Nurturing the natural henna

Izah Azahari

Henna has always been a part of our culture in Brunei Darussalam, with a surge of colourful instant henna used in recent years due to its attractiveness and shorter waiting period to stain hands and feet.

But many are not aware that instant hennas are laced with toxic chemicals, metals, organic solvents and textile dyes.

Natural henna enthusiast, Muna Morshidi, who is known by her Instagram handle @hennaartbymuna, went into research after feeling the effects of instant hennas on her own skin when she started out with henna art.

“I came across the factory’s website and they put up a descriptions that said users need to be cautious when using the products as there are chemicals such as Para-Phenylenediamine (PPD) in the ingredients which may have varying effects,” she said.

Muna started out in 2016 when she was still in the university. She finds it difficult to get natural henna locally and depended on tuck-shops which sold henna that gives off a chemical scent.

Henna designs done by Muna Morshidi using natural henna. PHOTOS: IZAH AZAHARI
Muna Morshidi working on a customer’s hand

“For the whole year I used it on my clients. Over time I started questioning whether it was really henna. So I did my research,” Muna said.

“I started because I wanted something that’s easy to draw with. Store-bought henna were always watery, which made it hard to design.”

The questions began when she remembered the non-chemical scent of henna during her childhood. She reached out to international henna artists, and a Los Angeles-based henna artist responded.

She told Muna to make her own henna paste as it is fresher and natural, leaving a stronger stain while being better for the skin as compared to instant hennas.

“Since then, I started my search for henna powder. I looked at local tuck-shops but they weren’t as good as they had been on the shelf for too long.

“Just like henna paste, henna powder needs to be stored in the fridge or freezer for a longer shelf-life to keep its freshness.

“Even with the use of essential oils when mixing the henna powder, it still didn’t stain as nicely. I tried it on my customers and it didn’t turn out good.

“But it didn’t stop my search to find good products,” said Muna.

In 2017, Muna reached out to a henna artist from Johor, Malaysia, who used natural henna.

The artist told Muna about the ingredients she should use such as essential oils and sugar as Johor and Brunei have similar weather humidity. “Alhamdulillah, now I have an idea of how to get a darker stain for henna.

“When I was looking for henna powder, a direct supplier from India contacted me if I was interested to buy henna powder from him as he was a supplier. I asked for a sample first and when I received the product, it was good. He’s now my main supplier” she added.

After joining the Asia Henna Mingle in Johor recently, Muna said that the experience opened her perspective when she met with other natural henna artists from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, who share the same struggle with instant henna use.

“When I say that it has opened up my perspective, I mean it can help me improve in henna art and life in general.

“Meeting these natural henna artists with so much passion makes me happy,” said Muna. “The challenge in Brunei is that I have to keep educating people. It’s a struggle, but this year there are more people who have become aware.”

As for jagua, better known as black henna, Muna said she is still experimenting on how to make the perfect paste as they’ve recently introduced a powdered form which she has yet to explore.

She has had experience with jagua juice which is naturally extracted and gives off a different stain. “The ingredients I use for my natural henna are much like the ones people used in the past which were henna powder and tea. But instead of tea, I use essential oils such as tea tree, geranium, lavender and eucalyptus to extract colours from the leaves and give off a better scent. I also use sugar so that the henna doesn’t crack and the stain is even.”

Muna said that seeing people happy after getting their henna done is something that keeps her going, on top of trying to preserve the culture in a more modern and organic way.

Muna added that her aim for this business is not just to gain profits. It is needing people to understand why instant henna is bad and why it is important to only use natural henna, especially with more children suffering from eczema these days.

“If you go to expo events the henna attraction’s target market will always be kids, so I don’t want people coming in and getting a bad reaction to the henna I use, especially after seeing bad things about instant henna, it has made me eager to just use natural henna,” she added.