Real henna is NOT black – Never has been and never will be

The popularity of black tattoos and the specialist skills required to apply traditional henna body art (also known as mehndi) have led to many body artists around the world to use alternatives to natural henna – i.e. to gain a darker colour than the traditional mahogany colour and to enable a more straightforward application.

Very sadly the alternative of choice is black hair dye, usually containing a chemical compound called p-Phenylene diamine (or PPD, 4-Aminoaniline; 1,4-Benzenediamine; p-Diaminobenzene; 1,4-Diaminobenzene; 1,4-Phenylene diamine) which causes severe irritation to the pharynx, larynx; bronchial asthma and very severe sensitization dermatitis (skin damage). The reactions that you can get are delayed. This means that you do not react to PPD immediately, so you could be sensitive to PPD but not know until the damage has been done.

Although used in hair dyes, p-phenylene diamine should not come into contact with skin or eyes and it should not be inhaled. Some medical papers presented in scientific journals have linked the regular use of such dyes with cancers.

The contact sensitization reactions are painful, intensely irritating and leave scars, the scars can become infected and the scars may last a very long time. Here are some examples:

black1 black2

Questions and answers

  1. I had something called black henna and got a reaction like that…what should I do?

A: It is highly likely that you are now sensitised to PPD, and it is very important that you avoid products containing PPD in the future. Please don’t get another black henna tattoo because PPD reactions get worse each time.

  1. I have dyed my hair with dye containing PPD and not had a reaction, should I worry, can I get a ‘black henna tattoo’?

A: Yes you should worry, and definitely don’t get anything called black henna applied to your skin. Your hair dye usually very has limited contact with your skin so you might not have previously reached the threshold amount of irritant required to cause the severe reactions shown above. Change to a non PPD hair dye or look out for the natural herbal dyes henna and indigo that can give you a range of colours from red to black with no nasty ingredients.

  1. I had a reaction, but it was several days later – why is that?

PPD reactions are delayed because of how the chemical interacts with the immune system. For example, think about when you get stung by a nettle, the bumps and severe itchiness don’t happen immediately, it takes a little while. Poison Ivy, nickle, colbalt and latex also cause delayed reactions similar to PPD as they happen many hours or days after the exposure.

  1. I have just realised that I have had PPD containing body art, is there anything I can do?

A: The best advice is to find out the exact ingredients from the person who applied the body art, and then take the list of ingredients to your Doctor for advice. Doctors are aware of, and understand allergic reactions to hair dye, but are not aware that people use black hair dye on skin. To help your doctor understand tell them that someone painted black hair dye on your skin, and give them the ingredients list. First Aid: wash the area gently with plenty of running water and try to gently remove as much of the product as possible. However this is difficult as it does stain very quickly. Don’t be harsh to your skin as this will make any reaction more painful.

  1. Will I definitely have a reaction?

A: No not definitely, but around 30% of people do have reactions.

  1. The artist said is wasn’t black henna, but the design is black?

A: Some artists are unprofessional, don’t know what their ingredients are or just lie in order to get your business. If the colour of the stain on the skin was black or dark brown straight away, you can be sure it was not a natural dye, and likely to be a manufactured dye possibly containing PPD. Follow the advice in question 4.

  1. The artist said it was natural and black, how can that be?

A: There are three possibilities: Jagua, Indigo or Oak galls. Jagua is a shiny dark blue gel type product which disappears after application, then the design appears as a blue black the following day. Indigo is a blue paint or green paste which stains skin blue black. Oak galls used to be used as ink and can give a silvery dark grey colour on skin. Jagua and Oak galls can cause allergic reactions (not as bad as PPD) as can indigo, on rare occasions.

  1. I am really worried now and upset, I have only just had this done and now found out it was PPD

A: You are right to be worried and upset, PPD reactions are horrible, can be life threatening and they can cause problems for the rest of your life. Please remember that if you have a reaction, the best course of action is to go to your doctor with the ingredient list, tell them that someone painted black hair dye on your skin, and to then follow the treatment plan accordingly. You are likely to be prescribed tablets to reduce the inflammation, cream to relieve topical itchiness and sometimes injections or antibiotics. These injuries are getting more common and there is greater awareness of how best to treat individuals who have been injured by black henna. Don’t panic, you may not react this time. Don’t get black henna again.

For more advice, information or support, please contact Hennacat (Catharine Hinton) or Catharine Hennacat Hinton on facebook. Also contact Catharine for 100% pure, organic beautiful natural henna for body art and hair.

Here is a PDF version of this information for you to share: Real henna is NOT black

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