Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hazards of henna

There is a potentially deadly chemical in some henna and hair dyes that is flying under the radar of most consumers. Para-Phenylenediamine (PPD) is a petroleum-based coal tar dye found in most hair dyes, whether they are purchased at a drugstore or an upscale salon. It is also the coloring agent in black henna, used to apply temporary decorative tattoos (1st image). Aware that it may cause an allergic reaction in some individuals, the FDA does not approve of its use for direct application to the skin and yet - even though when used on the hair it is in contact with the scalp for up to 30 minutes, and quite often touches the skin on the forehead and ears - it is allowed as an ingredient in hair dyes. The cosmetic industry successfully lobbied decades ago to be exempted from regulation, and so only includes a warning on the label and a suggestion that concerned users should test the product on a patch of skin 48-72 hours before use. Reactions to PPD range from minor (throat irritation, rash, swelling, and burning sensation) to major (bronchial asthma, urticaria, dermatitis, and liver and bladder cancer). Carmen Rowe, a 25-year-old resident of Swansea, U.K., swelled up "like a football" (3rd image), was temporarily blinded, and spent 3 days in the hospital with subsequent complications after using Clairol Nice n' Easy. Others had reactions to the chemical contained in L’Oreal Casting Creme Gloss (stories and photos here) and Garnier Herbashine ("At one point my eyes swelled shut, the whole of my nose became level with my cheeks and a golf ball-sized swelling came up on my head. It was so painful."). In the most severe cases, PPD can cause anaphylaxis which can result in death ("My heart rate was at 180 bpm - around the same rate as a heart attack - and I couldn't breathe.") and cross-sensitization (a responsitivity to related chemicals including textile dyes, pen ink, gasoline, oil, food dyes, medication dyes, preservatives, and fragrances). "You...become allergic to just about everything found in modern society," writes Perri Jackson for the Organic Consumers Association. Warnings and horror stories may not be heeded by those applying henna tattoos, so clients are encouraged to seek out artists who advertise their dye as PPD-free and to employ other safeguards. Driven by the startling photos (2nd image, more here), I hereby do my part to bring public awareness to this issue, as the American Contact Dermatitis Society did in 2006 by awarding PPD the title of “Allergen of the Year.”


  1. OMG, that last picture is just disturbing............ I was doing an egyptian project for school and was gonna use that but nevermind.......... :(

  2. I love henna and one time I tried it and my face was swollen like the lady!!!! But It was because there was some left on my edges :( so I try to make sure I wash it again and again till I get everything out.


You may add your comments here.