Unlike other forms of skin decoration, such as tattoos or piercings, mehndi is not permanent. According to EarthHenna.com, the henna body art in mehndi designs fades naturally from the skin over a period of one to three weeks. Tattoos insert color pigments permanently into the skin, while mehndi pigments rest on the surface of the skin. Unlike tattooing or piercing, mehndi is a painless process.
Mehndi body painting has been practiced for centuries in Africa, India and the Middle East. The earliest evidence of mehndi body painting dates back to Egypt in 1200 B.C. Examination of mummies has revealed that henna was used on the hair and nails of the pharaohs. Traditionally, mehndi is worn for wedding ceremonies, celebrations and other rites of passage.
Up until the 1990s, henna was used mostly as hair dye in the United States. Since then, henna has become better known as a less permanent alternative to tattoos. The dye used for mehndi is made by crushing the leaves of the henna plant into a paste, which is then applied to the skin using a paint brush or a plastic cone. The paste dries and cracks, leaving a pattern behind when it is removed from the skin. In modern mehndi application, a wrap is sometimes placed over the paste and worn for a few hours or overnight. The wrap locks in body heat and creates a more intense, longer-lasting image.