For many people, henna seems like a great way to avoid the pain and commitment of a permanent tattoo or hair dye, and because henna is derived from a plant, it also seems like a safe, natural way to modify your body.
But is henna safe? Before you nonchalantly sit down at that henna artist’s booth or apply a henna product on your hair trying to avoid the serious risks of chemical hair dyes, make sure you know just what experts are saying about this natural product.
What is henna and why are people concerned?
People never used to wonder about henna safety; after all, this is a type of dye derived from the flowering henna plant, a large shrub which prefers to grow in semi-arid regions.
What could possible make henna dangerous to people? And for the most part, the assumption henna is safe is correct; however, even though henna does not carry the potential for harm, the common additives found in henna products might.
“Just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn’t mean that it is risk free,’ Dr. Linda Katz, director of Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, said to the Daily Mail. “…depending on where you are, it’s possible no one is checking to make sure the artist is following safe practices or even knows what may be harmful to consumers.”
The primary ingredient of concern when it comes to the use of henna is known as p-phenylenediamine (PPD).
PPD, commonly found in coal-tar hair dyes, has been associated with a number of health issues, according to WebMD:
- Skin irritation (redness)
- Runny nose
- Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
- Breast, uterine and bladder cancer
PPD is just one of many ingredients, however, that make the list of dangerous substances henna can be laced with.
Other hazardous additives in henna products include: silver nitrate, carmine, pyrogallol, disperse orange dye, and chromium, all of which have been associated with inflammatory responses and skin reactions and decrease henna safety margins.
“It is the extra ingredients that are potentially harmful, especially if these are from coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD),” said the FDA in a 2013 warning regarding henna products. “There is no way of telling if PPD is mixed in henna preparations unless they are properly labeled… Consumers are advised to ask for FDA market authorization or cosmetic notification before receiving a temporary tattoo.”
Even unadulterated henna, which is reddish brown in color, can negatively affect some people, though complications with pure henna are rare.
So how do I know if henna is safe?
Henna in the FDA-approved form is generally safe, but when in doubt, remember that there is no natural henna that is black in color. This can be your first indication something has been mixed in with the product.
Not all black henna is to be avoided, either, according to Natural News. Dark, blue-black henna can be made from mixing the dye with indigo, another dye derived from plants.
In this form, black henna is safe, but even if you know indigo is what is giving henna that dark color, the only way to safeguard yourself against potentially permanent skin damage is to make sure the product has the FDA’s seal of approval on the label.
Henna safety begins with vigilance; make sure your products have been approved.