Black Henna

I’m going to keep this short. “Black henna”, also sometimes referred to as “kali mehndi” is not henna at all, but a toxic chemical, p-paraphenylenediamine (PPD for short) mainly used as a hair dye. When used as a hair dye, colorists are instructed to wear gloves to avoid getting it on their skin, avoid touching it to the client’s scalp, and totally off limits for pregnant women. This alone should tell you something.

Do you think you are safe because you are getting a henna design from an “ethnic” or “traditional” artist? Think again. Many places in India (as well as the rest of South Asia), the Persian Gulf, and the African continent are using “black henna” and claiming it is traditional and natural. It’s not natural, it’s not traditional, and it’s not safe. When I was traveling in India, I met a cute 13 year old girl who was doing black henna at the beach. She only spoke a few words of English, but she knew the word “allergy”. In fact she had no knowledge whatsoever of how natural henna worked. When I did a design for her in natural henna, she washed the paste off after 20 minutes and wondered why the stain was orange. Don’t assume that “traditional” artists are educated just because henna is “part of their culture”. Just because someone is French doesn’t mean they know how to make a great baguette or how to prepare a bouillabaisse. Indians are not born knowing how to do henna – the knowledge must be acquired. In many parts of Africa, “black henna” is now the norm, but this doesn’t make it safe!

Additionally, “black henna” is also being offered in tourist destinations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, and other beach or “Spring Break” locations, and shockingly, even in the USA!

Always ask your artist what the ingredients in their henna paste consist of. Ingredients should all be recognizable – henna/mehndi leaf powder, water or lemon juice, essential oils (usually tea tree or lavender), and sugar. Terms to watch out for are “mehndi oil”, “black clove oil”, sodium picramate, metallic salts, PPD, or “henna stone”. Vague terms like “mehndi oil” often signify the addition of toxic solvents like benzene. If the mixture smells like ammonia or chemicals, this is another sign the artist could be using unsafe ingredients. Real henna needs to be left on the skin for several hours or more in order to give a great color, and the stain starts out orange and oxidizes to a reddish brown tone over 48 hours. Occasionally, on the palms and soles of the feet, henna can reach a nearly black color, but shining a light on it, you will see it is actually a very rich brown or red. Sometimes, repeated applications of the henna can also achieve a similar effect, but once again, the the stain is not instant and requires many hours to achieve.

Ok, so you think just this once isn’t going to hurt you? What if your bridal mehndi turned out looking like the image below? What if you then had a lifelong allergy to black dyes, including hair dye, printer ink, or even black socks or underwear?

This image was submitted to Derm Atlas by Hussain Mahdi, MD. It shows blisters on a girl aged 17.

Blisters from “black henna”
Here are some resources that I got my information from (in addition to extensive anecdotal evidence I have acquired from speaking to thousands of henna recipients over the last decade):
PubMed.gov
DermNetNZ.org
CMAJ
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17 thoughts on “Black Henna

  1. Pingback: Black Henna Warning | Just Henna

  2. Pingback: Dangers of using Black Henna « Henna & Makeup Artist Riffat

    • Kay, thanks for your comment. That is terrible! It’s not just something that happens to rowdy Spring Breakers, it’s happening all over the world. Also I think of how bad it must be for these artists to be exposed to these chemicals every day. 😦 Thanks again for sharing.

  3. Makes me wonder what’s being used by Mehndi Paradise in the advertisement at the bottom of this page to get that very black effect. Do you verify your advertisers’ ingredients?

    • Hi Carey! Thanks for your comment. Mehndi Paradise is my own website/company, as I don’t have any advertisers on my site besides myself. And it is possible to get a very dark stain using only natural ingredients. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote on the topic. http://mehndiparadise.com/2012/06/24/how-to-get-dark-henna-in-4-easy-steps/ and also, here is my recipe: http://hennalounge.com/resources/henna-recipe-for-body-art/ I use only the following ingredients: USDA certified Organic Rajasthani henna leaf powder, sugar, essential oil (cajeput, cardamom, tea tree, and lavender) and water. Thanks again for your question. It is a valid question, and another example of why the term “black henna” should not be used at all! Also, as I mentioned in my article, even very dark henna stains are not truly black. If you look at the image, you will see it’s really a very rich brown.

    • Oops, one more reply to your question, I think the image you are referring to is the one with the blue background? In that photo, the henna paste is still in place, so it appears extra dark. Once the paste is removed, the stain is orange, and then darkens to the reddish or deep brown colors over 24-48 hours. Thanks again for your interest.

  4. I travelled to Africa and my cousins made me apply omg never again i was pregnant at the time that was 8years ago i was scared pretty bad cause i had on my arms nd legs i got quiet sick so beware now the marks have gone but never again

  5. Also, keep in mind that there is no such thing as “black henna” and if you come across a product with this claim, leave it on the shelf. Indigo is what is used, in conjunction with Henna to dye hair a jet black blue color.

  6. Ok, so were can we get henna that is pure? Any companies or brands that are reputable? Since the FDA does not regulate henna, how can we be sure that the ingredients are pure?

  7. People should avoid putting black henna in their skin it can be really dangerous so going so natural henna is the best, but girls don’t go for those in the street who don’t prepare it in front of you! If you can bring a girl who does it (there are plenty), you can ask a hairdresser where you can find one and who will prepare it in front of you and of course you can ask her not to add the substance they add with it to make it last longer ( I don’t know its name) because some people can have an allergy .

  8. This ingredient, PPD, is also in ALL permanent brown hair dye! I am horrified that no one warns people about this. You think if you have used the same product many times, you don’t have an allergy, but your body can only tolerate so much. 40 hours after dying my gray roots brown, with a well known hair dye product, which I have done for years, I developed a terribly itchy rash around my face, near my hairline, and at the nape of the back of my neck. It was not in my scalp. I couldn’t sleep at night, and there was no relief. Nothing helped, not Hydrocortisone cream or anything. Scalpacin burned for a few seconds, which was more tolerable than the constant itching! I lived with it for two months, thinking it would gradually subside, before finally doing the skin test on my inner elbow, using the hair dye. 40 hours later, an itchy bump appeared! PPD is also linked to an “allergy” to Novocaine, Sulfa medicines like Bactrim, and I can no longer wear brown liquid eyeliner without it making a red burn line underneath, on my eyelid, that peels, so now I just use crayon type eyeliners, which still drives me crazy after about three hours, so ‘remove it as soon as I get home. It doesn’t actually burn the skin under it, but it’s aggravating. Now, every time I wash my hair I paint it with red and green food coloring, afterwards, and carry an umbrella if it looks like rain! I don’t go swimming anymore! I tried boiled, purple and orange, sugar free Kool-Aid, but it made my hair sticky, even without sugar. Grecian Formula stinks the whole time you wear it, and has LEAD in it! I wish they would tell people about this. We warn people about possible medication side effects, pesticides, and food additives, but no one tells people why blondes have more fun! I never thought Red Dye #2 would be better for me than brown hair dye. Of course, I could build up a sensitivity to that, too, in time, I suppose!

    • Hi Linda,
      Thank you for pointing out that brown PPD is also in use. What a horrible experience you have had. I can’t believe that the FDA thinks these ingredients are fine, yet gives me grief every time I try to import natural and Organic henna leaf powder! Also, I think another problem with the chemical hairdyes is that millions of women are washing those toxic ingredients down the drain – PPD, ammonia, and many other caustic chemicals, every MONTH! That all goes into our water supply and environment. It’s sickening, literally. By the way, you probably know you can color your hair with a combination of henna (lawsonia inermis) and indigo (indigo tinctoria) to achieve a natural looking brown that covers gray and does not irritate, plus of course it’s completely biodegradable and non-toxic when rinsed down the drain…

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