There are two types of henna tattoos, one is brown henna, which is safe for most people to use on their skin, and the dye can also be used for coloring hair, nails and various materials. It’s rare for someone to have a reaction to brown henna. The second is black henna, which is responsible for the majority of blistering and scarring associated with henna tattoos and the FDA have received many reports of skin injuries due to it. It’s possible to tell the difference between the two so that you can safely get a henna tattoo without the worry.

Why Black Henna Is Dangerous

The paste in black henna, also known as neutral henna, contains paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which is a chemical that can be dangerous, specifically when used on skin. PPD is in the top 20 allergens in America and is commonly found in hair dyes at a legal limit of 5% but is often around 2-3%. Black henna often contains very high levels of PPD, with one study finding up to ten times the legal limit, which can be toxic, causing chemical burns that can scar and life-threatening allergic reactions. Another study randomly selected 25 samples from 15 salons across three countries in the UAE and found that all 25 contained PPD, with some as high as 29.5%. Despite this, black henna tattoos are commonly offered at festivals, fairs and tourist spots and is available to buy online, so it’s up to you to identify and avoid it.

Having A Reaction To Black Henna

Not everyone is sensitive to black henna and around 50% of people become sensitized in it, where they don’t have a reaction initially but could get a severe reaction when next exposed to PPD, such as with hair dye. Up to 40% of people who become sensitized to PPD experience a reaction so severe that they need hospital care. A reaction includes burning or tingling skin around the tattoo area and can advance to blistering and swelling, which can lead to permanent scarring. A doctor will likely treat you for both an allergic reaction and chemical burns, depending on the severity. It’s also possible that a a reaction can cause contact dermatitis, a condition that makes your skin more likely to react to PPD products in the future, such as in hair dyes, even if you’ve never had a reaction to hair dyes before.

Woman Wearing Red Dress Showing Her Henna Tattoos

Getting A Brown Henna Tattoo

A brown henna tattoo will usually look red, orange or brown when it’s on the skin. It’s made by drying the leaves of a henna plant, crushing it into a fine powder, then adding water and oil to make it into a paste. When this paste is applied to the skin it stains the top layer and creates the tattoo, which lasts between 1-3 weeks. It’s possible that a brown henna tattoo will cause an allergic reaction, but it’s very unlikely, especially when compared to incidence rates associated with black henna. If you do get a reaction seek immediate medical help, the same as you would for a black henna tattoo.

How To Tell The Difference Between Black And Brown Henna

If you’re purchasing henna online, you should be able to check the ingredients and details first to see if it’s black or brown and if it contains PPD. If you choose to go ahead with your purchase make sure it’s from a reputable seller who you can trust, such as a big company. If you’re looking to get a tattoo done by someone else, you can tell the difference between black and brown henna by its appearance. Brown henna paste will look dark green or brown and will stain the skin brown or red over the course of several hours. Black henna paste will look like a thick black ink and will turn skin black within an hour, giving it a similar appearance to a real tattoo. Look at the artists hands for signs of black or brown stains to determine which henna they’re using.

Henna tattoos can be safe and hold an important place in many religions and cultures. Despite it being illegal to sell or use black henna, the product is still widely found at tourist spots, beaches and festivals because it’s difficult to catch someone using it as the reaction can take a few days to present. This means it’s up to you to know what to look out for when getting a henna tattoo to make sure you’re getting something made from natural, brown henna.

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