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Safety Issues
Concerning Henna

Our Battle Against Commercial Black Henna

To say black henna products are a blatant not to mention disgusting example of henna at its most adulterated is a vast understatement. Originally used because women were unable to buy natural henna for body art (black henna hair color was only at hand at times due to the import markets created in Europe, Australia, etc., which depleted domestic supply), denatured black henna created its unhealthy niche amoung some. This inturn led to numerous, well known, adverse health conditions to be reported amoung women in the Old World. Due to a lack of understanding concerning the dangers of using these products and an illigal neglect of providing proper ingredient labels, many people in the US now have become injured or effected by black henna.

We would like to see such adulterated products eradicated from the US (and the world). We would also like to see the word "henna" removed from these products names as it is not the henna causing the black color, but instead the adulterants which include powdered ink, PPD, etc. Until this happens, at least in the US, we ask for a boycott of all companies, stores, websites, etc., which sell and market "black henna" products or services to the general public.

What If There Isn't Any PPD in the Black Henna Product?

A number of products now sport the claim that their is no PPD in their product. Since many of these products are imported "as is" with no spot checking, such claims must be taken with a grain of salt. What if the claim is true however? Does this mean the black henna product is safe, non-toxic and legal (in the US)? The answer is of course a resounding no. People have reportedly suffered the exact same skin reactions from black powders later tested and found not to have traces of PPD. Why? The reason is there are a whole host of other synthetic dyes and oxidizing chemicals which are not safe and not disclosed in these black henna products. In addition, many of these products are comprised of only 50% henna, with chemicals and fillers being the other half. Some of these include silver nitrate, carmine, titanium dioxide, ethyl cellulose, barium peroxide, tartaric acid, pyrogallol, etc. Carmine is extremly hazardous and can cause swelling and other PPD mimicking symptoms. The silver nitrate also causes chemical burns which may not show for days. The FDA states products called henna or that use henna on the lable may not have such adulterations. Thus they are not to be sold in the US.

Why Henna Has Such Problems Today

The reason henna has so many problems today is complicated. Greed is of course at the root of the problem but there are many other contributing factors. In the US, the main problem comes with the companies selling henna for body art. Many do not take into consideration the henna they are buying in bulk has not been tested for Lawsone levels or simple things like lead and/or bacteria which can cause people to become extremly ill. This is because henna purchased by the ton is extremly cheap and many times does not catch the eye of the FDA in bulk. Questions to ask youself and/or anyone selling henna is, what kind of quality control is done? Is each batch of henna received lab tested for adulterants? Are whole leaves ground here in the US or where they were exported from? What are the product standards in the country where it is exported from? India and Pakistan are major exporters but also frequently have contamination problems. Does the box and company conform to FDA standards? Does the company understand how the FDA views henna and its uses? Has the company had complaints lodged against them?

The reason why it is important not to buy adulterated henna products is because of the time most Mehndi designs are left on the skin or color on the hair. This can span from 1 hour to overnight. Many of the advser chemicals used to adulterate henna are ones traditionally used in hair color. These chemicals are never intended to be left on the skin but instead the dead shaft of the hair. Unlike safer bodypaints and non-toxic pen ink, these chemicals can enter the blood and be circulated about your body causing all sorts of health problems. This is likely one of the main reasons the FDA states henna should only be sold in a pure state, if henna is mentioned on the lable.

Where to Send Complaints

You may wish to send a complaint about any adverse reactions you suffered to the CARMP department of the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors:
Office of Cosmetics & Colors
Cosmetics Adverse Reaction Monitoring Program
200 C Street South West
Washington, DC 20204 USA
Attn: Lark Lambert, HFS-106
Phone: (202)205-4705 / FAX: (202)205-5098

You can also look in the Blue Pages of your phone book for your local branch of the FDA.

The FDA writes the following concerning henna temporary tattoos being sold in the US:
"In a similar action, [the] FDA has issued an important alert for henna intended for use on the skin. Henna is approved only for use as a hair dye, not for direct application to the skin. Also, henna typically produces a reddish brown tint, raising questions about what ingredients are added to produce the varieties of colors labeled as "henna," such as "black henna" and "blue henna."

Read the FDA's response to Marie Anakee's March 22nd 2001 letter concerning the dangers of adulterated henna. The letter was written after a November posting showed the FDA was clueless about PPD and other adulterants being used in denatured henna products.

Modern Issues

This page was created to disseminate important information pertaining to safety issues concerning henna (Lawsonia spp.) powder and products for use in “Mehndi” body art and other applications. Please read the information listed below & also read and sign the “Pure Henna Petition”.

In the media lately there has been a number of reports concerning henna and safety issues. Specifically adverse reactions when henna has been used on the skin. Many times the media generalizes all henna as having the potential of causing negative effects which include skin irritation, sores, etc. This has caused a number of individuals to counter that it is only so called “black henna” products which are unsafe to use. They also frequently point to the chemical PPD which they note as only being found in henna used to make black designs on the skin. This likely has caused many to fall into a false sense of security with so called “red henna” products. The truth of the matter is, PPD can be used in either black or red henna products and one is not automatically safe using red henna as it can be just as denatured, if not more. Iron oxide for example is a frequent (and illegal in the US) addition to red henna powders. PPD is far from the only adulterant you must be leery of as well. High levels of lead, bacteria’s, fecal matter, unsafe colorants, pesticides, solvents, skin irritating fillers, etc., have all played a roll in making people ill at least as far back as the 1930's. This is a sad chapter of henna’s 20th and 21th century history which needs to be eradicated.

The US FDA has already shown that commercially produced “black henna” products are not the only Mehndi body art items found with illegal or unsafe color additives. Red henna used for Mehndi designs, Mehndi kits, pre-mixed henna paste and colored henna products have all been detained by US Customs. Some of these products have even been banned for further import. Unfortunately they persist in making their way to store shelves and online auctions.

If you are buying from an online henna retailer, ask if they obtain their henna from any of the above companies. You should ask if the company imports its henna in powder form or if they grind it themselves from whole leaves. If they are not forthcoming, pass on buying their products. Also immediately pass on henna products that do not have any sort of labeling on them. This is illegal in the US. Do not use any type of henna product that explains it is "fast acting" or only "takes a few minutes to work". Also watch out for henna products that are only indicated for the hands and feet. Pure and fresh henna can be applied and give good color outcome anywhere. Before applying henna as Mehndi or hair color, always do a patch test. Remember henna is a plant which can have various levels of inherent chemicals. It is by no means standarized. Doing a patch test first would have saved many from having severe allergic reactions as seen with denatured henna products. Be very careful at street fairs and other public events where you have no time to do a patch test before having a Mehndi design. If you must go ahead, be sure to obtain the proper name and contact information of the artisan in case something adverse happens. Also demand to know every ingredient in the paste. If the artisan does not know or tells you it is a trade secret, pass and be safe. It goes without saying that one should fully avoid commercially produced products called “black henna”. According to the US FDA it is illegal to add colorants to henna, so even if the product does not contain PPD, what ever gives the black hue to the powder is not legal for sale or use in the US.

Unfortunately, in this day in time, one must be responsible and look at all henna, not just black henna products, as being potentially denatured. Until there is a Certified Organic henna, the reality of risk will continue. Here is an overview of important points to remember:

  • Always do a patch test. A traditional patch test involves placing some of the substance on the sensitive skin of the inner arm. This is to remain on the skin overnight. If there is even a hint of irritation, do not continue to use the product. If the problem persists, seek the advice of a doctor.
  • Do not buy products that fail to display the banner: "WARNING: The safety of this product has not been determined." According to FDA regulations, all commercial cosmetics must bear this warning if the safety of the products and/or ingredients has not been substantiated. Henna has not garnered approval from the FDA for use on the skin as body art so all Mehndi products should carry this message.
  • Do not use henna products which claim to be fast acting or contains solvent like chemicals to bring the dye deeper into the skin.
  • Do not use henna powder which is clearly denatured at least in color. For instance commercially produced black henna products are usually a black color. Some red henna powders are actually red and so forth. Natural henna powder is chalk green in color. Never use a powder that is black, purple, etc. It must be noted some companies add green coloring to disguise stale henna which is brown! Hence why it is important to know where the henna is actually from.
  • Watch your design carefully. If you notice that the deep color of your henna design dissipates very fast or rolls of the top layer of your skin, leaving only a fainter orange or yellow coloration behind, discontinue that products use. This may show a dye or chemical additive which was mixed with stale henna.
  • As an added warning, do not use Mehndi setting oils or non-Aromatherapy grade clove oils. For more on this read “The Dangers of Clove Oil” by Marie Anakee Miczak.
  • Do not use henna on children under 5 years of age and never use henna on infants.
  • Never use henna clearly intended as hair color for Mehndi designs.
  • The FDA warns that henna shold not be used near the eyes, especially for use as a dye on the eyebrows or eyelashes. Some companies have not listened and created semi-permanent makeup products containing henna as the main ingredient. Do not buy such products or have such treatments done at salons. The FDA has started cracking down on these products and places offering such services.
  • Do not use house hold chemicals in an attempt to make your Mehndi design darker or last longer.

At any sign of a reaction immediately visit your local medical doctor, nurse or dermatologist. This is a serious must. One of the reasons commercial black henna products and other sorts of denatured henna continues to be sold in the US is a direct result of those hurt not seeking medical attention. When you visit your doctor and are up front with them about using henna, they will many times pass this information to a special section of the FDA (MedWatch). This in turn will show a national pattern which will usually launch an investigation. This information is also published and mass distributed, thus benefiting many others. Better crackdown can also take place at import docks. Be sure to save your receipt of purchase, any left over product and packaging and take photographs of the adversely effected skin area(s). Typical PPD (pyrogallol or carmine) reactions include open sores which form inside of the design(s), oozing wounds, scarring or a de-pigmentation of the skin, a raised pink area around or comprising the design, etc. Blood poisoning has been known to have been caused by topical applications of red henna and so has tetanus. If you have unexplained occurrences of these conditions and just recently used henna, be certain to bring this up with your doctor or give him/her a call and follow up with this information.

When you are at the doctors office, explain what type of product you used. Tell them it may have contained PPD or some other type of solvent chemical, as is found in hair color products. Your doctor and Poisin Control is trained to deal with such situations. A number of reports concerning henna body art have been published in medical journals as well. PPD and other like products are still frequently found in commercial, name brand hair colors including L'OREAL. Thus you can explain you essentially left hair color on your skin for "X" amount of hours to your doctor, if you feel you will need to simplify what happened. Many are under the wrong impression their doctor will not know how to treat their problem because they used the very exotic substance henna. Remember it is 99% probable an adulterant such as a chemical has caused the reaction, not the henna itself. This your doctor likely can handle. After seeking treatment, keep a log or diary of the pain and suffering you go through. All of this information should be turned over to your lawyer (if you seek damages), to the FDA or to the website “Consumer”. Look on the henna’s packaging to see if there is a company name, e-mail address, website ULR or phone number. Once you have located this, file a complaint with Better Business in the state where the company is located. You can locate such branches at:

Here are some additional addresses in which to send information about the adverse reactions you suffered. Remember, it is important to have a medical physicians conformation that the henna indeed caused the skin reaction (and/or pictures of the skin area).

FDA : Call the FDA Cosmetics and Colors Automated Information Line 1-800-270-8869, for information on how to report adverse reactions to cosmetics, as well as problems such as filth, decomposition, or spoilage.

If you obtained your product from a website (online retailer), the FDA has created a special department for your complaints! Click HERE to file a report online.

FTC: You may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission via the web, Click HERE to do so.

While the sores and wounds may physically heal with time, it is very important to prevent this from happening to other people. Especially those with compromised livers and kidneys or certain blood disorders. Children and teenagers are especially likely to try these products. They are also the least likely to do a patch test or seek medical attention when something goes wrong. Thus it is important for parents to monitor any type of henna designs their children have done and immediately bring them to the doctor if a reaction occurs. If denatured and fully fake henna products continue to be sold, they will do irreparable damage to the artform of Mehndi body art and henna as a whole. This may limit ones freedome to continue to use henna in the future!

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