A Comparison of Body Art Quality Henna Paste, Pre-Made Pastes, and “Black Henna”

 

 

 

A little while ago, I read a post by a henna artist on a social media site bemoaning that yet another person contacted her to say that henna was dangerous and that it would cause allergic reactions. This is not uncommon in the henna body art community. Henna paste for body art made from body art quality  (BAQ) henna and other natural ingredients is completely safe. This person had most likely heard of the dangers of “black henna.” Then, there are those people on the opposite side of misinformation who believe that if a product is called “henna,” it must therefore be natural and safe 100% of the time.  Also not true.

The sad truth is that there are innumerable mass-produced products easily accessible online and on international store shelves which claim to be “henna” but are a mixture of food dyes, solvents, preservatives, para-phenelyendiamine (PPD), and other additives. These products are labeled as “henna,” but may not contain any material from the lawsonia inermis plant.

These products are designed to be a fast, cheap, and easy alternative to mixing true henna paste from scratch. True henna paste must be mixed, dye-released, and coned. It degrades at room temperature. True henna must be left on the skin for several hours for a deep stain; after paste removal, the stain is light at first, then oxidizes to a deeper color over the subsequent 48 hours. Stains from true henna paste vary depending on skin thickness and texture. Pre-made pastes are designed to have long shelf-lives, and quick, dark stains, but at potential risk to the consumer.

 As the word “henna” is not regulated, it can be used simply to describe a form of body art which involves temporarily staining the skin, rather than the product of the henna plant. To learn more about the differences between pure, BAQ henna, mass-produced henna cones, and “black henna,” click here. To learn more about the dangers of PPD and “black henna,” click here.

The population is very diverse in my neighborhood of Montreal, Quebec, and as a result, there are several international grocery stores within just a few blocks of my home. I went out to the nearest two and purchased all of the pre-made “henna” cones I found on the shelves. I also purchased two types of powdered black hair dyes popularly used to create “black henna” paste. I compared each of these products to my own BAQ paste in terms of texture, odor, and color. I also recorded notes on the packaging and instructions, and conducted a paper chromatography test to observe dye separation. Here are my findings.

 

Comparing BAQ Henna Paste, Pre-made Pastes, and Paste Made From Powdered Hair Dye

The purpose of this study is to note physical and chemical differences between true, BAQ henna paste, and products which are used as alternatives. As I sampled only the products available within a short distance from my home, future studies may be done on a wider range of products such as those most popular on online shopping sites.

Without more advanced methods at my disposal, it is impossible to determine the exact ingredients in the products, and therefore their level of safety. To err on the side of caution, I assumed that all of the store-bought products were potentially harmful, taking the safety measures described in the section below. The powdered hair dyes clearly indicated their ingredients, which included para-phenylenediamine, known to be highly sensitizing when in contact with the skin.

The purpose of this study is not to comment on the quality, popularity, or reputation of any of the products involved, but rather to report on the attributes which can be noted through basic observation.

 

Safety Measures

Please note that I do not, under any circumstance, recommend replicating this experiment. There was no way to determine what the products contained and whether they were dangerous. The powdered hair dyes contained a concentrated amount of PPD, which is known to be highly sensitizing, as well as toxic if ingested. Many of the pre-made pastes possessed no ingredients label; those that did were likely to have excluded ingredients from their list due to lax regulation. I wore protective gloves and worked in a well-ventilated space to prevent skin contact and inhalation of fumes. Afterward, I thoroughly cleaned all surfaces to prevent future exposure or contamination.

 

Product Selection

For this experiment, a product qualified if it met one or more of the following: 1) It was labeled “henna” and came in a cone or tube; 2) it did not have the word “henna” but packaging showed images of decorated skin; 3) it was packaged and marketed as a black hair dye, but is known for use on skin.

I purchased every product available in two local international stores, without purchasing duplicates, or more than one product from each brand. In the case of two products from the same brand, I chose that which advertised a darker color.

In total, I purchased six pre-made pastes and two powdered black hair dyes. All products except Cone 4 (Kanza) are shown in the image below.

 

 

 

 

 

Procedure

Using written notes as well as visual and audio recording, I commented on each product’s packaging, including the presence of ingredients lists, instructions, warnings, promised results, and country or manufacture.

After opening the packaging, I noted physical qualities of the paste: consistency, color, and odor. I tested each paste by drawing lines and dots. In the case of the two hair dye powders, I mixed each with water to a consistency similar to the pre-made pastes.

I then conducted two additional tests: one for flammability, and the second a chromatography test to compare dye separation between products. The procedures and results for these two tests will be discussed in detail later in this article.

All products’ results were compared to a cone of BAQ henna paste which I created using henna powder, lemon juice, water, sugar, and essential oils.

 

Packaging

The pre-made pastes were relatively similar in packaging. They were either in a plastic tube with a small twist cap, similar to the type of packaging for an ointment; or, they were in a rolled foil cone which was taped at the top and sealed with a pin at the tip.

Nearly all of the products came from Pakistan, with the exception of Cone 4, which was from Dubai. Only two products featured ingredients lists, and only one recommended a patch test. Very few instructions were present. Cone 5 read, “Wash hands after 15 minutes” which could be interpreted either as instructions, a warning, or an advertisement of the speed of the product’s staining ability.

Four of the six pastes had “Export Quality” printed somewhere on the packaging. I could not find clear information about the countries’ standards for determining this. More likely than not, they are just words put on there to sound fancy.

The two powdered hair dyes had complete instructions, warnings, and ingredients lists. Warnings and ingredients were printed on the box; the pamphlets inside repeated the warnings, and provided instructions for conducting a patch test as well as mixing and application.

The boxes of hair dye each contained a small glass bottle with a twist cap, underneath which was a rubber stopper. Each supplied a small measuring cup, and one supplied disposable gloves.

Both hair dyes were marketed toward Eastern Asian customers, and/or included Eastern Asian elements on the packaging. One was from a Japanese company which outsourced its manufacturing to India; the other was produced in Pakistan. Both boxes included promises of no ammonia or peroxide, adding to the sense that the product was safe or healthy. (Side note: the woman who rung me up commented that these dyes were “natural,” and “much safer than what you’d get at a drug store.” I just smiled and nodded.)

 

Below are details for each product’s packaging.

 

Cone 1

Name of Product

On Box: “Almas / Cone Henna Paste / Henna Body Decoration Paste”

On Tube: “Special Cone Henna Paste”

Type of Packaging

Plastic tube with thin tip twist cap, within a paper box

Country of Manufacture

Pakistan

Ingredients Listed

None listed

Instructions

Warning

“External Use Only”

Additional Details

On Box:

Black”

One of the finest quality and largest selling Henna in the world”

On Tube:

“100% Color”

“No side effect.”

“We feel proud that your trust is on our product...”

Export Quality From Pakistan”

An email address provided

 

Cone 2

Name of Product

“Shama / Cone Henna / Henna Body Decoration Paste”

Type of Packaging

Plastic tube with thin tip twist cap, within a paper box

Country of Manufacture

Pakistan

Ingredients Listed

Natural Hinna, Hinna Oil, Citric Acid & Water” (sic)

Instructions

See Image Below

Warning

Warning: Not to be used on lips and aroun the eyes area” (sic)

Additional Details

Extra Dark Color”

Finest Quality Henna in The World”

Halal”