Is There a Difference Between Brown and Black Henna?

Henna is commonly associated with temporary tattoos and for the most part, it is an extremely safe practice that can be done on children as young as three years old. However, not all henna is created equal. Some henna contains deadly chemicals that can cause severe and permanent scarring on the skin. Take a look at the gallery below to learn about a particularly shocking case and let us be your guide on the right way to get a henna tattoo.

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Meet Freja Ellis, a 3-year-old child from the United Kingdom who visited Antalya, Turkey on vacation with her family. While in Turkey, Ellis received a black henna tattoo of a cat, which extended from her wrist to her elbow. After returning home to the UK, Ellis complain that the design was itchy and it soon erupted into painful blisters, which later became infected.

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Upon visiting a doctor, it was discovered that black henna had been used for the 3-year-old's temporary tattoo—which has been known to cause permanent scarring.

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Brown vs. Black Henna

Henna has been used to dye fabrics and decorate bodies throughout countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East for centuries. Brown henna, which is most commonly used for temporary tattoos, is created by grinding dried henna leaves into a powder and then liquifying the mixture using water as well as minimal oils. Brown henna tattoos typically last between one and four weeks—and in almost all cases, this type of henna is extremely safe for human use on all ages.

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Deadly Chemical Component

However, this is not the case for black henna. Black henna contains a chemical called paraphenylenediamine or PPD. PPD can also be found in diesel and gasoline. PPD is dangerous because it causes extreme skin reactions that often require medical intervention and leave permanent scarring. 

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Side Effects and Symptoms Caused by Black Henna

Symptoms of an infected black henna tattoo may appear immediately, however, it's also possible for them to appear one to two weeks after the temporary tattoo was put onto the skin. There are a variety of symptoms that go along with a reaction to a black henna tattoo, including: itching, blistering, burning and pulsing sensations, swelling, tenderness and increased sensitivity. 

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40% of Dermatologists Report Seeing a Patient with a Black Henna Reaction

According to a study conducted by The British Skin Foundation, of 244 dermatologists surveyed, 40% had come in contact with patients who had a black henna reaction. And while it may be believed that all of these patients received temporary tattoos outside of the country, nearly 30% had received black henna within the UK—despite PPD being banned in the European Union.

PPD in cosmetics is also banned within the United States, with the FDA having published a report about the consequences of black henna on their website.

"The extra ingredient used to blacken henna is often a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people. That's the reason hair dyes have a caution statement and instructions to do a "patch test" on a small area of the skin before using them. Sometimes, the artist may use a PPD-containing hair dye alone. Either way, there's no telling who will be affected. By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin."

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How to Tell the Difference Between Brown and Black Henna 

The best thing that we can tell you about henna tattoos is that it's relatively easy to tell the difference between safe brown henna and dangerous black henna. Brown henna should be a greenish brown color that leaves an orange-brown tint to the skin. Whereas black henna is a literally black and leaves black marks on the skin. 

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What do you think about the dangerous consequences of black henna? Have you met someone who has had a bad reaction to henna? Share your thoughts, opinions and questions in the comments section on Facebook.