Essential Oils for Dark Henna Stains

Essential Oils for Dark Henna Stains

Student Article by Julia Lawrence
All articles written by students are the opinions, research and voice of the student and not Heart of Herbs Herbal School. We encourage our students to explore and grow in their profession.

First of all, essential oils (EOs) are not toys. They are not just scents. They are powerful healers in and of themselves. Many, many essential oils available to purchase can be unsafe if used incorrectly.  You must educate yourself.

We refer to the essential oils used in Henna BodyArt Therapy as “terps” because it is short for monoterpenes- chemical constituents that occur naturally in some essential oils. Monoterpenes help the henna powder release a significantly larger amount of dye. Other chemical components in EOs do not seem to have this effect. If your essential oil does not contain a high amount of monoterpenes then it will do nothing to help the henna stain.

It is important to store EOs in airtight bottles that are composed of dark glass and away from heat, and light to keep the oil from oxidizing. Gas Chromatograph testing indicates that essential oils undergo dramatic changes in chemical composition when exposed to light, heat and air. Do not purchase EOs that are sold in plastic or light colored glass bottles or on shelves where exposed to sunlight.

Doing so will give you lesser quality EOs to work with and may harm your client in that sometimes the changes happening to EOs when exposed to light, air or heat can cause them to become unsafe.



This does not always happen, but it can. Plastic allows air to pass through, so it is not an airtight container. Obviously storing EOs in sunlight in a bad idea as it exposes the containers to both heat and light.

Some EOs should not be applied to pregnant or lactating women. Various EOs should not be applied to people who are prone to seizures. Others affect blood pressure, or interact badly with medications and so on. If you need that information, do some reasearch.

Because the world of essential oils is so vast, with hundreds of manufacturers and distributors it can feel almost impossible to determine what plant an EO really came from. There are differences, sometimes vital differences in the chemical profile. I have included the botanical names to help you make wise choices. Be aware however, that many companies have grown specific plants for essential oils that are a cross between a couple of plants or all together a different cultivar. Their botanical names might vary from what I have listed. When in doubt, ask the company about their essential oil. You can even request a copy of their gas chromatograph testing- if they have one.

So if you’re after a henna paste that stains deeper and darker, use an essential oil that is high in monoterpenes. If your goal with adding EOs to your henna paste has more to do with what the particular EO will do for the client in a healing manner, and then make your choices based on your education in EOs.

The henna paste won’t be ruined by EOs that are not high in monoterpenes, they just won’t help release as much dye molecule. There is absolutely no reason you could not use an EO that is high in monoterpene AND other EOs for other reasons in the same henna paste. Make sure that you do not create an unsafe blend or a blend that has too much EO in it i.e. too potent. If all this seems to be too much bother don’t worry, a non terped paste will stain very well.

This list does NOT include all monoterpenes. I am going to concentrate on which oils are high in monoterpenes and are typically considered safe for dermal application.

Don’t forget that almost all constituents in any EO can have a therapeutic effect. Careful selection will create the perfect blend for client and/or henna paste.

*If you want/need a good reference on essential oils in particular, read anything and everything about EOs, especially those written by Robert Tisserand.

Non-toxic means that the constituent is regarded as safe in terms of acute toxicity for dermal application. Non irritant or mildly irritating means that the constituent is regarded as safe for dermal application. Non-sensitizing means the constituent is regarded as safe for dermal application and the client should not become sensitized to the chemical.  Non photo toxicity means that the constituent is regarded as not causing an excessive reaction to sunlight in dermal application.

Remember that these are the chemical constituents in essential oils. None of these constituents makes up 100% of any EO. There are vast amounts of constituents in EOs, some of which are still unknown.

Skin reactions are dependent on dose/concentration that comes into contact with the skin. If the skin is damaged, diseased or inflamed, larger amounts than normal will be absorbed. Keep this in mind as you create your henna paste. Also note that henna should not be applied over broken skin- EVER.

Monoterpenes generally considered safe for dermal use and that augment henna stains:

Camphene- non-toxic, non-irritant, non-sensitizing.

Careen- non-toxic, mildly irritant, non-sensitizing but EOs high in this constituent that are old or stored badly can become powerfully eczematous.

1,8-cineole Non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitizing.

Citronello – non-toxic, mildly irritant, non-sensitizing

Dipentene- non-toxic, mildly irritant, non-sensitizing.

Geraniol – Non-toxic, non-irritant, hypersensitivity in rare cases.

Limonene- non-toxic, mildly irritating, non-sensitizing.

Linalool- non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitizing.

Myrcene- non-toxic, mildly irritating, non-sensitizing.

Nerol- Non-toxic, mildly irritant, non-sensitizing.

Ocimene- non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitizing.

Para Cymene -Non-toxic, non-sensitizing, mild to moderate irritant.

Sabinene- non-toxic, mildly irritating, non-sensitizing.

Gamma Terpinene- non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitizing.

Terpinen-4-ol- non-toxic, mildly irritating, non-sensitizing.

Terpineol- non-toxic, mildly irritating, non-sensitizing.

Safe Essential Oil’s with high monoterpene levels

The top three chemical constituents of an EO are listed by name in descending order by percentages, though not necessarily will all three be a henna stain helper. Research appears to indicate that the levels (and type)  of chemical constituents in any EO can vary because of growing conditions, particular cultivars, plant age, stage of development, plant nutrition and packaging/storage of the EO. These constituents and corresponding percentages are guidelines only.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) can smell really bad. Terpinen-4-ol (37.7%), y-terpinene-(19.5%), and α-terpinene (9.1%). This EO can be a mild skin irritant. The Australian government regulates the level of terpineol in Tea Tree essential oil.

Cajeput- (Melaleuca Cajeputi ) 1,8-Cineole (65.0%), Alpha Terpineol (4.7%), Limonene (4.0%).

Ravensara- (???) Some sources on henna recommend Ravensara as a great terping EO. I would advise against using this oil if the label only states Ravensara. Research indicates that there is much confusion on the chemical composition and even the origin of Ravensara EO. For example: Some sources say that there are two species of Ravensara- Aromatica and Anisata. With the oil coming from Anisata being one that is a possible carcinogenic and hepatotoxic and that Aromatica is safe. However, there are also studies that show R. Aromatica is not a different species of Ravensara but an entirely different tree called Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora i.e Ho Leaf).

Ravensara Anisata is noted in Robert Tisserand’s book, Essential Oil Safety (1995), as high doses being possibly carcinogenic and hepatotoxic. The culprit here is the ester Estragole. Estragole makes up 88% of the EO Ravensara Anisata. He recommends avoiding this EO altogether.

Be careful and know exactly what you are purchasing and using. Best to avoid this EO in clients who are battling cancer or who have battled cancer in the past.

Ravintsara/Ho Leaf (Cinnamomum Camphora) 1,8-cineole (30.97%), sabinene, (17.23%) and alpha-terpineol (10.34%) . Avoid during pregnancy.

Lavender- (Lavandula Angustifolia/ Lavandula Officinalis) linalool (20.60%-35.99%), linalyl acetate (12.0%-45%), lavandulyl acetate (3.74%-10.48%).

Geranium – (Pelargonium Graveolens ) There are several types of “geranium” oil out there. There is a relatively new cultivar called Reunion that was gas chromatograph tested and its chemical constituents were shown to have different levels and constituents than the others. Not all constituents are monoterpenes. Avoid during pregnancy.

Egyptian, Bourbon, and Reunion geranium oils.

Egyptian- Citronellol 38.1% – 45.7%, 10-epi-y Eudesmol 12.5%- 16.7%, Geraniol 10.0% – 12.8%.

Bourbon- Citronellol 30.1%-34.8%, Geraniol 18.1% – 19.8%, Isomenthone 5.6% – 6.65%.

Reunion – Citronellol 19.4% – 21.7%, Geraniol 18.0% – 19.1%, 6,9-guaidiene 7.0% – 8.8%.

Cardamom – (Elettaria Cardamonum) α-Terpinylacetate 39.38%- 47.92%, 1,8-Cineole 17.59% – 27.34%, α-Terpineol 2.25 % – 7.37%.

Cypress (Cupressus Sempervirens) a-Pinene 39.0%- 60.55, 3-Carene 0.2% – 24%, Limonene 3.0% – 4.6%. Avoid during pregnancy.

Frankincense (Boswellia Carterii ) α-pinene 46.86%, α-thuyene 19.93%, β-pinene 12.09 %.

EOs with lower monoterpene levels that still work for henna stains.

Neroli (Citrus Aurantium)- geraniol (26.6%), a-terpineol (20.7%) and linalool (15.4%).

Scotch Pine – (Pinus Sylvestris)- – α-pinene 57.20%, δ-3-carene 8.63%, d-limonene 8.48%. Avoid during pregnancy.

Juniper Berry – (Juniperus Communis) A pinene 40%, Myrcene 12%, b pinene 7%

Some sources say not to use Juniper berry EO during pregnancy as it is an abortifacient. However, Robert Tisserand in Essential Oil Safety (1995) disputes this. Juniper berries are an abortifacient, but not the essential oil.

Rosemary – (Rosmarinus Officinalis -Lamiaceae) – Verbenone 21.76%, Camphor 14.6%, Bornyl acetate 12.8%. Avoid during pregnancy. Avoid in clients with high blood pressure or those prone to seizures.

Marjoram Sweet- (Origanum Majorana)- terpinen-4-ol 21.13%, cis-thuyanol 19.09%, γ-terpinene 12.97%. Avoid during pregnancy.

Marjoram Wild/ Oregano – (Origanum Vulgare Linn.) carvacrol 55.80%, Thymol 21.65%, g-terpinene 18.2%.

Ordained as a Priestess of the Old Gods in 1997, Julia is an artist: most recently two of her paintings hung in the national Nasty Women’s Art Exhibit. a dancer, a writer (BodyArt Therapy 2014), an LMT with her degree in applied science:massage, an  aromatherapist (working on certification), teacher, and activist.


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