Chemical "Henna" Warning
Chemical henna is a general term we use to describe products that are made with henna, but are adulterated with toxic artificial chemicals.
WHY IT'S DANGEROUS
Henna paste isn't shelf stable and can't survive overseas shipping - it must be refrigerated or frozen. Would you buy a salad that had been shipped overseas and sitting, room temperature, on a shelf? Mass-produced "henna" cones from overseas and sold on eBay or at your local market could be any one of these:
- Truly a natural henna product, but expired, stale and will only produce a weak stain
- Natural henna with preservatives added, still stale and will not stain well
- Henna mixed with harsh artificial chemicals such as gasoline or PPD (p-phenylenediamine or paraphenylenediamine)*. These are what will actually stain the skin (not the henna), and are highly toxic. Product labels will rarely disclose the real ingredients and may even be mislabeled as "natural" and "no chemicals" since there's no regulation and there's no legal definition of those terms. They might be labeled black henna, red henna, brown henna, instant henna, or emergency henna. Common sense in knowing that henna paste only lasts a few days tells us that it's impossible for shelf stable products to be "natural".
* PPD is the same chemical used in hair dyes, but is found in much higher concentrations in chemical henna products. The instructions with hair dye will actually tell you to avoid contact with your scalp! PPD can cause anything from rashes and blistering to organ failure and death. This chemical is a sensitizer which means repeat exposures increase your chance of a serious reaction even if you have never had a problem with it before!
SARAHENNA will never offer anything other than 100% pure, real henna.
How to tell the difference
The simplest way to identify artificial chemical "henna" is that it nearly always comes in factory-made packaging. If it has colorful labels with photos and text, it is very likely toxic.
Packages may be falsely labeled with claims of "natural" or "no chemicals". Due to lack of regulation, manufacturers may print anything they like on the label (including a modified ingredients list) without risk of legal action. Use the information below, or download our printable checklist, so that you can determine for yourself if the product is safe, natural henna.
#1 : Packaging - Real henna is hand-mixed by henna artists because it is perishable (it only lasts a few days "on the shelf"). It's not possible to buy natural henna paste unfrozen or from overseas. Henna in pre-printed cones or tubes are a red flag, as it indicates it has been mass-produced in a factory.
#2 : Scent - Real, natural henna smells GOOD! Alone, it smells grassy or like hay. Usually, it's blended with essential oils which will smell fresh and inviting (unless you don't like the particular oil :) ). Commonly used oils are cajeput, tea tree and eucalyptus which all have a similar spicy/medicinal scent, and other oils may be added to enhance the smell as well - such as lavender or lemongrass. Chemical "henna" will have a strong, unpleasant odor and will often smell like hair dye.
#3 : Time - Real henna needs to be left on the skin for 4+ hours in order to stain the skin effectively, and then water should be avoided for 24 hours. It takes about 48 hours to darken. Chemical "henna" is often called "instant henna" or "emergency henna" because it only needs to be on the skin for 30 minutes or less, you typically are instructed to wash it off with water and the stain is dark immediately.
#4 : Ingredients – Ask the artist to tell you the ingredients in their mix. They should have mixed it themselves, or have purchased it from another henna artist who mixed it themselves. Either way, they should be able to disclose a complete ingredients list for you.
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CDC listing in their NIOSH Guide to Chemical Hazards: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0495.html
American Contact Dermatitis Society's "Allergen of the Year" 2006: http://www.contactderm.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3467
EPA Hazard Summary: http://www.epa.gov/airtoxics/hlthef/phenylen.html
FDA consumer warning: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm343932.htm
Learn more about the dangers of "black henna" en espanol