Laali is a Henna plant-based dye used as a paste on the skin to create temporary tattoos. Most recently it had been used in the Moslem dominated regions in Africa and seen as part of their tradition and culture. It is applied as body art and hair dye and is administered by local women who make substantial earnings from it especially during festivals and ceremonies.
Dried henna leaves will only stain the skin if they are mashed into a paste. The dying agents known as lawsone will gradually migrate from the henna paste into the outer layer of the skin and bind to the proteins in the skin, creating a fast stain. It is commonly traded as a powder which is locally known as laali and is made by drying, milling and sifting the henna leaves. The dry powder is mixed with one of a number of liquids, including water, lemon juice, or strong tea, and other ingredients, depending on the tradition. The henna mix must rest for 1 to 48 hours before use, to release lawsone from the leaf matter.
The paste can be applied with many traditional and innovative tools, starting with a basic stick or twig. Syringes, plastic cones, Jacquard bottles are all common tools. A light stain may be achieved within minutes, but the longer the paste is left on the skin, the darker and longer lasting the stain will be, so it needs to be left on as long as possible. To prevent it from drying or falling off the skin, the paste is often sealed down by dabbing a sugar/lemon mix over the dried paste, or simply adding some form of sugar to the paste. Overtime the dry paste is simply brushed or scraped away. Henna stains are orange when the paste is first removed, but darkens over the following 3 days to a deep reddish brown. Soles and palms have the thickest layer of skin and so take up the most lawsone, and take it to the greatest depth, so that hands and feet will have the darkest and most long-lasting stains. While chlorinated water and soaps may spoil the darkening process; alkaline products may hasten the darkening process. After the stain reaches its peak color, it holds for a few days, then gradually wears off by way of exfoliation.
The henna leave is a plant. The leaf had been used to make medicine. Historically, henna has been used for severe diarrhea caused by a parasite (amoebic dysentery), cancer, enlarged spleen, headache, jaundice, and skin conditions. These days, people take henna for stomach and intestinal ulcers and sometimes applied directly to the affected area for dandruff, eczema, scabies, fungal infections, and wounds. In manufacturing, henna is also used in cosmetics, hair dyes, and hair care products; and as a dye for nails, hands, and clothing.
Laali, also better known as Henna outside of Nigeria, has been used to adorn young women’s bodies as part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean like in the context of marriage and fertility celebrations, which has references to women marking themselves with henna in preparation to meet their husbands and celebrating events. Excavated wall paintings dated 1680BC show women with markings consistent with henna on their nails, palms and soles, also any statuettes of young women dating between 1500 and 500BC along the Mediterranean coastline have raised hands with markings consistent with henna. This early connection between young, fertile women and henna seems to be the origin of the Night of the Henna, which is now celebrated worldwide by Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians, among others, all celebrated marriages and weddings by adorning the bride, and often the groom, with henna.