Whole, unbroken henna leaves will not stain the skin. Henna will not stain skin until the lawsone molecules are made available (released) from the henna leaf. Fresh henna leaves will stain the skin if they are smashed with a mildly acidic liquid (lemon juice). The lawsone will gradually migrate from the henna paste into the outer layer of the skin and bind to the proteins in it, creating a fast stain.

Since it is difficult to form intricate patterns from coarse crushed leaves, henna is commonly traded as a powder made by drying, milling and sifting the leaves. Artists get it in the powder form.