Black Henna Tattoos: Hot New Trend Is Not So Hot
Henna tattoos have been around for thousands of years – mainly in North Africa, Egypt, India and parts of the Middle East. When we think of henna tattoos, an image of beautiful, delicate designs comes to mind, and while their symbolism differs from one ancient culture to the next, in the Western world, henna tattoos (often black henna tattoos) are a modern trend that has made an appearance in the last five years.
The trend is popular among modern Western brides, spring breakers and other (mostly) women who revel in the expression of individuality through body art, even if it is only temporary. In fact, it’s the temporary nature of henna tattoos that makes the ancient tradition popular in the west.
Henna powder (or paste) is made from the crushed leaves of the henna plant which is grown in South Asian and North African countries. When henna is applied to the skin, it leaves an stain ranging in color from orange to dark maroon that fades within 1 to 2 weeks depending on the quality of the paste, individual skin type, and how long the paste is allowed to stay on the skin before removing. For skin dyeing, a paste of ground henna powder is mixed with lemon juice, strong tea, or other mildly acidic liquids to make a preparation with a toothpaste-like consistency.
The paste is artfully applied to the skin and remains there for a few hours, or overnight. A light stain may be achieved within minutes, but the longer the paste is left on the skin, the stronger the stain will be. To prevent the paste from drying or falling off the skin, it is often sealed down by dabbing a sugar/lemon mix over the dried paste, or simply adding some form of sugar to the paste. It is debatable whether this adds to the color of the end result; some believe it increases the intensity of the shade. After time the dry paste is brushed or scraped away, leaving the stained design on the skin.
Henna stains are orange soon after application, but darken within days to a reddish brown. The soles and palms will have the darkest and most long-lasting stains. Steaming or warming the henna pattern will darken the stain, either during the time the paste is still on the skin, or after the paste has been removed. Over time, as the stain reaches its peak color it will begin to fade as the stained dead cells are sloughed off the body.
Black Henna Tattoos – Buyer Beware
The modern trend for temporary henna tattooing is popular among beach goers at boardwalks, beach kiosk’s, tattoo kiosks, tanning salons, as well as some ethnic or specialty shops.
In many of these cases, though, the product used is not true henna made from the plant (as described above), but may be black henna – and may even be marketed as ‘Black Henna Tattoos’. Black henna tattoos, marketed as ‘Henna,’ is often just an inexpensive coal-tar black dye that contains p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people and is banned from use in cosmetics that are intended to be applied to the skin.
According to the FDA, one way to spot a shop that uses black henna is to look for claims that the tattoos are ‘long lasting’. As stated before, true henna tattoos are reddish brown in color (not black) and last from a few days to 3-4 weeks at the most.
MedWatch, the FDA’s safety and health complaints hotline, has had scores of consumers reporting bad side effects to the ‘black henna’ tattoos that include redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation and even permanent scarring. These reactions may happen right after the tattoo is applied, or up to two or three weeks later.
In an effort to warn consumers, the FDA has posted two telling photos of a group of friends showing off their temporary black henna tattoos (FDA #1) – the littlest hand in the group is that of a 5-year-old girl, whose skin severely reddened where the tattoo was applied (FDA #2). There are many other cases of skin damage, like a 19-year-old woman whose skin bubbled up over the swirly tattoo pattern after she got a black henna tattoo at a wedding. Click here to see loads of photos of reactions to black henna tattoos.
So if you want to adorn your body with a henna tattoo – don’t be alarmed. Traditional henna tattooing has been used in ancient cultures for centuries without issue. That’s because the true henna is natural and the paste is made without harmful chemical additives that can damage the skin. Henna Tattooing is a beautiful expression of culture, celebration and symbolism. If you want a henna tattoo, go ahead, just do your research and remember that henna tattoos are typically orange, brown and maroon tones – not black.
Learn more about the History of Henna Tattoos here.