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Are Henna Tattoos Safe?

Updated on April 7, 2009
Whitney05 profile image

Whitney is an expert on piercings and tattoos with experience in the body modification world.

Henna Tattoos

Henna tattoos are a great way to get the look of a tattoo, especially if you're going to the beach, without having to actually get a permanent tattoo. Henna stains the skin and depending on the location of the tattoo, will last for up to three weeks.

Henna has been used throughout the years and decades by a large number of people from different groups, religions, and societies for a number of joyous occasions and celebrations ranging from weddings to birthdays to victorious battles.

But, when it comes to the modern time, it's always best to make sure that what you're putting on your body is safe with few to no potential side effects. The main key is going to be making sure that you use an authentic, natural henna versus black henna, which has added dyes and chemicals.

Natural henna has very mild side effect that are extremely rare to encounter, whereas black henna has very dangerous and hazardous side effects.

by lloydi
by lloydi

Health Effects of Henna Tattoos

For the most part, if you use an authentic henna paste, there are very minimal side effects that are both mild and very rare. Henna tattoos are generally very safe, except for the slim chance of an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the paste.

The silver nitrate, carmini, pyrogallol, orange dye, and chromium, that is found in some henna can cause allergic reactions and chronic inflammatory reactions. These chemicals should not be found in a natural, authentic henna.

Typical ingredients in the henna paste will include natural henna powder, sugar, lemon juice, and essential oils such as pine or tea tree. If the henna paste that the artist wants to use or that you have at the house contains anything other than these ingredients, you do not want to use it.

Generally, you will not see any adverse affects with a genuine henna product.

Black henna on the other hand can cause a number of problems ranging from skin reactions to death.

by J. Star
by J. Star

Effects of Black Henna

Henna is meant to leave a red-orange stain on the skin, but black henna contains a chemical called para-phenylenediamine, which is used in black hair dyes. The para-phenylenediamine is an allergen that can affect different people in different ways, ranging from a no reaction to a mild to a very severe reaction; some people even become sensitized to the chemical which creates a permanent allergy to PPD (para-phenylenediamine).

Black henna that contains para-phenylenediamine, can cause blisters, hives, swelling, weeping sores, and permanent scars, that can start in 3 days or up to 10 days after the initial application of the black henna paste. PPD is also linked to some cancers, and is thought to cause asthma, kidney failure, muscle damage, and other health problems.

If you still really want the black henna tattoo, you want to be very cautious. Make sure that the mixture that is being used is green or brownish-green color and smells similar to hay, spinach, or peas, or even pine or tea tree oil if the paste uses essential oils, as this is going to be the safer route to getting a black henna tattoo. If the henna paste is black or dark brown with either no odor or a very strong chemical smell, it is best to not get the tattoo because it's probably mixed with black hair dye, which is very hazardous to your health.

If you experience ANY complications or side effects with black henna, you want to make sure that you go to the doctor and explain that the henna tattoo was made with PPD (para-phenylenediamine), and your doctor will better know how to treat the concern.

Natural Henna

Now that you know the severity of black henna, it is very important that you make sure that whoever is tattooing you with henna, whether it be an artist, your friend, or yourself, is using an authentic henna powder.

When making your own henna paste, you want to make sure that the henna powder is fresh and natural. Henna powder will have a hay or spinach odor and will be an earthy green/khaki color. If the henna powder is stale it will be brown with no smell, and if the powder has dyes in it, it will typically appear a bright green color.

You can make your own henna paste, at home, and for more information about making your own henna paste and applying henna tattos, you should check out How to Make and Apply Henna Tattoos.


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    • profile image

      Tina 6 years ago

      Well i just got a henna tattoo while vacationing at the shore and i had a servere allergic reaction to the dye. my foot is still swollen 6 days later.

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      amanda  7 years ago

      mine turned a green color is that normal

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

      If it turned a red/brown color it was the good stuff. I've never really been interested in it either. I figure if you want a tattoo, get a real one.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Awesome! I've never given henna a thought, because I've never been all that interested, although some friends have been. Now I'm really curious about what they've used. Thanks Whitney for a truly informative Hub.