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What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Henna?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An allergic reaction to henna usually results in a blistered, red, and raised rash on the exact areas where it was applied to the skin. When henna ink is used for temporary tattoos, this can result in a rash in elaborate shapes and designs. All other areas usually remain unaffected. Very severe reactions could lead to additional swelling, trouble breathing, and wheezing, however, and although these instances are very rare, they should be taken seriously.

Most of the time, an allergic reaction to henna occurs when someone uses a henna-based ink for the purpose of body art. Henna tattoos are not usually made from 100% real henna, though, and reactions can be in response to chemical additives found in these inks rather than to the henna itself. Real henna is a plant that can be used to create dye, and allergic reactions are rare when pure inks are used. The additive paraphenylenediamine is the most common chemical related to an allergic reaction to this form of body art.

In the vast majority of cases, the reaction is not considered dangerous. Sufferers may develop an itchy red rash in the exact shape their henna tattoo, with all surrounding skin remaining the unharmed. Rashes may also form blisters that can eventually bleed and scab. Once the symptoms begin to subside, however, long-term signs can remain. For instance, many people experience permanent scarring or skin discoloration long after the reaction has ended.

To prevent long-term damage to the skin, those who experience an allergic reaction to henna should speak with a dermatologist. A prescription anti-itch cream and inflammation reducer may be prescribed. Scratching increases the risk for scarring, so this should be avoided when possible. Some patients may also be given additional medication to help reduce the risk of scars.

Before getting a henna tattoo, consumers should ask well in advance which ingredients are being used in the ink. Allergic reactions to natural henna are rare, so pure inks are typically considered safe. If paraphenylenediamine is used, a small amount should be placed on the skin in a hidden area to see how the body will react. If any redness or swelling occurs, the ink should be washed off immediately and the area should be rinsed with cool water. Those who have had a previous allergic reaction to henna hair dyes should generally avoid henna-based inks because they each contain similar, potentially irritating ingredients.

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Discussion Comments

By anon991343 — On Jun 13, 2015

I applied henna and once I got an allergic reaction. Although I put on black henna a lot as a child and I was fine, but later on, I was constantly itching and it bled.

By anon963527 — On Jul 30, 2014

I've had a few henna tattoos done before and I've never had any negative reactions. This time, however, my design looks slightly raised, and it is not smooth like it normally should be. It's not very noticeable, but the design just doesn't look as crisp and clean. I'm kind of freaking out. Is this an allergic reaction? I used natural henna, not black henna.

By anon949944 — On May 07, 2014

I've used henna several times and never, ever had an allergic reaction, but this time I got itching and burning that never lets me do anything. Does anybody know any home remedy to soothe the skin?

By anon323655 — On Mar 06, 2013

I'm confused. I didn't get black henna. Can someone please tell me what I should do.

By anon302943 — On Nov 12, 2012

Ugh. I'm going through this now. I have red bumps on my wrists from black henna. I've had henna done many times and this has never happened, but I always got the natural henna done. The black kind is artificial and is the cause of the blisters, etc. The natural henna that Indians and other eastern cultures typically use is fine. Just don't get the black henna.

By burcidi — On Feb 15, 2012

@feruze-- I did have an allergic reaction to henna. This wasn't the henna that you put on your hands but the henna that you put on your hair as hair dye.

I mixed it with water and started applying it to my hair with a brush. It was fine for the first ten minutes but all of the sudden, I felt this intense burning sensation on my scalp. I looked at my scalp and it looked like my scalp was changing color, like becoming very white.

I completely freaked out, ran to the shower and washed my scalp and hair right away. I didn't lose any hair thankfully, but my scalp hurt for several days afterward. It was scary.

By fify — On Feb 14, 2012

@feruze-- There isn't anything called "hypo-allergic henna." But I've been doing henna on my hands for years and I've never had an allergic reaction to it.

Henna is actually all-natural, it is made from the dried leaves of the henna tree. But some products, especially those pre-packaged, pre-mixed henna cones and black henna have chemicals and other ingredients in them.

If you buy green powdered henna (this is the original natural form) and mix it yourself with water at home, the chance of an allergic reaction will be very low. You can always do an allergy test on your skin with a little henna several days before. If your skin turns red, gets bumps or starts itching, don't use it.

By bear78 — On Feb 14, 2012

Oh wow, I didn't know that henna could cause an allergic reaction. I've heard so much about henna art designs and I had finally decided to have an Indian style henna party before my wedding.

My best friend is Indian and she told me that it is tradition in India and in many other countries for brides to have henna designs done on their hands before a wedding. I've seen pictures of it and it looks beautiful.

But now I'm kind of worried because I have sensitive skin. It would be disaster if I got a rash and blisters before my wedding.

Has anyone had an allergic reaction to henna? Is there such a thing as hypo-allergic henna?

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