Indian Vignettes : Henna

Hands painted with henna smell of leather, wilted jasmine and dried lemon peel. A strange but evocative scent. The moment I catch a whiff of it, I think of Indian weddings, including my own. I know only two perfumes with a henna note, The People of the Labyrinths A.Maze and Parfum d’Empire Azemour les Orangers, in which henna plays up their soft leather accords.

Have you ever had your hands painted with henna? If you know of other perfumes with henna notes, please let me know.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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34 Comments

  • Sandra: I didn’t have an Indian wedding but my husbands cousin put on a Mendhi party, I had henna up my arms, legs, feet. I also was adorned with jewelry and pastes on my hands and feet along with the red bindi on my hairline. I wish I could share a photo. February 6, 2017 at 7:10am Reply

    • Victoria: I’d love to see a photo!

      When I got married, my arms were painted up to my elbows and my feet up to my knees. It was pretty, but it took such a long time to do it, and afterwards I couldn’t move for several hours as it dried. More fun when you visit an Indian wedding as a guest and get a small design. The last time I went to someone’s wedding, I just enjoyed being a photographer. The photo above is from that trip. February 6, 2017 at 10:06am Reply

      • Sandra: I am hoping someone on my husbands side gets married because I have small toddler sari for my little girl!
        When I had my henna done they squired lemon juice on it afterwards and then I got wrapped in plastic bags and saran wrap so I could go to sleep that night..
        I am forwarding you a photo February 6, 2017 at 11:19am Reply

        • Victoria: Or a lehenga set, full skirt and blouse. She would look so cute.

          I remember they put lemon juice mixed with sugar, and I also had to keep my hands and feet in plastic bags to make the color set. The whole thing was sticky and uncomfortable, but it was worth it for the design. February 7, 2017 at 10:23am Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Dear Victoria and perfume lovers,

    Years ago I had a friend who practiced belly dancing. Her bridesmaid organized an Arabic themed hen party, we dressed in belly dancing style ( I wore a red skirt and golden blouse) and we painted our feet or hands with henna. It was such wonderful night.
    I just had another henna painted on my hand last December, before New Year’s Eve. A friend recommended an artist who made a beautiful ornament. She made one for the goddaughter of my friend too and she was very enthusiastic about it.
    It has a unique scent indeed. It has also a coolling effect so anyone trying it in the winter should make sure that after drying they can cover the surface 🙂 February 6, 2017 at 8:57am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re right, it does feel cool, pleasantly so in the tropical climate. My Moroccan friend taught me to make henna hair masks in the summer to make hair shiny and to feel fresher. Unless one wants reddish highlights, it works better for those of us with reddish or reddish-brown hair. On the other hand, another friend does a henna-chocolate-cognac hair mask for the winter blues. Imagine how good it smells! February 6, 2017 at 10:09am Reply

      • kayliz: Ooh, that sounds gorgeous!

        The only perfume that has made me consciously think of henna is Bittersweet Symphony by House of Matriarch. Overall it reminds me of Caribbean cocoa tea, but I’m sure there’s henna in the mix. February 6, 2017 at 11:18am Reply

        • Victoria: Henna has something of a chocolate note too.
          I’ve seen henna attars in India, in which henna flowers are distilled with sandalwood, but the smell is different from the ground up henna leaves. February 7, 2017 at 10:21am Reply

          • kayliz: I’m experimenting with henna-based hair dyes at the moment, so I have that very much in mind (I assume that’s the ground-up leaves). February 10, 2017 at 4:08pm Reply

            • Victoria: If you add something acidic, it will help to activate the color. February 12, 2017 at 3:05am Reply

      • Jillie: Many years ago I used to put a ready-made henna mask on my hair – I think you could choose either gold or auburn highlights. It made my hair very glossy and indeed slightly tinted with red glints. The fragrance was vegetal and pleasant, and not like anything else I’ve smelt since. This particular mask isn’t made any more, but I suddenly feel a search coming on! February 6, 2017 at 11:47am Reply

        • Victoria: I think that you can make your own by mixing henna with water, egg yolk, etc. If you add anything acidic, it will bring out the red hue more. February 7, 2017 at 10:24am Reply

      • Surbhi: Lush has ready to use henna / henna masks. Makes hair very very healthy. I have jet black hair but in a year I have beautiful red tint which is only visible when sun / light falls at angle. But when it does I fall in love with my own hair. Shiny, silky, flowing hear. February 9, 2017 at 7:42pm Reply

        • Victoria: The beauty of henna is the shine it gives. Nothing else replicates it. February 12, 2017 at 2:55am Reply

  • Richard Potter: Slumberhouse Kiste also features a Henna note. February 6, 2017 at 10:22am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! I need to try it. February 6, 2017 at 10:46am Reply

    • Erin T: Was going to mention Kiste, too. Wonderful scent, like a bourbon sweet tea cocktail. February 6, 2017 at 5:43pm Reply

      • Victoria: Now, that sounds even more tempting. February 7, 2017 at 11:01am Reply

  • Doreen: These are lovely. I actually have never smelled Henna before. I had no idea. So thank you… February 6, 2017 at 2:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a distinctive scent, which some people enjoy and others find strange. February 7, 2017 at 10:56am Reply

      • Doreen: Interesting. I like the unusual scents. Like an art installation in the air… March 2, 2017 at 9:12pm Reply

        • Victoria: What a great way of putting it! March 3, 2017 at 2:43am Reply

          • Doreen: or in your hair! March 3, 2017 at 3:49pm Reply

  • Sylvia: How beautiful! I don’t know if a perfume with henna notes, but I have had henna applied to my hands and arm. Such a beautiful art form! I’d love to smell the kind made from sandalwood and rose pastes. February 6, 2017 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: I didn’t realize it until I started looking seriously and comparing. There are a few other perfumes that smell of henna but don’t actually contain a henna-like ingredient or accord. February 7, 2017 at 10:59am Reply

  • Kaitlin: I used to dye my hair with henna and I loved the pungent smell. My sister swore up and down that it smelled like baby poop! I think that was just how it looked and it influenced her. February 6, 2017 at 3:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ah, yes! The look of the paste when diluted is not all that inviting. 🙂 February 7, 2017 at 10:59am Reply

  • Lydia: Beautiful photo.
    I attended a henna party at a friend’s wedding. Since I didn’t know anyone but the bride, it was a nice way to get comfortable with everyone. I loved walking around for days afterward with the designs on my hands and wrists. I think it’s a beautiful tradition.

    I used to henna my brown hair myself to make it auburn. One time I made a mistake and put black henna on bleached blond hair (I was in a hair experimenting phase). My hair turned out moss green! I quickly covered that with red henna twice, then black again. My hair was extremely dry after that, but it was a really saturated black which looked unexpectedly natural. I really liked having black hair. February 7, 2017 at 10:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Did you use indigo? That can look greenish-blue, as I found when I used it to dye silk threads. But when you get the proportion correctly, the color does become saturated and natural looking. February 7, 2017 at 11:03am Reply

      • Lydia: It was a healthfood store brand, and it just said “black,” so I’m not sure. It was a sort of yellowish-green and extremely unflattering.

        It looked really nice when I started with an auburn base later, but I definitely don’t recommend trying to go from bleached blond to black in one go.

        Greenish blue silk threads sound lovely. February 10, 2017 at 5:08pm Reply

  • kayliz: Weirdly, after never giving a thought to henna in perfume till I read your post, I’ve been sent two samples in the last couple of days that both said HENNA!:
    Venezia Giardini Segreti by Via del Profumo
    and
    The Longing by House of Matriarch.
    (Am rather puzzled about this last one. The website, and the one other person I know who’s tried it, say it’s a honeyed gourmand. I get the honey but most of all I get tobacco and hay, almost as if it’s a cross between Tabac Royal by Crown and Tabac Tabou by PG. This is all from one try while hormonally challenged — that’s the only state I exist in at the moment — so usual caveats apply:) ) February 10, 2017 at 4:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, something else to check out. How are you liking them? February 12, 2017 at 3:04am Reply

  • ana: Dear Victoria, I just happened to stumble across this perfume and immediately thought of your wonderful article (have been enjoying your lovely site and community immensely). I’m not quite sure if this is truly of interest (or if the perfume is any good)- as it’s actually the blossom, not the leaf that is used in the scent – but if so, here’s a description: “bordo: a perfume of luxury, where saffron meets visions of henna, fir trees and balsamic notes”, the company’s name is marmozel (seems like they make organic cosmetics and such.)
    I must confess that the mention of henna blossom roused my curiosity, after years of inhaling the scent of henna powder, what might the blossom smell like? February 12, 2017 at 4:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, dear Ana, and welcome to Bois de Jasmin. I was wondering about the scent of henna flowers too. The only thing I’ve smelled with henna flowers was a type of attar in India, except the blossoms were distilled with sandalwood. The smell was honeyed, a little spicy. February 13, 2017 at 1:46am Reply

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