Originally Published: September 21, 2007 9:27 p.m.
Intricate spiral designs containing cryptic imagery and enigmatic messages make Dana Cummins a walking exhibit for her art. Cummins is a henna tattoo artist with the Mountain Spirit Co-Op in downtown Prescott.
"Henna tattoos originated in India over 1,000 years ago," Cummins said. "They were used in rituals and ceremonies for women before childbirth, birthdays, and especially marriage. The women would hide symbols in the henna tattoos. It was the man's responsibility to find all the henna symbols the night of the wedding. It was about celebrating the woman's preciousness through the art."
Cummins explains that the henna in the tattoos comes from the leaves of the henna plant. She said traditionally women in India would grind the leaves up with a mortar and pestle and then sieve it, creating a fine powdery substance. A henna artist like Cummins will then go through a process in which they transform the powder into the henna tattoo "ink."
"I take henna, put it in a container, and add lemon juice," Cummins said. "I let it cure in the cupboard for 12 hours, then I add a teaspoon of cajeput oil blend, which contains clove and lavender. I let it cure another 12 hours. After a total of 24 hours of curing, I add more lemon juice and mix it until it has about the consistency of ketchup. Then it's ready to go."
Cummins added that henna has a short shelf life, and that it will lose its efficacy sooner if it is exposed to the sun.
Henna tattoos last, on average, about three weeks, Cummins said, at which point they will naturally fade. She said "after care" products that people can buy will help the tattoo to last longer, or they can apply any "edible oil," preferably olive oil.
"Unlike an ink tattoo, it's painless to get a henna tattoo - just like rubbing oil over your skin," Cummins said. "There's no side effects with normal henna. If you're allergic to the henna leaf, or any of the oils used, you could have a reaction, but those allergies are extremely rare."
Cummins recommends avoiding "black henna," a darker type of henna that contains pesticides that are illegal in the United States, because it can blister and scar the skin.
"Stick with real henna artists," she said. "They're usually more reasonably priced than store-bought henna, and they know their stuff, so they can insure a quality product - one that's safe and leaves a beautiful design."
Cummins said henna tattoos range from $5 for simple designs applied at "henna parties" and other events to $60-$70 for large, elaborate henna tattoos. The Mountain Spirit Co-Op, 107 N. Cortez St., conducts a "Dimensional Blast" event every fourth Friday of the month from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The event features live bands, complimentary food, psychics, and henna artists offering discounted henna tattoos.
"To me, henna is really all about spreading the love," Cummins said. "It's about showing people that we're all truly special, and we all deserve to be loved and pampered, just like those women in India so long ago."
For more information call Mountain Spirit Co-Op at 445-8545.