x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Capital bans chemicals used to make 'black henna'

Officials are carrying out random inspections of salons to cull synthetic compounds, one of which has been linked to cases of leukaemia.

ABU DHABI // Chemicals used to darken henna that can cause dangerous reactions and burn the skin have been banned in the capital, Abu Dhabi Municipality said yesterday. If traces of additives such as benzine, petroleum and P-phenylenediamine (PPD) are discovered in henna used at the city's salons, the substance will be confiscated and the salon may face legal action, said Khalifa al Romaithi, acting director of the public health division at the municipality.

Beauty salons will be checked regularly in random inspections to ensure harmful additives that can cause "serious health complications" are not being added to the natural dye, the municipality said. Traditionally, rose oil, limes and dried lemons would be mixed with henna powder as a method of darkening the dye; now, however, some salons take shortcuts, said Khalifa al Romaithi, the acting director of the public health division at the municipality

"Nowadays, for speed, salons mix the henna with benzene, or even hair dye, which is also harmful for prolonged periods on the skin," said Mr al Romaithi. Some salons use a mixture that is 80 per cent black hair dye and 20 per cent henna on customers, he said. PPD, which is classed by the EU as an "extremely potent skin sensitiser", is found in hair dyes and can cause severe allergic reactions. When deciding on fines, the severity of the punishment will depend on how serious the offence is, said Mr al Romaithi.

A salon could be shut down completely, have its licence revoked, or face a minimum fine of Dh2,000. He added that, in addition, charges could be pressed against salon owners. In the past week alone random inspections of henna samples from salons in the capital, sent to the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) for testing - have found three salons using harmful, synthetic forms of henna on women, according to the municipality.

A study done in association with the University of Sharjah last year found PPD concentrations of up to 29.5 per cent in random samples from 25 salons in the UAE. A concentration of more than six per cent is described as "extremely potent" by the EU. There are no known negative side effects associated with natural henna, which comes in a powder form and, when mixed with water, produces a reddish-orange dye used to decorate women's hands and feet with intricate designs. However, products marketed as "black henna" often contain PPD and other additives. This "tampered" henna, said Mr al Romaithi, is what the municipality is banning.

"Salons and customers should be careful not to buy ready-made henna mixtures, because they will not be able to ensure that it does not contain harmful substances; just buy the natural kind," he said. "Black henna" is popular with street hawkers and on desert safari excursions due to its fast-acting nature, so it is often used by tourists. In addition, the darker dye is popular with Sudanese nationals, said Nouffissa Mouti, owner of the Lulu Beauty Centre in the capital.

Recent research by the conducted by the UAE university in Al Ain linked leukaemia in Emirati woman - who suffer from the disease at higher rates than male Emiratis - to benzine in synthetic henna dyes. "The younger generation of Arabs who are not from the Gulf, and also Europeans and Americans, prefer the black henna because they want it in a temporary tattoo form, not the traditional designs that Emirati women prefer," said Ms Mouti.

Natural henna is still more popular among Emirati women. "Henna is part of our culture and tradition, but it is no longer being used safely," said Mr al Romaithi. The municipality hopes that the public targeting of salons will raise awareness among girls and women who use henna. "Our next step is a plan to target students and spread the information in shopping malls as well," he said. @Email:hkhalaf@thenational.ae