A thread about the scarring dangers of ‘black henna’ has raised much concern for people who would like to enjoy the temporary body art.

A well known social media doctor who goes by Aproko Doctor shared a thread detailing the adverse effects of temporary ink known as black henna, saying some people add a chemical called  para-phenylenediamine (PPD) to natural henna to “make it last longer and give it the black colour”.

He adds,“Pure Henna in itself will cause weak allergic reactions in a small number of people. But...PPD is so powerful and toxic that it is illegal to use on the skin. PPD is used in hair dyes also. But when you add it directly to the skin, it can cause burns.”

He shared pictures of someone who has been affected adversely by black henna and asks his followers to re-share for awareness.

But can black henna be damaging to the skin as shown in this thread? The short answer is yes, it can be.

Reporting the worst case of a henna reaction, the BBC shared the story of Julia McCabe, a woman who died in 2012 as a result of a reaction to black henna and hair dye.

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The news outlet reported that “the inquest into her death found that she had had a black henna tattoo on holiday five years earlier, which had made her allergic to dye. After that she had carried on using hair dye, but it started giving her rashes. Eventually, the dye caused a serious anaphylactic shock that killed her”.

Durban-based henna artist Zakiyya Mansoor says for these reasons she prefers to strictly use natural henna. Having practiced henna art and studied its cultural contexts for 18 years, the self-taught artist says natural henna can be identified by its consistency and how long the paste is kept on.

She says natural henna is a paste made from leaves from the henna plant that creates a red, orange or brown stain on the skin and lasts for about one to two weeks – and conceded black henna can have adverse effects on your skin and doesn’t recommend people use it.

“I always say even if you use the [black henna] this year and you’re fine with it, next year you could still get a reaction,” says Zakiyya.

For your own safety she says it's best to stick to 100% natural henna, which is what she uses at her practice.

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While it may be difficult to spot the difference, Zakiyya says there are ways to know if the henna used on you is natural or not.  She says this is what you can look out for:

1. Natural henna has to be stored in the freezer to maintain its shelf life, if it's stored elsewhere it's likely to be chemically enhanced

2. The main difference between natural henna and chemical henna is that natural henna has to be kept on for at least six hours, the henna that’s chemically enhanced can peel off after 10 minutes.

“I know a lot of people who want [chemically enhanced henna] for their children, they feel that their kids can’t stay with henna for that long but that’s even worse because if I wouldn’t do it on myself I really wouldn’t want to do it for a young child,” says Zakiyya.

3. Chemical henna has a glossy paint look while natural henna is similar to mud and is a paste and not paint.

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“I had a situation a few years back where a bride wanted to be inked with henna and I couldn’t help her. She did it [elsewhere], and on her honeymoon she broke out into scars. She messaged me to ask what to do, obviously I couldn’t help her because she had to seek medical attention.”

What experiences have you had with henna body art? Chat to us here.

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