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So what is the “black henna” that you may have seen at a festival or on the street? Well, the truth is, it likely has some henna in it but that isn’t what makes it black. A substance also found in black hair dye is the key ingredient for black henna, known as PPD (para-phenylenediamine ).
Because skin exposed to PPD for an extended period of time (as is needed in henna application) can irritate the skin, possibly even scar it (as seen in the photo above and the two lower down on this page). Individual sensitivity varies but severe scars and even kidney and respiratory damage have been attributed to PPD in black henna mixes. Some individuals “skate by” with minor allergic reactions or mild dermatitis, the first time. Some even avoid a reaction all together, initially, but typically that doesn’t last. If you don’t have a reaction or you have a mild one the first time, it doesn’t mean you won’t have a worse reaction with the next application. Once you have a reaction to a PPD exposure, you are forever sensitized to it. The reactions can worsen with subsequent exposures and can eventually render a person incapable of contact with a number of everyday items (PPD/black dye is used in a number fabric dyes and other products). Some people will try to rationalize the PPD in their henna by claiming it is “cosmetic grade” PPD. The problem with this claim is that PPD is NOT APPROVED for contact with the skin, but only for the hair. This is why the hair colorist wears gloves when they apply black hair dye to a person’s hair and why they do their best to not allow the product to make contact with your scalp