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Seattle henna artist warns against 'black henna'

FILE - A woman gets a henna tattoo. (Angel Aroca Escámez / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)

SEATTLE (KOMO) - Temporary henna tattoos are popular in summer since, generally speaking, more skin is exposed to show off the art and warm air helps oxidize and darken the henna.

When the proper ingredients are used, a henna tattoo is temporary, lasting 10 to 14 days.

“Henna is a natural plant dye made from the leaves of the henna plant,” said Antoinette Hippe, a henna artist who started her craft 17 years ago.

She makes a point of defining the difference between the natural henna she uses and black henna.

“Henna is only grown in certain areas of the world. Black henna is different, it’s the same chemical they use to make tires black. It's very toxic,” she said.

The FDA says the extra ingredient to make henna black is a coal-tar dye that contains a chemical called PPD, which can cause a dangerous skin reaction.

By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics used on skin.

When applied to the skin, the results can be devastating.

“It can cause chemical burns and lifetime sensitivities. I have had people come who have gotten brown henna from me who have had black henna before and they have had chemical scarring from the burn,” said Hippe.

She now works to educate people about the differences between the two, using a catchy sign with a henna cat on it that works as a great conversation starter.

Hippe said she uses only natural henna powder mixed with natural ingredients.

While squeezing a henna paste out of a hand-made cone, she explained that her paste is made from the leaves of the henna plant, made into a super-fine powder, and then she mixes it with distilled water, essential oils and sugar.

Hippe’s final piece of advice? Ask the artist where the henna came from and what's in it. If the artist doesn't know or can't answer, walk away, Hippe said.

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