“Henna does not rinse off easily, so if a person is sensitized to henna, it could cause a more severe skin problem due to its difficulty of removal and length of exposure,” Palm explains. “If you develop a contact allergy over time, each exposure to henna will cause a more severe skin reaction.”
The best way to predict how your skin will react is to test your henna on a small portion of skin away from your face. “Apply a thin amount of the product to the back of the wrist or forearm and cover with a bandaid for three days,” advises New York City dermatologist Elyse Love. “If there is no rash at the end of the three days, it is likely safe to apply.”
You can also use the patch test as practice for creating that faux freckle shape and determine how evenly they will fade. “Put some fake freckles on your forearm first,” recommends Connecticut-based dermatologist Mona Gohara. “This gives you an idea of your likelihood of reaction and you can see how it will fade out.”
Start with a clean, dry, and clear base
Applying the henna on the best base possible is important not just for your skin but for the appearance of your henna freckles. “If the skin is broken or punctured during placement, there is a possibility of skin discoloration, scarring, and disfigurement,” Palm explains. So if you’ve got any cuts or open blemishes, you’ll definitely want to wait them out before attempting henna freckles.
If not, all you’ve got to do is make sure your face is freshly washed and dried when you decide it’s time to go ahead and apply. “I would first wash your face and don’t put any lotion or anything on top; I would probably do this closer to bedtime,” Desai recommends. “Stipple on the henna however you want your freckles to be, keep it on for about an hour or two hours.”
After those two hours are up, Desai advises brushing — not washing — the dried henna off your face. “Go to sleep [and] the next morning you can wash your face.”
When in doubt, visit a professional or do more research
If some of these risks and side-effects sound a little scary, that’s because they are. After all, as Gohara says: “No one wants their cute freckles to be on a background of red rashy skin.”
If you’ve taken all of these henna freckle precautions and are still hesitant, Palm recommends a no-brainer solution. “Consider trying it out with a professional that does henna tattoos so that pre- and post-treatment suggestions are spelled out for you and the first application is handled by someone experienced with this form of temporary tattooing.”
That said, you might not feel safe visiting a professional in-person right now due to the coronavirus pandemic. Luckily, you can learn more at a distance from henna artists like Desai, who’ve spoken openly about the risks of at-home henna freckles on their Instagram stories and other platforms. If you know a henna artist that you trust, there’s no harm in reaching out to them for first-hand advice, either.
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