White henna has taken the region by storm. Here we examine the popularity and pitfalls of this latest body-art trend.
Investigating the new trend of white henna in the UAE
A delicate, fanciful twist on the traditional temporary body art of henna is the latest trend to catch on regionally – as well as nab the attention of concerned Dubai health authorities.
White henna was introduced by a 28-year-old artist from Pakistan, Sara Vazir, who launched her business, Sara’s Henna, in Hong Kong six years ago.
Vazir, who spoke about henna at a TEDx talk in Hong Kong last year, introduced her white variety to the UAE during a demonstration trip here in May. One look she created, designed to resemble a white lace glove, was endorsed by Dubai’s popular resident beauty blogger Huda Kattan, who has 5.5 million followers on Instagram.
“When Huda Kattan’s social- media followers in Dubai and the Middle East saw it, it suddenly became a big craze,” says Vazir.
White henna is also trending in Kuwait, with Vazir being overbooked with clients from the region.
“It’s not real henna, but a temporary piece of body art that lasts anywhere between one and three days,” she explains.
In its purest form, traditional deep reddish-brown henna is made from a flowering plant by drying and crushing its leaves into a fine powder. It is generally mixed with sugar, lemon juice and essential oils, and has been painted on the hands and feet of women for centuries in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
Vazir’s white henna, however, is not made from traditional ingredients. Instead, its ingredients are medical adhesives mixed with water and acrylic-based pigments – all, Vazir insists, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.
Earlier this month, however, Dubai Municipality warned residents against applying white henna unless it has been tested for banned substances. Although at the time authorities said they hadn’t found any salons offering white henna in Dubai, The National found at least one.
Staff at the Doll House in Dubai, which has branches in Al Barsha and in Jumeirah at the Dubai Ladies Club, confirmed they had been using the white henna – but said they stopped after receiving the municipality’s warning.
Vazir maintains that her product is absolutely safe and does not contain hazardous substances.
“I create the art using all FDA-compliant body-art products,” she says.
Unscrupulous salons trying to recreate her mix with cheap products are to blame for the municipality’s note of caution, she says.
“I have received complaints of ingredients like PVA glue, Tipp-Ex corrector and bleach being used,” she says. “They are not good for your skin.
“My advice to women is that they must ensure the henna artist knows exactly what is in the white henna.”
In 2009, authorities in Dubai banned black henna, a paste that includes the chemical p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) and dramatically deepens the natural henna hue. But each year a few salons are found flouting the rules.
According to Dr Rahul Chaudhary, a specialist dermatologist at the International Modern Hospital in Dubai, the various adhesives and colouring agents mixed with natural henna can cause a mild to severe allergic reaction.
“PPD is the most notorious agent in black henna and we have had some patients with reactions to it in the past,” says Chaudhary.
“It can react with the skin and lead to allergic contact dermatitis. The area where the henna has been absorbed becomes red, and blisters may form that are very itchy in nature. Sometimes a reaction may occur away from the site, as well.”
Although these symptoms are temporary, repeated use of the allergen can cause a patient to develop “memory t-cells”, which can elicit a more severe reaction the next time, he explains.
Dr Chaudhary says natural henna is the safest form to apply on the body and any other artificial dye for a temporary or semi-permanent colour can cause allergies.
Clients who are seeking new forms of temporary body art should do a patch test, he says, to prevent major skin reactions.
“Start with a small area to see how the skin behaves,” he advises, “because everyone reacts differently to these ingredients.”
Queency Fernandes, a manager at Aroushi Beauty Salon & Spa in Oud Metha, had heard about the white-henna trend.
“We only use the natural henna, which is the reddish-brown colour,” says Fernandes.
“Even if we do want to darken the colour, we’ll add a bit of coffee, but only on the request of the client.”
The salon never used black henna, says Fernandes, and has not started offering the white variety because its staff are not sure what is in it.
“We don’t want to import something we aren’t sure of,” she says.