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Mehndi Missives

Henna won't hurt you—it's "black henna" that's the problem

I'm getting so annoyed.

Now that summer is here (in the Northern Hemisphere) and folks are headed on vacation, I'm seeing an uptick in the number of news stories about the possible "dangers of henna."

The problem is that there is a VERY dangerous temporary body art product out there called "black henna" or "emergency mehndi" or "emergency henna," which is adulterated with a chemical called PPD: para-phenylenediamine. IT'S NOT REAL HENNA.

PPD is used in hair dye and will dye your skin true black. It can also cause severe allergic reactions such as itching, blistering, swelling and even permanent scarring and pigment loss. However, it's possible to use it on the skin and have no issues at all, which is why some body art vendors are genuinely unaware that PPD is so dangerous. 

Unfortunately, the press is either uninformed or doing a sloppy job of research. Headlines such as this one from the UK Daily Mail give the impression that actual henna—which is a natural dye from the henna plant—is the problem:


Natural, pure henna—which, by the way, NEVER stains the skin true black—is perhaps the oldest cosmetic known to mankind and is not only extremely safe, it's actually beneficial to the skin, hair and fingernails with its antimicrobial, conditioning, cooling and UV-protective properties. 

In my 15 years of working with henna, I have never had a problem with a client experiencing a severe reaction from henna. Perhaps two people out of hundreds had a bit of mild itching that was immediately relieved by simply washing off the paste. 

However, I've had several clients tell me about getting a "henna" tattoo at the beach or overseas and experiencing itching, swelling and blisters. When I ask them what the stain looked like, invariably they say, "It was black." Yep. They got PPD, not real henna.

This page by Catherine Cartwright-Jones has a plethora of information about PPD and its dangers. However, here are a few pointers for avoiding "black henna":

  • If the artist tells you the "henna" will leave a true black stain that will last several days or a few weeks, RUN. The stuff probably contains PPD.
  • If the artist's "henna" is a black liquid, THIS IS NOT REAL HENNA. Natural henna paste is dark olive green or brown and is a paste, not a liquid. 
  • If the artist's product is a liquid of any color, it isn't real henna.
  • If the product is a paste but it's black like charcoal, it probably contains PPD. (Note that dried/drying paste may appear black but not charcoal-black like a PPD product.)
  • If the product is called "emergency henna" or "emergency mehndi," DO NOT USE IT. Natural henna takes at least 12 to 72 hours to fully develop its color. Anything that gives you an instant dark color has artificial ingredients.
  • If the artist cannot tell you what is in the product or give you a list of ingredients, move on! Reputable artists know exactly what's in their henna paste and many of them (myself included) handcraft their own paste.
  • If the artist is not aware of PPD and its dangers, GET AWAY! 

And, unfortunately, this goes double if you are overseas, even if you are in a country that has a henna tradition such as Egypt or Pakistan. The worst stories I am seeing in the news are happening in foreign countries where product labeling laws are too lax. The problem of black henna has decreased here in the United States because of public awareness campaigns, but still, too many people don't understand henna enough to stay away from the fake stuff.

Y'all stay safe out there!!



1 Comment to Henna won't hurt you—it's "black henna" that's the problem:

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mehandi designs for hands on Thursday, September 03, 2015 4:19 AM
very nice mehandi designs.....
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