"Do you do black henna?"
"Henna! Is it the black one?"
"What colour is your henna?"
These are the recurring questions I get as a henna artist, and in this article, I'm hoping to enlighten you with the differences between natural henna and the nasty chemical henna.
Henna is a plant, botanically known as lawsonia inermis. In order to get henna paste, the leaves and twigs of the henna plant are dried and crushed into a very fine powder and mixed with water and natural essential oils. Therefore, henna is a natural dye which is used to stain skin cells so as to obtain a beautiful temporary tattoo. Henna powder is generally greenish brown in color and has an earthy scent.
The henna paste made from natural henna powder is of a brownish color. Anything which of a different color is NOT henna. Henna does not stain white or black. Initially, henna stain is expected to be orange and the stain matures over time - within 24 to 48 hours - to a deep red or burgundy color. Any paste that does not follow this stain maturation process is not natural henna and often, it can contain dangerous chemicals.
Unfortunately, we live in the times of mass-production and the supply of henna has been on the rise with the discovery of this form of art across the globe. Factories have started producing henna on a large scale and since henna paste is a perishable item, chemicals are being added to the paste to increase its shelf life.
Many artists and consumers are unaware of this fact and continue to buy and use the chemical henna. There has been numerous cases reported where people have had skin reactions and burns from henna. Extreme cases have been as fatal as causing death (see links to articles at the end). This is a clear indication that the henna had nasty chemicals added to it, the major one often being PPD (Paraphenylenediamine). The latter is present in most "black henna" and is a dangerous chemical which has been banned in most countries. Other chemicals usually present in "black henna" are kerosene, gasoline and paint thinner in higher concentrations.
If think you're safe or somehow "immune" to the effects of black henna because you've had it done several times previously, you're about to be disillusioned. While some people have had immediate skin reactions and burns, others have shown its effects years after exposure. The symptoms can develop over years after being exposed and often lead to damage of internal organs and worse, cancer. Is your body worth the risk when you can achieve beautiful dark stains using natural henna?
Here's a checklist on how to be safe when buying henna:
1. Never buy henna paste from the stores where the henna was left on the shelf, even if it says "100% natural" on the packaging. Natural henna starts degrading within 3 to 4 days at room temperature. If it was not made on the same day, the henna paste should be kept frozen.
2. In stores, the nasty henna are often labelled as "black henna", "instant henna" or "red henna" and they come in colourful factory-made packaging. Stay away from them!
3. The scent of the henna paste is usually an earthy one and you can smell the essential oils as well. Unnatural henna paste stinks chemicals!
4. Do a spot test by having a small drawing on your palm for some 15 minutes. Wipe it off. If it stains orange, it is natural. If it stains red instantly, it contains chemicals.
5. If you're getting it done by someone else, always ask the artist from where they got their henna and if they made it themselves, ask for an ingredient list. Watch out for "mehendi oil" amongst the ingredients.
6. Do not ask for black "henna"!
Always remember, henna is never black and this applies for henna for the body, nails and hair!
Links to news articles regarding "black henna":