Today I had the honour of creating a henna crown for Leslie, a beautiful woman who is going through chemotherapy.
When people look at my work, they often comment on the henna crowns I've done. They are not only struck by the beauty of the design itself, but they are also deeply moved by the underlying 'healing' aspect for cancer patients. Of course henna does not cure people of cancer, but on another level the experience itself can have psychological healing powers that are very real.
My Involvement with Henna Heals
My henna crown journey started in 2011 when I was fortunate enough to meet Frances Darwin. She is a wonderful photographer, a lovely person, and a very inspiring young woman. She was looking for henna artists to join her Henna Heals Team and I was on board from the beginning. I had seen images from other henna artists of crowns and had always wanted to do it! I dedicated many hours to volunteering, doing henna crowns and trying to help grow the Henna Crown movement, and I have to say it has been nothing but rewarding for me.
Due to Frances Darwin's determination, dedication and hard work, Henna Heals became known all over the world through online social media such as Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, Bored Panda, Yahoo, and Glamour as well as locally through the media such as CTV and The Toronto Star. People from from far away places were emailing in wanting to know where they could get a henna crown.
Henna Heals is no longer active, however henna artists around the globe continue to get requests for henna crowns. To date, I've probably done around 27 henna crowns, some on cancer patients and some on people with Alopecia. However, it is really a very niche market. Henna crown requests certainly don't come up as frequently as appointments for hands, it takes a certain type of person to want to don a crown.
How I design a Henna Crown
Today's henna crown for Leslie started at my home, in my dining room. I usually practise on a Pier One glass head that I bought for around $25. I love this head! Not only is it beautiful, but the henna goes on so well and washes off without leaving a stain, which makes it perfect for practising on.
My specialty is mandalas so I usually start at the centre and at the back of the head. Imagine turning the head to the side and drawing an imaginary line from the chin, on an angle, to the very back of the head, the part that is furthest away from the chin. That's where I start. I like starting with a simple flower type design and then building out from there.
Checking with the Client About Allergies
When I got to Leslie's home, she was ready with a freshly shaved head, free of any lotions and creams. I had checked with her beforehand to find out if she was allergic to lavender or lemon juice, and we did a spot test two days before her appointment to make sure she didn't react to the paste. I use natural henna made with henna powder, lemon juice, sugar and therapeutic grade lavender oil (the safest oil for use on skin), however, when people are in the middle of chemotherapy, they can sometimes have a reaction to the lavender oil in the form of contact dermatitis. If people do have any itching or redness I can always mix up a batch without the oil or substitute water for lemon juice if they are allergic to citrus. One thing to keep in mind is that henna does not stain the scalp as dark as other areas of the body such as the hands (the thicker the skin, the darker the stain), and the lack of oil in the paste will mean that the henna will be even lighter.
The Henna Crown Application
Henna Crowns usually take about 1.5 hours to complete. I like to do the crown in the client's home because cancer patients are often low in energy and sitting very still for a crown for that long is hard work! It's often nice to share the experience of getting a crown with some friends or family, it makes it more special and fun. Sometimes people like to provide a Henna Crown as a gift. Photos are also part of the day and a great way to capture the process.
Starting the design at the back of the head.
This flower with the thick border is a very popular motif right now in the henna community.
A shot from above.
And we're done!
This is taken under Leslie's skylight upstairs.
And the finished design from the back.
Leaving the Henna Crown on for the day
Once the crown is finished, the paste needs to remain on the skin for about 8 hours. The longer the paste stays on the skin, the darker and longer lasting the stain will be. Henna tends to shrink as it dries and it tends to crack and start crumbling off. A mixture of lemon and sugar can be applied to the dry henna to help keep it a bit moist and stuck to the skin so that it will better remain on for the full 8 hours. Or, sometimes flexible medical tape can be applied over the dry henna which is great at keeping the paste on for the day. Plus a hat or scarf can easily be put over it which has the added benefit of keeping the head warm: the warmer you are, the darker the henna will get!
Aftercare of the Henna Crown
Once the henna is ready to come off, it can be scraped off, or if there is tape on it, peeled off. Any remaining bits that are difficult to remove can be taken off with vegetable oil. It's best to avoid water for 24- 48 hours. When having a shower, vegetable/olive oil, or shea/coconut butter can be applied to the stain to protect it from the water. It's also best to avoid any creams or lotions with alcohol or petroleum, as this will cause the skin to exfoliate faster and cause the stain to fade quickly. After that it's best not to wear wigs or scarves because, again, any kind of friction or rubbing of the skin will cause the skin to exfoliate sooner.
Clients have told me that they have gotten so many wonderful comments from family, friends and total strangers about their henna crowns. I can see in their eyes how this makes them feel. This feeling definitely helps in their healing process. Henna crowns really do heal!
Tarquin Singh does henna crowns at a reduced rate for cancer patients. See website for details: www.hennaplanet.ca
Marh 24, 2017 ~ Here's what Leslie had to say about her crown: "Thank you, Tarquin, for my beautiful henna crown. I love it!! It was a relaxing, soothing experience, and was also a huge confidence restorer."