Temporarily Tattooed

February 1, 2013 | By Waikiki Magazine Team

By Maria K. Regan

Whether you’re celebrating life, love or the pursuit of happiness, henna body art is a fun way to express your joie de vivre.


Waikiki’s tropical vibe practically demands shorts, skirts and tank tops— great ways to stay cool and look local.

If you feel all that sun-kissed skin crying out for embellishment, a henna tattoo— needle-free and short-term—is a fun way to express your creative side.

About 1,500 years ago, people in North Africa and the Middle East began using henna leaves to make a skin dye for body art. The practice then spread to South Asia, where it became an important part of Hindu weddings, symbolizing prosperity, fertility, happiness, fortune, seduction and beauty.

Today, in addition to Hindu weddings, henna tattoos offer a taste of the exotic at corporate events, Hollywood screening parties, bat mitzvahs and fundraisers. Chic designs have been spotted on a wide range of celebrities, from Madonna and Katy Perry to Camilla Parker Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall.

Should you decide to try a henna tattoo, the first steps are to select the design you want and decide where you want it. Henna artists typically have books of designs you can choose from, or you can bring your own.

“Everything is hand-drawn,” says Panama Greer, who has been giving henna tattoos at A Rainbow Studio in Waikiki’s International Market Place for more than 10 years. “Customers can come in with a design on their cell phone or a piece of paper. As long as it’s not copyrighted material, we’ll recreate it for them.”

Greer says that Hawaiian, Polynesian and Native American designs are all popular, as are floral and infinity patterns. Though large, complex designs can take hours, most henna tattoos take only five to 10 minutes and cost $10 to $15.

The artist paints the design on the selected area of the skin using an applicator bottle. The henna feels at first like wet mud, then dries in about 30 minutes. “At that time,” explains Greer, “you would apply lemon juice that we give you to help set the dye. You’d continue to apply lemon juice every 30 minutes for two hours.”

He recommends waiting another four hours before swimming or wearing clothes on top of the tattoo, and advises clients to avoid touching or rubbing the design—it’s best to let the henna mud fall off in its own time. Because the setting process takes several hours, plan ahead: Dress so that clothing and shoes won’t rub against the place you plan to put your tattoo, and don’t come in the morning before heading to the beach.

Though we think of tattoos as being black, henna tattoos are always a rich, reddish brown. Anything advertised as “black henna” is dangerous and should be avoided. It’s usually tinted with hair dye, which is toxic to the skin and can cause scarring.

How long will your henna tattoo last? “Nothing can take a henna tattoo off,” explains Greer. “As your skin naturally sheds, the tattoo is removed. Everyone’s skin is different. Sometimes tattoos last ten days; sometimes two weeks.”

To get a henna tattoo while you’re in Waikiki, visit Panama Greer and his wife Yumiko at A Rainbow Studio (International Market Place, located at the back behind the second waterfall. 808-221-5405 or www.arainbowstudio.com)

For individual appointments and private parties, henna artist Valorie Eubank of Moonlight Mehndi will come to Waikiki hotels. (808-683-8913 or www.moonlightmehndi.com)