Queen's University

Henna crowns of beauty and life

A unique service offered by Frances Darwin, Artsci'07, is creating beautiful one-of-a-kind body artworks for cancer patients and others who experience radical hair loss.

"We want to empower you. We want to help you feel beautiful, and give you the confidence to be a walking work of art.”

This is the mission statement for a company called Henna Heals, a team of professional henna artists founded by Toronto-based photographer Frances ­Darwin, Artsci’07. However, this initiative is unique for the emotional benefits it provides.

Frances DarwinFrances Darwin, the founder of Henna Heals

When cancer patients lose their hair due to chemotherapy, the artists of Henna Heals apply beautiful designs, “henna crowns,” to their smooth pates. The naturally sourced henna dye drawings are ­intricate, one-of-a-kind, completely safe, and temporary. The artworks are so awe-inspiring that they draw admiring looks and spark in-depth conversations.

Frances’ company also creates henna crowns for people who are suffering from alopecia and for high school students and teachers who have shaved their heads to benefit Cuts for Cancer.

Raised in Southeast Asia, Frances learned about henna as girl, but she only discovered henna crowns when she was living in San Francisco, working as a ­maternity photographer. She and the world-renowned henna artist Darcy ­Vasudev talked about providing henna ­designs for pregnant women’s bellies.

The concept for Henna Heals was developed when Vasudev told Frances about breast cancer patient Tara Schubert, who was sporting a henna crown. When Frances went to photograph her, Tara commented, “I’ve never felt this beautiful, even before I had cancer.”

The henna crown is a recent innovation, so Frances could only find three artists in all of Canada who had done one before she contacted them

As Frances recently told an interviewer for Samaritan magazine, “I couldn’t believe it. My taking Tara’s photograph made her feel more desirable. That, coupled with the power of her henna crown, made her feel unstoppable.”

Sadly, Schubert has died. However, thanks to her story, Henna Heals was born in early 2011. Since then, it has received widespread media attention. “I scrolled down the main page of the UK’s Daily Mail [May 25, 2012], and there was an article on Henna Heals, in between articles on Kim Kardashian and P. Diddy!” says Frances. “I thought, ‘Wow, this idea is really spreading! So many people are going to learn about henna crowns now, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted.’”

The henna crown is a recent innovation, so Frances could only find three artists in all of Canada who had done one before she contacted them. “Recently, though, people have been contacting me from around the world, saying, ‘I just thought of doing this, and here you are doing it!’ It’s a wonderful shift in consciousness.”

Henna Heals is currently a for-profit social purpose business, but Frances is seeking legal counsel about turning it into a non-profit organization.

“I don’t feel comfortable charging a cancer patient for this, but I was initially told that a for-profit social business was the way to go, because funding for non-profits and charities is drying up quickly in our Canadian economy.

“However, now that we’re trying to work with hospitals that are non-profits, it’s become clear that we may also have to become a non-profit company.”

 Breast cancer patient Tara Schubert  “I’ve never felt this beautiful, even before I had cancer,” breast cancer patient Tara Schubert said of her henna crown.

In the meantime, Frances has started the Henna Helps Fund as a way to subsidize the $100 cost of a henna crown for any patient who wants one, but can’t afford it.

She hopes to make henna crowns available in hospitals, convenient places for patients who are undergoing chemo. She’s also hoping to partner with more schools that participate in Cuts for Cancer, and to help out at local special events.

Henna Heals continues to make connections with trusted henna artists around the world. Says Frances, “If someone outside of Toronto contacts me and wants a henna crown, we now have 80 non-affiliated artists who have been recommended to me through the close-knit professional henna artist community, so we can recommend an artist to them.”

Frances was thrilled when that Samaritan article received 10,000 on-line hits, but she’s not done promoting the concept of henna crowns just yet. She’s using her filmmaking skills to capture the henna crown application process for patients willing to share their stories, and some of the videos may be viewed on the Henna Heals Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/hennaheals.

You can visit Henna Heals online at http://hennaheals.ca and follow on Twitter at Frances @hennaheals.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2012 Issue #3Queen's Alumni Review
2012 Issue #3
Copyright © Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000
Last updated at 3:38 pm EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
iTunes is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.