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":
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!!