The art of henna painting on the body has been used for centuries in India (as part of Hindu and Sikh tradition for wedding, ceremonial and special occasions) and other parts of world, including Africa and the Middle East to create beautiful natural body decoration that can last several days.
According to Gulf News’ editorial piece (2001) about henna body painting becoming a big attraction, “the art form of henna varies from region to region, with designs meaning different things to different cultures, such as good health, fertility, wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.”
The art of mehndi became a hot trend in the late 1990s, as a wonderful way to dye the skin and to achieve the look of a tattoo; in the past, the henna was used in ancient Egypt to stain the fingers and toes of the Pharaohs prior to mummification.
Artisans use the practice of henna body painting to make quick and painless tattoos. Parts of Lawsonia Inermis plant can be used to make oil, a paste or powder, which is essential for a good henna design. It is commonly used to paint skin decorations on women’s hands, fingernails, feet, or other parts of the body. The leaves of this plant contain tannin and vason; when dried and crushed into a fine powder form, they can serve as an important coloring agent. Even men have used henna as a dye for hair and beards to prevent greyness.
The Henna plant used in cosmetics has also many other purposes: the Henna oil extracted from within the flower is also used as a cooling agent for treating muscle pain and wounds. In some cases, application of the Henna Plant (Mehendi) is used for Ayurvedic medicine in treatment of many skin diseases.
However, products sold as “black henna,” for example, which do not derive from the plant, is said to cause allergic reaction on sensitive skin. Recently, a woman (kindergarten teacher Germaletta Brown) was in agony after her black henna treatment in an Al Ain salon. Apparently, she did not know that applying ‘black henna’ to her skin with para-phenylenediamine (PPD)-based black hair dye properties–to make black temporary body art–could cause severe allergic reactions. Dr. Mary Koshy, a dermatologist at NMC Speciality Hospital in Abu Dhabi said it happens a lot, with blistering and intense itching, in some cases.
As a result, black-henna tattoos are banned in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, states The National, as henna boosted with PPD can cause lifelong health damage and leave permanent scarring too. However, a number of beauty salons are still using dangerous black henna, despite repeated warnings and threats of closure said Khalifa Al Rumaithi, the director of public health. He intends to close those salons continuing the practice of applying materials related to black henna application.
Despite the forewarnings, there remain cases of black henna being done during the festival time, like Eid Al Fitr, Eid Al Adha and National Day, Dr. Mary Koshy said. Time and again, the Abu Dhabi Municipality has initiated campaigns to help put an end to the use of black henna.
Black henna that contains para-phenylenediamine oxidative dye has also seized the attention of concerned Dubai health authorities’ who report of allergic reactions appearing five to twenty days after application in most subjects. Unfortunately, people do not fully understand the dangers of black henna with chemical dye that can be so powerful and toxic that it is illegal to use it on the skin.
The Dubai Municipality continues to warn people against applying black henna not at all safe, so do not put your health at risk. Any temporary henna-like designs in red, white or any other color (brown) is a better option, only if it has been tested for banned chemical substances.
In sum, Henna tattoos are beautiful and temporary but not always safe. Just stay away from PPD & Chemical Laced Henna (Black Henna), as it increases the risk of allergic contact with an adverse reaction to the tattoo pigments.