'Black henna.' It kills.
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'Black henna.' It kills.

It's the sort of news article that gives henna artists nightmares:


As I have said until I'm blue in the face, natural henna is fine but so-called "black henna" is poison!!

And now, it's apparently killed a woman. Here's what happened:

Ms. McCabe got a "black henna" tattoo while on vacation in Dubai in 2007. The "tattoo" didn't kill her right then. However, the chemical that is put into "black henna" to stain the skin black—PPD—got into her system and made her more sensitive to the chemical itself. 

PPD, which stands for para-phenylenediamine, is a strong sensitizer. In other words, the more you expose yourself to the chemical, the more likely you are to develop reactions to it. 

(And PPD is not just in black hair dye ... it's used in other colors as well!)

Although PPD is approved for use in hair dye, it was never intended to be applied directly to skin, especially in huge amounts and for long periods of time. Even if you use hair dye products with PPD according to package directions, you still can have a bad reaction to this chemical. My husband, in fact, used to use a product designed to be brushed onto the mustache and beard but had to stop using it because it made him itch so bad. He became sensitized to the PPD.

So, back to the news story.

A year ago, Ms. McCabe used L'Oreal hair coloring and suffered a severe allergic reaction that finally resulted in her death. This is an enormous tragedy that should make us all very, very aware of what we put on our bodies.

The last several stories I have read about severe problems with "black henna" have all been about people traveling abroad and getting tattooed in countries such as the UAE and Egypt. However, that doesn't mean that black henna isn't lurking at your local shopping mall or beachside resort. 

Before anyone anywhere puts a product they call "henna" on your skin, ask them these questions:


  • Will this stain my skin black? If the artist says "yes," RUN. Absolutely nothing natural can stain your skin black. Even jagua is not true black, and the color doesn't show up within an hour like it does with PPD.
  • How long will it take for the stain to show up? The artist should tell you that your henna stain will be orange at first and then become red/brown over a day or two. Or, in the case of jagua, that the design will be gray and then develop to blue-black. 
  • Can you tell me what is in this product? If the artist cannot tell you, it's a warning sign. The paste may be okay or it might not. I really, really, REALLY caution everyone against using paste made by a factory rather than by a trained artist. Even if the product itself is generally safe, YOU need to know the ingredients in case you have an allergy to one of them.

Folks, be safe out there. Too many people don't understand how henna works and want black designs because they look like traditional ink tattoos. People who use "black henna" are at best ignorant and at worst greedy. 



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