- “Henna freckles” is a popular trend on TikTok where people use the dye to draw dots on their face.
- Some South Asian designers, for whom henna is a cultural symbol, say the trend is appropriative.
- They told Insider it allows white designers to disrespect and take advantage of South Asian culture.
Henna is a herbal dye that many cultures on several continents have used as a form of body art for millennia. But over the past two years, a seemingly new use of henna has exploded on TikTok, where people are using it to draw semi-permanent freckles onto their faces.
The trend follows other popular fads like henna tattoos and white henna. On TikTok, the hashtag #hennafreckles has 159 million views and the hashtag #henna has 6.6 billion views, with many top-liked videos showing designers, most of whom are white, using henna to paint specks of freckles on their faces.
Some South Asian creators of the app have spoken out against the trend, calling it an act of cultural appropriation. While various cultures in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa use henna, designers belonging to these cultures argue that the trend pushes white and Eurocentric beauty standards that overuse henna and ignore its cultural value.
More generally, some South Asian creators and experts told Insider that the trend reinforces a fabric of racism that has grown on social media, saying they feel ignored by apps that platform white creators who don’t recognize the content ideas or trends that people of color originally introduced.
Some designers say the trend is abusing henna, a product with strong cultural significance
In January, a 20-year-old Australian-Indian student, Jasmine Diviney, said she saw a TikTok videowhich has since been removed, ‘henna freckles’ gone bad, where the white designer warned her audience to do a patch test when trying out the trend because her freckles ended up showing too big and she couldn’t wipe them off.
Diviney posted a reply to the video and wrote a caption that read, “Indians all tell you not to use henna like this since day one but I guess you all want to learn the hard way.” She told Insider that in India, where she currently lives, it is “common knowledge” not to use henna on the face due to skin sensitivity.
The creator of the original TikTok did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Dermatologists warn that “henna freckles” can cause skin irritation and recommend using natural henna dyes instead of products containing chemicals and preservatives, according to beauty magazine Allure.
Diviney’s TikTok now has 970,000 views and sparked a debate in the comments, where some viewers accused her of trying to “claim” ownership of henna and stop others from using it.
“Indians aren’t just keepers for the sake of the keeper,” Diviney told Insider. “We sincerely try to help you by showing you how to use it appropriately.”
Diviney described henna freckles as “cultural appropriation,” which is when someone uses or adopts a practice from a different culture, often without showing the appropriate respect for that culture.
According to St. Thomas University in Canada, henna, known as mehndi in Hindi and Urdu, is traditionally applied to the hands and feet, normally at celebrations and weddings in South Asian communities. Middle Eastern and African cultures also use it to dye hair, nails, and fabrics.
Lakshmi Nair, an 18-year-old Canadian-born Indian, has also spoken out against henna freckles on TikTok. She told Insider that she believes that when people participate in trends that use henna “incorrectly,” it “discredits” the importance of her culture and how the product is typically used.
The trend also promotes Eurocentric beauty standards, the designers said
Ome Khan, a 30-year-old Pakistani-American who also henna freckles slammed on TikToktold Insider that when she was a child, other kids often made fun of her for wearing henna to school by calling her names like “poop hands” and “poop feet.”
She told Insider that white designers who “just want freckles” are the ones who mostly participate in the trend, and she said that seemed problematic to her because “I don’t know a lot of brown people who have freckles. freckles”.
Anyone can have freckles, but lighter-skinned people are more likely than darker-skinned people to have them. Khan told Insider she thinks the trend promotes “Eurocentric” beauty standards and prioritizes freckles over more typical South Asian features.
Lawyer and anti-racism activist Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary told Insider that it’s understandable that South Asian women feel the trend this way, but also said it’s important to note that some people of color, such as people from Latino communities, have talked about being intimidated for have freckles in childhood.
Experts say when white designers take advantage of beauty trends like this, they become even more harmful
Khan and Nair, who both said they were teased for wearing henna, said the trend implies that South Asian culture is only “cool” when white designers are into it, and they pointed out yoga and Chai as other examples of how their culture has been ‘whitewashed’ and reduced to ‘fads’ and ‘trends’.
Chaudhary told Insider that those comparisons were tied to a “colonial hangover.” She said the the idea that white people were intellectually and culturally superior to people of color – strengthened when India was a colony of the British Empire, before it gained independence in 1947 and established its constitution in 1950 – still persists today against marginalized communities.
A consequence of this is that skin whitening The products, which are widely believed to promote Eurocentric beauty ideals, are still popular in India.
“Growing up in India, I noticed that any product endorsed by a white face was always seen as more legitimate. So it makes sense that these trends are often started by white people, and why henna isn’t seen as” cool “when a brown person wears it,” Chaudhary said.
Sunaina Maira, a professor of Asian American Studies at UC Davis in California, told Insider that during cultures borrow each other all the timeespecially in fashion, it’s always important to ask who is profiting from these trends.
“I think we need to challenge this debate and take it further by talking about things like who’s making money from it and who’s being left out, because those are the things that hurt people,” he said. she stated.
Lekha Nettem, a 20-year-old South Asian TikToker who decided to try henna freckles despite the controversy surrounding the trend, told Insider that she believes that as long as people buy their henna from women of color, say in their local Indian market, they “keep its culture alive” and “stay more connected to it.” the root of culture practice.”
However, Davina Rajoopillai, a marketing and advertising expert who co-founded Badlands, a company focused on diversity in television and social media, said that while trends like this boost sales of products like henna, South Asian companies stand to gain credit and equity in addition to profits.
To achieve this, white creators should credit and promote these businesses for them to really benefit, Rajoopillai told Insider, adding that TikTok should also make an effort to promote South Asian businesses, similar to Instagram recently added new tags to help black businesses receive more credit on the app. TikTok did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Like Maira, Rajoopillai said these trends point to broader issues of inequality in the beauty industry, as South Asian women have had to “work hard to be represented”. When white designers go viral for trends around South Asian products, it’s reminiscent of the “slow progress that’s been made in recent years,” she said.
South Asian creators say speaking out they hope to find productive solutions to appropriation issues
Khan and Nair told Insider they didn’t want to “cancel” people or “tell people what to do with their lives,” but said they wanted people to become more “educated” about the story of South Asia by making an active effort to learn more about the region’s cultural practices.
Khan suggested that if TikTok creators still want to try the trend, she’d like to see them acknowledge and “tell the cultural story behind henna” while they do it.
For more stories like this, check out Insider’s digital literacy team coverage here.