Henna Painting

When Henna Painting can really get under your skin

THE next time you decide to get a henna design think twice – you might just end up with more than what you paid for.

Skin specialists in Sharjah report a number of cases where patients complain of skin inflammations, oozing, swelling and permanent skin discoloration caused by henna that has been prepared with harmful artificial dyes to make the colour last longer.

Traditionally, henna has been used by women for centuries to decorate their palms, fingernails and the soles of their feet especially for auspicious occasions such as weddings. Henna, which is a natural dye, is derived from a plant, lawsonia interims and is also used as a hair dye. The leaves of this plant are finely ground and a few drops of lemon juice are added for a darker colour after which the paste is applied to the skin in intricate designs. The concoction which is left to dry, stains the skin a burnt orange or a deep burgundy colour after a few hours. Henna is also supposed to have certain medicinal properties.

Application of henna has gained recent popularity after Western celebrities began using it as a fashion statement. Skin specialists say that the fad has caught on especially among teenagers in the UAE who wear the designs either on their forearms or on their necks. In many cases, doctors say that “Black henna” which has an additional dye called paraphenylenediamine which is a toxin used to stain the skin black, can cause skin reactions in some people that may range from mild to severe. Besides being used on palms and feet, it is also used as a hair dye.
Many of the beauty salons the The Gulf Today contacted refused to divulge the ingredients they use for the preparation of henna. Nita Ross, manager of Sharjah Fitness and Beauty Clinic – a salon that does not prepare henna concoctions – said raw chemicals including kerosene, petrol and peroxide were added to the henna paste to make the colour darker.

“The original colour of henna is reddish orange but for the colour to stay on the skin, especially the back of the hand where the colour does not remain long, a dye is added,” she said. “Peroxide is used so that the colour remains longer and the darker the colour you want, the more peroxide you have to add which causes the skin to burn.”

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can vary from person to person, said Dr Minal P Pat-wardhan, specialist in skin, venereal diseases and cosmetology at Minal Medical Clinic in Sharjah. “The infection was really severe for one of my patients who was oozing from the area of the design. Reactions can start as a redness followed by swelling in the area of the design. If the patient develops severe oozing, a short course of antibiotics is prescribed and antihistamine injections are given,” she said. The most common symptoms are severe itching, burning, swelling of skin and oozing, she said.

For some people, the reaction sets in within a few minutes while for others, it may be delayed-up to a week after applying the henna, she said. Meenakshi Bhasin, a resident of Sharjah said that her son put a black henna design on his forearm which got infected two days later. “A lot of pus developed in the area where he had applied the henna and a week later he had an infection that broke out all over his body. It took him a month to recover,” she said. The same was the case with Vardhini Kothari, a student who applied henna along with 15 friends in college. “All of my friends decided to try out black henna at our college for the first time. On the second day, it started to itch around the edges and some of my friends had their skins peeled off,” she said.

Skin reactions to henna with harmful dyes can leave a permanent tattoo on the skin, said Patwardhan. “I have seen cases where small patches of the dye seeps into their skin where it stays like a tattoo for four months. In some cases, it leaves a whitish scar after the infection has healed,” she said. Irritants like petroleum which are harmful to the skin are often used for henna, she said.

“I have seen a number of patients with skin infection from o henna,” said Dr Kamil Al Rus-tom, consultant dermatologist at Al Zahra Hospital in Sharjah. “Patients complain of an itchy sensation that is seen when the skin is irritated by an allergy. The dye that is used to make the henna colour stay longer is also absorbed into the skin which leaves a temporary tattoo of sorts,” he said. “Its essential that people who get a henna tattoo have a patch test to ensure that they are not allergic to it especially because certain concoctions are prepared with harmful chemicals.”

Black henna, which is also used as a hair dye, is detrimental, said Dr Lily Jose, skin specialist of Dr Chithra Shamsuddin’s Clinic in Sharjah. “Chemicals like
“paraphenylenediamine” can result in papules and infection and it can be severe for people with very sensitive skin,” she said. The basic ingredients of henna paste are henna and … lemon juice. Sometimes tamarind, eucalyptus oil, tea, coffee, honey and sugar are some of the other natural ingredients used to make the colour darker.

“Every 10 days or so we get a patient with an allergy to hair dye with harmful ingredients,” said Dr Satish Kumar, ‘ a skin specialist based in Dubai. Is there any way to ensure that the henna that one wants to apply is safe? “The safest way to find out if you may develop an allergy is to have a patch test. The patient can then determine whether he or she should go ahead with applying henna from a beauty salon” he said.

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