Henna Tattoo Warning Misleading, Say Henna Artists

Looking at the henna tattoo controversy
Are Henna "Tattoos" Dangerous?

A recent editorial printed online at the web site for the journal Pediatrics warned parents away from temporary tattoos made with henna. Henna dye is made from the dried and the powdered leaves of Lawsonia inermis--a plant native to a large area of Asia and the Middle East.

Henna has been used for centuries for both commercial and personal uses. The Indian practice of mehndi uses henna and in recent years, variations of the art have gained in popularity in the U.S., as well.

So when the experts at such a large medical journal issued a warning against henna-based skin dyes, parents worried. But as we soon realized, the title of the piece, "Temporary henna tattoos may lead to permanent problems," was more than a little bit misleading.

The truth is, the henna itself is actually perfectly safe for the vast majority of users. The problem occurs when the henna is artificially darkened with a chemical known as para-phenylenediamine, or PPD. PPD--which is widely used in commercial hair dyes--has long been known to act as a sensitizer. Allergic reactions can occur without any prior warning and can be quite dramatic when they do.

To find out if the henna dye you're about to have applied has PPD in it, just ask. And look at the dye before it's applied. Plain henna should be dark green or dark brown. PPD-added henna will look nearly black in the bowl and very, very dark on the skin.