On the Beach Limited

Understanding the risks of henna art

Henna being painted onto hand.

In recent years, henna tattoos have become more and more popular with holidaymakers who want to bring home a temporary reminder of their trip abroad. Whilst natural dyes are generally safe, there is a clear risk associated with the less authentic and unnatural black dyes which have become more widely available at holiday destinations and resorts across the world.

On the Beach advises customers to avoid getting henna art done whilst on holiday, particularly if the dye is black and the ingredients are not identifiable as natural and safe.

What is henna?

Originating on the Indian subcontinent, henna is an ink made from dried leaves and other natural ingredients, which can be applied to bodies to create intricately-patterned tattoos, normally lasting for up to three weeks before the design fades away. The authentic ink has a reddish brown or orange hue and is often applied with a small stick or twig. As traditional henna dye (or paste) is made from all-natural ingredients it is generally safe, however as everyone’s body can react differently to any substance there are certainly no guarantees.

What's the problem with black henna?

In recent years there has been an increase in the usage of black henna dyes, which can be cheaper and easier to produce and often contain unnatural ingredients that can irritate the wearer’s skin. In some cases people have experienced allergic or chemical reactions to the black dye, resulting in blisters, scabs and scarring. In a small number of cases, the symptoms have proven fatal.

Green coastline, beach and sea.

Here at On the Beach we would always advise against getting henna tattoos whilst on holiday as it’s usually extremely difficult to be certain that the dye is natural and authentic. If you are going to get henna body art done, always ask the artist what the dye consists of as these should be natural ingredients such as henna leaf powder, water or lemon juice, tea tree or lavender oil, and sugar.

If the ingredients are made up of unnatural sounding ingredients such as; mehndi oil, black clove oil, sodium picramate, metallic salts, PPD (an ingredient typically used safely in hair dyes, but often present in unsuitably high levels in black henna dye), or henna stone, then you should steer clear of this particular henna tattoo vendor.

If you’re in any doubt whatsoever then you should always err on the side of caution and refrain from getting any henna body art done. For anyone who had any henna art done and is experiencing any pain or discomfort, we would urge you to contact your local GP.

You can also read the NHS’s advice on the use of black henna.