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Henna Tattoo Safety
Black Henna and Chemical Laced Henna (Benzene, Kerosene, Gasoline)

Henna is NOT black.  So-called "black henna" is poison.  Real, natural, SAFE henna will always leave a stain in the brown/red family.  It will start off orange and darken up over a couple of days to be a brown or brown/red.

Fresh wet henna paste is a green, khaki, or brown color, not black.I know, I know...most pictures that you see of henna are with the paste on the skin and it looks black.  Actually, the henna paste is a green or brown when it's wet, but as it dries, it starts to look black (especially in pictures).  Most pictures of henna are taken right after the henna paste is applied while the paste is still on the skin. 

The stain that safe henna leaves is NEVER black.  It's possible to get very dark nearly black stains on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, but no where else on the body can you achieve nearly-black henna stains. 
Even in these areas, you will see a red undertone to the henna.

Myth:  I've had black henna in the past with no reaction so it's safe for me to continue to get black henna.
Truth:  No, it is NOT safe!  In fact, the more you come in contact with the chemical PPD, the more likely you are to have a reaction and the more likely it is to be severe.

Consider that benzene and PPD do not leave your body.  They build up in the body over time creating the potential for very severe internal issues in the liver and blood.  Benzene is a known carcinogen (cancer causing and cancer spreading agent).  The high rates of leukemia in Emirati women that use adulterated henna is what prompted the EAU to ban PPD and benzene to be added to henna.


Myth: If the henna is brown or red it is automatically safe.
Truth: Natural brown henna is safe, however there are still people that add benzene, kerosene, gasoline, and/or brown hair dye to get darker color quicker.  Unscrupulous artists are getting smarter, now that the dangers of "black henna" are known to more people. 

This is why it's important to be absolutely sure, your artist is using all natural henna.  Stick with a professional artist that mixes their own henna and has a good reputation.  Look for tip-offs such as only needing to leave the henna on for a short period of time, really long lasting henna, full color immediately after paste removal, or an artist being vague about the ingredients in their henna.  If an artist doesn't know what is in their henna or will not tell you what's in their henna paste, do NOT get henna from them.  Henna mixes are not a secret.

Natural henna stains will always start off orange and darken over a couple of days to a brown or brow/red colored stain.

Light scarring from benzene laced henna.Light Scarring from Henna Mixed with Chemicals
These are pictures of a customer who was exposed to henna mixed with benzene, kerosene, or gasoline while at a tourist spot in Georgia.  This henna tattoo was done TEN MONTHS before these pictures were taken. 

She said the henna had a painful burning sensation while it was on the skin.  It left a nice deep brown color though it was only left on for less than an hour.

Henna should not burn.  It may feel a little itchy on the skin as it dries
(the henna shrinks as it dries), and it may make your skin feel cold,
but it will NOT burn.

Light scarring from benzene laced hennaHenna should have a natural scent and you will likely smell the essential oils mixed in the henna.

~ It should NOT smell like chemicals.
~ It should NOT burn.
~ Any artist worth getting henna from, WILL be able to tell you the ingredients in their henna paste.

      Be Smart!  Be Safe!

There aren't as may warnings or pictures of damage from henna with additives like benzene, kerosene, and gasoline as there are for black henna.  The real danger with these additives is that they are carcinogens (cancer causing and cancer spreading agents), and they build up in your blood stream and liver.  They don't just go away when your henna tattoo goes away.

The fact that they can leave a color similar to natural henna is tricky.  Look for tip-offs such as only needing to leave the henna on for a short period of time, really long lasting henna, full color immediately after paste removal (henna will always start off orange and take a day or 2 to darken to full color), or an artist being vague about the ingredients in their henna.  If an artist doesn't know what is in their henna or will not tell you what's in their henna paste, do NOT get henna from them.  Henna mixes are not a secret.

Myth:  Henna done by an ethnic person or in a country
            that is known for henna is safe.

Truth:  Adulterated henna is found in every country including countries known for henna such as India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, and Dubai. In fact, many of these countries are recognizing the severe dangers of "black henna" and adulterated henna. Some are enacting serious laws to prevent it's use. It can still be found ANYWHERE, so it's up to you to protect yourself from adulterated "henna".

Just because someone comes from a cultural background that includes henna, does not mean they are educated about henna or the dangers of adulterated henna, anymore than someone from California knows how to surf or someone from New York can make a great pizza.

Check the articles below to see what others have to say about "black henna".

More Henna Safety Info From Our Henna Help Site...

The color of natural henna varies and can be a deep burgundy brown, coffee brown, rich maroonish, or any shade of orange or brown. The color of your actual henna tattoo will depend on a number of factors including, how fresh the henna is, how the henna is mixed, how the skin was prepared before applying the henna, how long the moist henna was in contact with the skin, what part of the body was hennaed, and how the dried henna was removed.

So called "black henna" tattoos. Henna is NEVER black.Natural henna is safe. I've been doing henna since 1999 and I've never encountered an allergy to natural henna. It's important that you only use natural henna and you know what other ingredients are mixed with the henna.

Henna needs to stay on a good while (much longer than an hour) for a deep long lasting stain. The length the stain will stay depends on your body chemistry, how long the henna is left on, if a sealant was used, your body temperature, and how well the henna tattoo is cared for. A typical natural henna tattoo will last 5 days to 3 weeks.

Any "henna" that leaves a deep black stain that lasts for more than a couple of days, contains dangerous chemicals and may not contain henna at all.

"Black henna" containing chemicals IS dangerous.
if you’ve had a black henna tattoo in the past.

The picture below is from a MSNBC article on black henna.  Having never used unsafe henna, I have no pictures of my own to show you.  Do a Google Images search for Black Henna Scars if you'd like to see more of what can happen to you.

Blisters from "black henna" reaction. Picture from msnbc.Why? So-called black henna contains a toxin called para-phenylenediamine or PPD (coal tar) and benzene (yes, the same benzene that is found in gasoline and paint solvents) which seep into your bloodstream. Imagine mixing gasoline, black dye, and coal tar then applying it to your skin and you have black "henna". Great, right?

Para-phenylenediamine (coal tar) is most often found in hair dyes. It is legal in hair dye in the USA at 6% or less.  It is illegal in many European countries.  When it used as "henna," it is typically in concentrations of 20-70%. Think about that. With hair dye, it's not seeping directly into your skin for an hour and it's only at 6% or less!

The allergic reaction that PPD can cause is similar that of an allergy to bee stings. You may know someone who has to carry around a life-saving syringe in case they are stung by a bee? A PPD allergy can develop at any time once you are sensitized to para-phenylenediamine, but may not show up for weeks, months, or even years. Every time you come into contact with PPD, the allergy will worsen.

Black henna scars. Picture from ABC news.You will be sensitized to PPD for the rest of your life

Once sensitized to PPD you will be cross sensitized to many other chemicals.  Once sensitized to PPD, you will never be able to dye your hair again.

A reaction to para-phenylenediamine can include itching, a rash, full body hives, severe blistering, severe swelling, permanent scarring, liver damage, and life-threatening breathing problems. Progressive exposure to PPD and benzene has been linked to leukemia and other blood cancers.

For more information about para-phenylenediamine here is a link to the ScienceLab MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet).  Note the below sentence in Section 3 of the official MSDS:

"Potential Acute Health Effects: Very hazardous in case of ingestion, of inhalation (lung irritant). Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant, permeator), of eye contact (irritant). Severe over-exposure can result in death.

Potential Chronic Health Effects: CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS: A4 (Not classifiable for human or animal.) by ACGIH, 3 (Not classifiable for human.) by IARC. MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Not available. TERATOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available. DEVELOPMENTAL TOXICITY: Not available. Repeated exposure to this highly toxic material may produce general deterioration of health by an accumulation in one or many human organs.

Read about this study from the Internal Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health from the UAE about PPD and black henna.

If you have had a black henna tattoo, do NOT dye your hair with a synthetic hair dye without getting checked for an allergy to PPD. To learn more about how seriously this sensitivity can effect your daily life, read this short article by Perry Jackson and her experience of living with an allergy to PPD, that was acquired from hair dye.

This is serious. Using "black henna" could cause you to up with a life-long allergy, cause an immense amount of pain, lifelong scars, and/or liver damage. Always opt for safe natural brown henna instead.

More About PPD (Paraphenylendiamine)

  • PPD is a common additive for hair dyes.
  • PPD is only approved in the USA for use on hair if less than 6%.
  • When used as “henna” PPD ratios are typically 20-70% and the PPD
    seeps directly into the bloodstream.
  • PPD is banned in the many European countries including France,
    Sweden, & Germany for use in, even, hair dye.
  • Once sensitized, you can become cross-sensitive to other PPD-like
    additives that include…
    ~ Black clothing dye (imagine not being able to wear black for the rest of your life!)
    ~ Black rubber
    ~ Pen ink
    ~ Some food colorings and preservatives
    ~ Some prescription and over-the counter medications
    ~ Sunscreen containing PABA
    ~ Hair dye (you'll never be able to dye your hair again!)

More About Benzene
Benzene is sometimes mixed into regular brown/red henna. Henna mixed with benzene, kerosene, or gasoline, will have a chemical smell (that may be masked with essential oils), may feel like it is burning the skin (because it is), and will leave very quick, dark color.

Make sure the henna about to be applied to you smells earthy and the artist tells you that the henna should stay on as long as possible. 

  • Benzene is a component in crude oil, gasoline, plastics,
    harsh solvents, and other petroleum products.
  • The United States Department of Health and Human Services classifies benzene
    as a carcinogen (cancer causing and cancer spreading agent)
  • Benzene causes Leukemia and is associated with other blood cancers and
    pre-cancers of the blood.

Never henna babies!  Read our henna safety instructions!Other Henna Safety Precautions
NEVER henna infants!

Hyperbilirubinemia and G6PD:

There are a couple of disorders that can make henna dangerous for children or adults: Hyperbilirubinemia and G6PD. In cultures where henna is done often, children are screened at birth for these disorders,
but here in the US, we are not.

Hyperbilirubinemia is a condition in which there is too much bilirubin in the blood.

Hyperbilirubinemia can cause severe anemic reactions in children exposed to henna. The younger the child, the more severe the reaction. If a baby was jaundiced at any time, do not henna them. 

G6PD deficiency is an inherited condition in which the body doesn't have enough of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, or G6PD, which helps red blood cells (RBCs) function normally.

G6PD is a disorder that can potentially cause issues in adults that get henna. For small amounts of henna, exposure is not normally an issue, very large amounts such as wedding henna can cause problems. Other items people with G6PD are often sensitive to are aspirin, fava beans, and mothballs.

Most reputable henna artists avoid doing henna on kids under 6. I don't henna children under the age of 8. My daughter has severe allergies to many cosmetics, and that makes me a bit more conservative than most. She has had henna tattoos since she was 8.

Read this medical article for more information on Hyperbilirubinemia: Henna Induced Severe Hemolysis. Here is a user friendly site about G6PD.

Other Factors of Safe Henna for Children and Other Sensitive Clients:

If you henna children, pregnant women, or other sensitive individuals, consider making your henna mixture as mild as possible. Avoid harsh oils in your henna mix. If you use oil, I suggest lavender oil, as it is very mild. I normally use an equal mix of lavender and tea tree oils. For cancer patients consider using no oils at all. Have a complete list of your henna ingredients ready and review these ingredients with every client.

Most reactions to henna, are not a reaction to the henna itself, but to an ingredient in the henna mixture.


  • Avoid henna with any chemicals added.
  • Avoid henna without listed ingredients.
  • Avoid any "black henna" that lasts more than a day or two or is jet black.
  • NEVER henna infants.
  • Only henna children over 8 years old.
  • Do not henna children with hyperbilerubenimia.
  • Avoid doing henna on adults with G6PD.
  • Review your henna ingredients with every client.
  • If doing henna on sensitive clients use mild ingredients and oils, such as lavender oil.

Further Articles About Black Henna

Doctors Warn of Black Henna Risk - Dubai - The National (an English newspaper in Dubai)
"Once the body's immune system has triggered an allergic reaction to PPD, such as after having a black henna tattoo, further exposure can be fatal.  'If you then dye your hair, it could cause an acute reaction, which can make you go into anaphylactic shock,' said Dr Fatma Mostafa, a skin specialist at Al Rustom Medical Centre in Dubai."

Abu Dhabi Bans Chemicals To Darken Henna - UAE - ArabianBusiness.com
"The move follows a recent study which suggested that high rates of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in Emirati women could be caused by synthetic forms of henna dye."

Capital Bans Chemicals Used to Make Black Henna - Dubai - The National
"Recent research by the conducted by the UAE university in Al Ain linked leukaemia in Emirati woman - who suffer from the disease at higher rates than male Emiratis - to benzene in synthetic henna dyes."

PPD in Black Henna Tattoos is Not Safe - Canada - Health Canada
"Natural henna is redbrown in colour and is safe to use directly on skin, whereas "black henna" is produced when a colourant is added to natural henna. Some colourants are safe to add, but others, such as paraphenylenediamine (PPD), are not."

Henna Tattooing in Dubai - Dubai - Time Out Dubai
"While the natural form of henna – the powdered plant mixed with water – is harmless, some salons also use chemicals such as benzene, petroleum and P-phenylenediamine (PPD) to darken the henna compound and make it last longer. These chemicals can cause dangerous skin reactions and have been linked with leukaemia, causing them to be banned in Abu Dhabi this summer."

Caution Black Henna Temporary Tattoos Could Leave Permanent Scars  - USA - Yahoo Shine
"The FDA's warning has to do with temporary tattoos made with "black henna" ink containing para-phenylenediamine (PPD), a coal-tar product that is approved for use in hair dye but is known to cause skin reactions in some people. Traditional, reddish-brown henna and stick-on temporary tattoos (the ones that look like stickers and are applied with water) are not part of the warning."

Temporary Tattoos May Put You at Risk - USA - FDA - Consumer Update
"MedWatch, FDA's safety information and adverse event (bad side effects) reporting program, has received reports of serious and long-lasting reactions that consumers had not bargained for after getting temporary tattoos. Reported problems include redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring."

To Color or Not To Color - USA - Organic Consumers Association - by Perry Jackson about living with an allergy to PPD
"Now that I am cross-sensitized, exposure to any of the items listed above can cause me to have a blister rash, breathing difficulties and even anaphylactic shock which could result in death. I am unable to go into most buildings and must stay away from everyone that is wearing fragrances (shampoo, fabric softener, perfume). I have to carry an Epi-Pen at all times in case I go into anaphylactic shock and a medic alert bracelet has become a permanent part of my wardrobe. In a medical emergency there is little they could do since I am allergic to most medicines because they contain dye and/or preservatives."


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