Tried & Tested: Hippy cheek

Forget no pain, no gain. Ethnic body art can be used to shock or impress in exactly the same way as permanent tattoos, but without the expense or longterm drawbacks. First-time skin artists may feel daunted by the plethora of products available, and the most expensive kits aren't always the best. To make your choice easier, our panel of testers - Anna MacLellan, Stephanie Rich, Christine Junge, Cathy Barbosa, Emma Bartlett and Monica Roy - have done most of the dirty work for you

.. BOOTS 17 TATTOO KIT

pounds 7, Boots: 0845 0708090

The silver, pencil-style tin impressed most users. It contains stencils, a brush and coloured paints, but there were some complaints about tattoos that wouldn't stick to the skin. A youth-oriented package and good value for a silly girls' night in

Stephanie: "The whole thing looked very teenage. Pretty, girlie designs. Nothing unusual."

Cathy: "Impressive packaging doesn't make up for the shoddy tattoos - they rip and tear and won't stick on your skin. The paints are ace."

Christine: "Had no problems with these; I did a nice tiger and painted it in orange. People at work thought it was a real tattoo!"

.. JOSHIV BLUE HEAVEN BODY PAINTS

pounds 5.99, Selfridges: 0171 629 1234

A collection of miniature paint pots for advanced body painters. No instructions or visible brush, but an inspection reveals tiny sticks attached to the inside of each lid, best used for colouring-in stencils. No hint as to how long the colours last

Stephanie: "The colours are fantastic, but you have to be fairly dexterous to use the paint `sticks'. Practice makes perfect."

Anna: "Very messy, and though the colours were beautiful they washed off easily and I was hard pushed to find one that didn't clash with my rather anaemic Scottish skin."

Cathy: "Blue Heaven paints have no instructions, no brush, and no designs - they're too minimal to tackle."

..... L'OREAL IDENTITE Black & white Mehendi kit pounds 8.99 Celtic 3 Tattoos pounds 2.99

Debenhams: 0171 408 4444

Surprise winner of the survey. Users found tattoo application quick and effective, with very durable results. They look a little rubbery at the edges, but are utterly authentic at a distance. The strong, thick Mehendi pen also inspired creativity

Stephanie: "The Celtic tattoos are great; they go on in seconds, and last brilliantly. They're obviously not real, but attractive and great value."

Christine: "The Celtic `armband' could have been longer. The Mehendi painting kit was fun; they give you some ideas for freehand drawings."

Emma: "L'Oreal's transfers were my favourite. They take seconds to apply and are a very dark colour. They lasted a fortnight."

. BODY SHOP HENNA TATTOO KIT

pounds 9.95, The Body Shop: 01903 731500

A primitive henna kit that requires users to mix the henna powder with water to the desired consistency, and then wait 24 hours while it develops. The smell and complicated preparations made this kit a money-waster for most Anna: "Preparing the henna was complicated and messy. The redeeming feature was the fantastic stencils, which are foolproof and reusable."

Christine: "A sad effort. It smells horrible and the stencils don't stick. I gave up in the end."

Stephanie: "The thought of mixing up this henna paste 24 hours in advance is ridiculous. Getting it to the correct consistency was nigh on impossible. It lasts well for the price, though."

.... TEMPTU BODY VOGUE DELUXE KIT

pounds 24 for kit, pounds 6.50 for tattoo transfers alone Liberty: 0171 734 1234

Temptu supplies fake tattoos to the Hollywood film industry. The kit contains varied transfers, shimmer paints, transfer solution and touch- up swabs. Transfers were found easy to apply, if apt to rub off easily. You can buy transfers separately

Emma: "I felt inspired to paint myself up all over like a tribal warrior. Great transfers;

simple to apply and the result was good."

Monica: "Tattoos disappointing at first as they didn't transfer fully. After adding some shimmer paint, though, they looked brilliant. Lasted days."

Anna: "I loved this stuff, but I think I was hopelessly influenced by all their hype about providing tattoos for Hollywood movies."

... JOSHIV HENNA STENCIL KIT

pounds 2.50, Selfridges: 0171 629 1234

Traditional henna tattoo kit, with a tube of ready-mixed paste (all natural ingredients) and symbolic oriental stencils The four-hour wait for the paste to dry was off-putting, and few wanted to use it freehand by squeezing the tube like a piping bag

Stephanie: "The time constraint was daunting. But the stencil designs seem authentic - ethnic, pretty on the skin and unisex."

Emma: "Henna body art is the most hardy; it just fades, instead of chipping or splitting, so it never looks ugly. I liked the Madonna-style tattoos."

Anna: "The best thing is that the paste comes ready-mixed, but the stencils aren't good quality. The colour takes too long to develop."

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