As summer months are now upon us and everyone starts jetting off on their summer holidays and visiting summer fayres, and the huge rise of “natural living” with many people looking for more and more ways to reduce the amount of chemicals they consume and apply to their hair and skin, it’s worth remembering the risks of so-called ‘Black Henna’ Temporary Tattoos and “Compound Henna” hair colour which can cause people to develop allergies to hair colorants and cause major damage both internally to your health and externally to your skin and hair.
While on holiday or visiting a summer fayre, many people opt to have a fun temporary ‘black henna’ tattoo applied on the beach or by the pool. Henna extract is orange-red in colour; however, some tattoo artists offer a much darker ‘black henna’ or various shades of brown. There is no such thing as ‘black henna’, or any henna colour varieties for that matter and so-called ‘black henna’ temporary tattoos can cause painful short and long-term damage to skin and may cause people to develop an allergy to hair colorants which will prevent them from colouring their hair in future.
So what is in ‘black henna’?
The truth is that so-called ‘black henna’ temporary tattoos are not likely to be henna at all, but may contain a substance called PPD (paraphenylenediamine) in extremely high quantities. This use of PPD in tattoos and at such high concentrations is illegal in the EU, and it can be very harmful if applied direct to your skin in these types of temporary tattoos.
PPD – what does it do?
PPD is used safely and legally as an ingredient in hair colorants and only in tiny amounts (usually around 0.2%> of the entire product), but when applied directly to the skin in much higher concentrations in a temporary tattoo it can leave people with a swollen, sore, red ‘burn’. It can also sensitise people to PPD, triggering a painful allergic reaction from contact dermatitis to chronic respiratory complications such as anaphylaxis or toxic shock
It doesn’t stop there. If clients have been sensitised to PPD through a ‘black henna’ temporary tattoo, they are very likely to react to PPD elsewhere in future, such as when you use hair colorants. Hair colorants themselves are regulated under the stringent EU cosmetic safety regulation and are perfectly safe to use when the instructions are followed carefully (see our Why We Have Really Toughened Up Our Skin Test Policy, What We Need To Do and Answering Some of The Most Frequently Asked Questions Blog for more details)
But because an allergy is for life, you may never be able to use commonly used hair colours on your hair in future without risking a bad reaction.
Compound Henna Hair Colour
Many people opt for a Henna hair colour instead of a more traditional salon colour believing it to be the more “natural” or less damaging option. However, as mentioned above, Henna is only available in one colour; red orange.
This is because the only colour molecule present in henna which is enough to stain hair is Lawsone, which is only ever a red-orange molecule. Any company, manufacture or brand claiming to offer 100% natural henna hair colour in a range of colours is LYING! It doesn’t exist!
Companies who claim that they use other parts of the henna plant to create these different colours, such as the bark or roots are TALKING RUBBISH as only the leaves of the plant are used to extract the colour molecule, which is only ever red-orange.
Whenever you see a company claim to offer henna hair colour in a range of colours, such as blonde, black, indigo or various shades of brown, there is certainly something in there that is definitely not henna, usually other plants, metallic salts or a whole host of nasty chemicals. Henna hair colour which offers a variety of colours is not natural henna, it is compound henna, which is another product entirely.
Compound Henna and Traditional Hair Colour are a Disastrous Combination!
To create a henna hair colour which is anything but red-orange requires the addition of various chemicals, metallic salts and other plant dyes to alter the colour of henna, thus creating a compound henna.
The most common and the cheapest variety of compound hennas will use a metallic salt which alters and fixes the dye stain, the most used is lead acetate (though copper, cobalt, silver nitrate, bismuth, nickel and iron salts are also used). Lead acetate gradually deposits a mixture of lead sulphide and lead oxide on to the hair shaft, which is one of the lead causes for the hair to feel coated and become brittle.
Unlike genuine natural henna (which is usually more expensive than the dangerous cocktail compound variety) which does not damage your hair, Compound henna will almost certainly cause you problems. But it doesn’t stop there, as well as the damage these products can do to your hair, they very rarely declare their full ingredient list, so there’s no telling what nasties are in there and what you may suffer an allergic reaction to. Many compound hennas, commonly the darker varieties will also contain PPD, and some contain very little, if any actual henna at all.
The biggest problems however can occur when someone who has used a compound henna hair colour and then decides to use more traditional colouring method. Just like any chemical service, once you have applied a compound henna to your hair, it will remain there until that hair has been cut off. Metallic salts and other chemicals used in compound henna reacts terribly with any kind of oxidising colour, this includes all the regular permenant colours, demi/tone on tone colours and lightening products (bleach), they must not come into contact with each other.
If someone who has had a compound henna application has any form of traditional colour applied onto the same hair, the best result they could hope for is very unpredictable results, such as the hair going purple or green (not the nice type) or not changing colour at all, and their hair becoming dry and brittle – and this is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario would be a fully fledged chemical reaction happening right there on their head, metallic salts and oxidising colours are not compatible, the hair will become hot, in some case start to steam and boil, the smell is horrible and finally disintegrate right there from the point of where the henna was applied. If it was a recent application, this could be very close to the scalp.
Allergic & Chemical Reactions
Allergic reactions to PPD or other chemicals in compound henna hair colour can vary from a small rash to sever hospital-job-near-death situations.
If you have ever suffered a reaction from a temporary tattoo, permeant make-up or henna hair colour, you should consult your doctor before considering any future colouring services. You may be referred to a dermatologist who can investigate the cause of the reaction by carrying out a patch test. This will identify what ingredient has caused the problem so you know what to steer clear of in the future.
It is also very likely that you will not be able to colour your hair with most types of hair colorants following a reaction as you will have become sensitised to PPD. It is also possible that you may have become sensitised without actually having an allergic reaction at the time of the PPD exposure, the best way to test for this is of course with a skin test using the colour you plan to have applied to your hair.
Compound henna present on your hair, and other metallic salts and chemicals found in some products (Just For Men is one of the worst for this) will also prevent you from having most colouring services. The chemical reaction between those chemical salts and oxidising colours (all permeant, demi, tone-on-tone colours and lightening products) will cause very unpredictable colour results and cause terrible damage to your hair, in some cases disintegrate it completely. The best way to test for metallic salts present in the hair is to carry out an incompatibility test.
The large amount of people who have had a so-called ‘black henna’ temporary tattoo and the misinformation regarding henna hair colour means that ensuring we carry out a professional consultation with both a skin allergy test and incompatibility test before applying any colouring or lightening products is absolutely essential for both the safety of our customers and the business.