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The art of natural henna, the perils of black henna

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

In Morocco, #henna is used for celebrations and the intricate designs can be admired by both locals and tourists alike. However, it is becoming a common occurrence that many tourist are being fooled with a fake henna which can be dangerous. This is not only damaging the tradition this art but also creating negative memories of travel destinations that participate in these tourist scams. Unfortunately, Morocco is one of these destinations however with a little bit of knowledge, harmful henna can be avoided and you can keep the tradition alive by supporting local artists with the real deal.

But first, a little bit of history...

Henna, originally from North Africa can also known as #mendhi. It is traditionally used at a time for celebration whether that be weddings, battle victories or religious ceremonies. In Berber traditions, henna is seen much more than just art work, it is considered good luck. For manual workers, especially farmers, if henna is applied it was believed to strengthen their hands and feet and could even bring a bountiful harvest. Designs like the hamsa, an eye or a diamond (#Berber symbol for eye) are thought to be a shield and prevent you experiencing any ill fortune. With so many other lines, swirls, flowers and shapes, henna could even promote harmonious relationships.

Henna at weddings is very popular here in #Morocco as it is seen to represent the transition from childhood to womanhood. It is also a guard against djinn is sprinkled on the bride-to-be's shoes.

Henna should only be seen positively as it is used in times of happiness, joy and to attract good fortune. Not only this but the pure talent of the artists creating these intricate patterns should be celebrated as it is a beautiful skill to have. It is a shame tourist experiences of henna are creating a negative view of it.

Brown vs Black - a big difference

Henna is actually green before it is applied. It is derived from a plant found in the #Mediterranean. The plant is ground into a powder which is then mixed with water to make paste for the henna design. Once it is applied it begins to turn brownish colour. Coffee and lime juice is usually applied afterwards to enhance it's colour. Henna is natural therefore anyone should be able to enjoy being painted without worrying of a reaction.

Reactions are likely however with black henna. This type of henna is cultivated from a different plant and often contains a chemical called PPD. The PPD creates the black colour to create a more vivid tattoo look. But, it is this chemical that can lead to allergic reactions, from eczema like symptoms to inflammation and scarring.

Swerve the danger

If a henna artist approaches you and the henna is black simply walk away. Most fake henna in #Marrakech is found in the famous #JemaaElFna square - a trap for tourists who are none the wiser. Not only are the designs dangerous here but they are often severely overpriced.

Yet this shouldn't put you off completely as having henna done is a nice experience and an opportunity to get involved with Moroccan #culture. So here are a couple of solutions:


If you are in the browsing the Medina why not stop off at Henna Cafe - they not only use natural henna but by getting a design done here you are supporting a great association. All the income made from their cultural experiences offered is used to give free education to Moroccan people.


Let Manira Palm bring henna to you. Two beautiful ladies from our local village are very talented henna artists. They can not only show you how henna is made but decorate your skin in elaborately intricate designs. Guests can assure all the money charged for the henna goes directly into the pockets of our artists. This means you can experience Moroccan traditions and support local people at the same time.

It is important, wherever you are travelling in the world, don't let scams put you off experiencing local cultures. It is these traditions that make a holiday different and enjoyable. Being conscious of where you spend your holiday pennies has the power to give back to the host country and it creates the an opportunity to not only support local people but some great charities and associations too. Don't let the perils of black henna ruin your trip to Morocco, instead be a #responsibletraveller and enjoy Moroccan culture sustainably.

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