstream gigs, like working on EastEnders and applying my art on the Sugababes and Alesha Dixon. I realised how popular henna was and that it needed to be more accessible.
I had an idea to open a henna bar, and thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have one in Selfridges?” Just as people were able to get their hair, nails and eyebrows done, they can now get henna painted as well. Seven years later, we’ve had pop-ups all over the world from New York and Milan to Dubai and Paris.
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Over the pandemic I realised how therapeutic henna is to apply. Just before the first lockdown was announced, there was a sense of real uncertainty. I was applying henna for a bride and that was the only time I felt a sigh of relief. Doing henna made me relax, it was something I had to share with everyone.
I love teaching henna because of the amazing positive feelings it evokes. It’s aligned with prosperity, luck and good fortune, which is why it is used as part of celebratory events and festivals, like Eid al-Fitr: the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan, which begins on 12 May this year.
Henna works as a skin dye that can last up to three weeks. Brown henna comes from a plant, the leaves of which are crushed into a powder and mixed with essential oils and lemon juice to make the dye that is applied to the skin.
You can practice henna yourself at home. All you need is a henna cone in a colour of your choice. You can buy cones from my online shop, Pavan Henna. You should get eight to 10 designs out of one henna cone. Before you start, snip off one or two millimetres from the tip of the cone, and then you’re ready to start drawing straight onto the skin.
Here are my tips for working with henna along with two of my tutorials, one for complete beginners and one for those who want to create more ambitious henna designs.
Pavan’s advice for creating intricate henna designs yourself
Practice makes perfect. You might not create the exact design you intended the first time you use henna, but you will improve every time you try.
There’s no need to practise your designs on paper. It’s better to get used to the consistency of the skin. I actually find it easier to do on skin rather than paper.
Prep your skin
It’s crucial to make sure you don’t have any cream or oils on your skin before applying henna, as they’ll work as a barrier between the skin and the henna. After the henna has been applied, you shouldn’t apply water to the skin for at least a day, although the henna will be touch dry in 10 to 20 minutes.
Have fun with creating your designs
Don’t have a rigid design in your mind. Be free-flowing. It’s supposed to be expressive.
Although you can take inspiration from other people’s designs, it’s best to get creative and take a more intuitive approach to create the best designs.
Remember that mistakes can be fixed
As soon as you’ve made a mistake, you can wipe it off straight away. It won’t stain. This is the case for almost all types of henna apart from jagua, which you shouldn’t use as a beginner anyway.
Make sure you’re using safe henna
Black henna often contains chemicals that can be harmful to the skin, so it’s best to avoid this kind of dye. Most kinds of brown henna are safe to use. The best rule for ensuring you use safe henna is to make sure there is a list of ingredients on the product. If you don’t see any ingredients, avoid using it.
Pavan’s beginner-friendly henna design
1. Draw three evenly spaced lines from your wrist to your fingers
The lines should be diagonal, going in the direction of your fingers. Try and keep your hand as steady and smooth as possible.
2. Add small leaves coming off the lines
Draw the leaves to look slightly like arrows.
3. Add four dots to the top of your henna design on the middle finger
The dots should get progressively smaller.
Pavan’s intermediate henna design
1. Draw two lines across your wrist
Keep the lines as close together as possible with a small gap in between (about 0.5cm).
2. Add oval shapes around the lines
Keep them close together – you can make them as small or as big as you like.
3. Draw scalloped shapes moving up towards your fingers
The shape should get progressively smaller as it moves closer to your fingers.
4. Outline the shape with a thin line
Keep a small gap in between (again, about 0.5cm).
5. Add oval shapes to the edge of the design
Follow the outline of the shape and make the ovals the same size as the ones on your wrist.
6. Add details to your design
You can freestyle here, adding swirls or dots to the back of your hand.
7. Add details to your fingers
Add some details to your fingers, like lines or swirls (it’s best to alternate the design on each finger).
You can buy Pavan’s range of henna on her website and follow her on Instagram for more design inspiration.
Images: Pavan Dhanjal
Additonal reporting: Alice Porter
Pavan is the founder of Pavan Henna, where she sells her own henna products and runs her own henna bar from Selfridges. She holds the Guinness World Record for creating the most henna armbands in one hour and she was awarded a British Empire Medal in 2018 for her services to beauty.
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