Henna in Sudan is out of control. I love it. The designs are big, bold, and…funky. Subtlety is not popular. We are talking here about the sole of a foot covered in huge polka dots, large honeycomb shapes stacked up along the inside of the ankle, and patterns that look like cheetah-pattern bandaids snaking halfway up the leg. Along with many elegant floral offerings, of course.
I love many of the designs, but unfortunately, what I don’t love, is that 90% of the photos I find of henna in Sudan are almost definitely PPD black hair dye, “black henna.” I understand why people are attracted to it, because of course, it’s cheap, easy, and looks amazing, especially when it is combined in the same design with natural “red henna.” Unfortunately, this is at the tremendous cost of the health of the people using it. Even if people never suffer any obvious skin reactions, like rashes, swelling, or scarring from the black hair dye, the PPD is still a known carcinogen, which is proven to cause long-term health problems such as liver and kidney damage.
Judging the photo above, I would say it is natural henna. I say this mainly because you can see the beautiful gradation of color from the sole up the ankle, going from dark chocolate/almost black to a lighter mahogany color. Am I 100% certain? No, but there are certainly ways to get henna this dark, and there would be no color gradient from PPD. Probably a good amount of mahlabiya oil, popular in Sudan, was used in the paste. Also, it’s possible that the henna was applied twice in the same place to get it darker, another popular technique in Sudan. I wasn’t there unfortunately, so I don’t know. What I do know, is that I want to learn more about Sudanese henna!
With that in mind, I am putting up some Sudanese henna patterns here, with the hope that people will enjoy the designs and recreate them with beautiful, natural “red” henna. The top two images are from my design book, Lotuses of the Nile, Sudanese Henna Designs. The e-book is for sale at Artistic Adornment.com for $10. It contains 40 designs for hands and feet..