Black henna can cause blistering, open sores, scarring and life-threatening health problems if someone has an allergic reaction to it.
Salons continue to offer harmful black henna despite ban and campaigns
ABU DHABI // A number of beauty salons across the capital are offering henna tattoos using dangerous black henna, despite repeated warnings and threats of closure.
The National found that two out of the 10 salons it contacted were still using black henna, claiming that their tattoos do not harm.
Abu Dhabi Municipality has two campaigns planned for before the end of Ramadan to highlight the problem ahead of the Eid Al Fitr celebrations, when many women apply black henna.
Dermatologists in the city's hospitals say that every month they have to treat a number of women whose skin has been damaged by black henna tattoos.
The problems stem, they say, from the use of the dye para-phenylenediamine (PPD), which adds a black tint to the henna tattoo. It is also used in black hair dyes. It can cause blistering, open sores, scarring and life-threatening health problems if someone has an allergic reaction to it.
Once an allergic reaction is triggered, further exposure to PPD can be fatal.
Dr Khalid Othman, a dermatologist at Al Salama Hospital, in Abu Dhabi, said he sees about five patients a month suffering from an allergic reaction to black henna, two of whom are likely to have a severe reaction and require a cortisone injection.
"Henna is not black. However, there are several things marketed as 'black Henna'. Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) is a strong sensitiser, transdermal toxin and potential carcinogen," Dr Othman said.
Hairdressers, who handle PPD every day, must wear gloves to avoid becoming overly sensitive to the compound, Dr Othman said.
"If you become sensitised to PPD, that allergy will never go away and you may become cross-sensitised to many related things. That means other, similar things may set off an allergic reaction and make you sick. Hair dye, sun block, cosmetics - even black clothing - may cause an outbreak of itching and hives," he said.
Another dermatologist at Al Salama, Dr Tariq Emar, added: "I receive at my clinic about two cases every month where damage has been caused to the skin from the use of black henna."
Abu Dhabi Municipality has also renewed closure warnings for salons flouting the ban on black henna.
Khalifa Al Rumaithi, the director of public health, said salons continuing the practice would be closed, with materials related to black henna application confiscated and fines issued.
Henna is a core element of Emirati women's make-up and has been used for millennia. The ancient Egyptians used it as a hair dye and today it is in common use around the world for both hair colouring and tattoos.
Dr Mary Koshy, a dermatologist at NMC Speciality Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said that the misuse of black henna mainly occurred during special occasions when cases arise. "Usually, we see cases of black henna during the festival time, like Eid Al Fitr, Eid Al Adha and National Day," she said. "But we receive about one or two cases per week and some cases are quite severe."
When The National enquired at one ladies beauty parlour on Muroor Road, the assistant said: "Yes, we offer only black henna services at our salon."
The woman claimed that it is not harmful to skin, stating: "We do not use chemicals which harm skin."
Another assistant at a spa and beauty centre in Abu Dhabi Gate City said: "We offer both red and black henna at the salon and the prices for either one is Dh350. Our salon is specialised in design and this is the normal price."
"My skin is very sensitive, so I never go for black henna but one of my friends applied it and it got infected," said Emirati Maryam Baniyas.
"I know some salons still continue to offer black henna, which is not allowed."
Despite the number of cases at dermatological departments in hospitals, the municipality said that very few cases of the use of black henna had been reported to it in the last two years.