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Are Henna Tattoos a Health Risk?

Summer festivals are in full swing, and one thing I see at many of them is women applying Henna tattoos. Also known as Mehndi, these tattoos are not actually permanent and only last between one and three weeks, depending on your skin and the quality of the henna. The tattoo is applied in the form of a paste that looks like chocolate frosting made by grinding up dried leaves from the henna plant and is mixed with water, lemon, and essential oils. After the paste dries, it's peeled or picked off after about 24 hours and you're left with an orangey-brown stain tattoo on your skin.

Since it's made from a plant, it has to be safe, right? To find out


Henna is perfectly safe, when mixed with lemon, water, and other natural ingredients such as eucalyptus oil. The problem is, some henna artists apply something called black henna. This type of henna is dangerous because it contains para-phenylenediamine (PPD) hair dye. When applied to your skin it leaves a black stain, but can cause blisters, open sores, and scarring.

How can you tell if a henna tattoo is safe or not? Traditional henna paste will look dark green, khaki, or greenish brown, not black, so if a henna artist is applying a slick black paste, do not get a tattoo from them. You can also ask the artist how long you're supposed to leave the paste on. If they say less than one hour, they're using PPD. Traditional henna doesn't stain your skin that quickly. Also ask the artist what color the stain will be once the paste comes off. If the answer is black, walk away. Henna will leave an orange stain that will darken to red brown or dark brown, but it's never black. If you're just not sure, it's best to skip out on the henna tattoo. If you're set on getting one, buy a henna kit ($24) and do it yourself.

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