“Tattoos” with “Henna”… as harmless as we think?

What is henna?

Henna is a natural reddish colored dye obtained from the crushed Lawsonia alba plant. It is found in North Africa, India and the Middle East.

What is it used for?

It has been used for centuries to dye clothes, and is very popular in some countries to tone hair, nails and decorate hands and feet. It is even considered a beauty ritual that is part of many festivities and ceremonies, such as weddings.

The figurative art resulting from applying the dye on the skin is not a true tattoo, since the pigment is not injected under the epidermis, as it happens in true tattoos. This pigmentation will be eliminated naturally in a few days thanks to the natural process of skin desquamation.

Nowadays, henna decoration has invaded tourist sites and it is not uncommon to see it on many people, even children, when they return from vacation.

Is there such a thing as black Henna?

You should know that real henna is never black, but this color is the result of adding substances such as PPD (paraphenylenediamine). It is done to achieve a more “eye-catching” result, perhaps more similar to a real “tattoo”, and also more durable.

What should we know about PPD?

The problem with the PPD substance is that it can cause allergic reactions on the skin with the formation of redness, blisters, depigmentation or even scarring, which can be persistent.

In addition, people who come into contact with PPD may be permanently sensitized, i.e. they may develop these symptoms again when in contact with PPD that is part of other substances (e.g. hair dyes on the market…). Another risk to take into account is that they may be sensitized to other chemically similar substances (oral medications, cosmetics, injected anesthetics…).

PPD is known to be at a much higher concentration in black henna than in commercially available products that are permitted for use.

It is very rare for natural henna to produce this type of reaction.

Allergic dermatitis with blistering caused by black henna


Avoid those “tattoos” with henna of dubious origin or composition, do not apply black henna on the skin, and if you present any alteration or symptoms on the skin after its application, consult a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Dr. Beatriz Fleta