Still used today for body decoration and hair coloring, henna is a natural dye. It comes from the dried leaves of a shrub called Lawsonia inermis. Its leaves are green, but after drying and crushing, they form a deep orange-red powder. The powder is mixed with water to form a paste. Henna is a temporary dye and lasts on the skin or hair for several weeks before fading away.
Archaeologists report discovering traces of henna on the fingernails of mummified pharaohs. The henna not only decorated the nails of these members of royalty, but conditioned them as well. Henna, as well as being decorative, has medicinal properties. Physically, Egyptians felt henna improved the quality of hair and nails. Spiritually, they believed henna provided good fortune. This belief still holds true in many parts of the world -- for example, the henna ritual for brides of many cultures.
Both women and men also used henna to stain their lips a deep red. Cosmetics companies offer henna-based lip stains even today, touting the long-lasting effects of the natural dye.