Getting the Right Green--Common Errors with Henna Powders

When you look at henna powder, it looks green.  Depending on where it comes from, it might be slightly yellower or browner, but it will be in the green family.  However, with a lack of information and perhaps for the sake of naming products, there are many errors made when labeling and marketing henna powders.

Read more about (1) black henna, (2)how indigo is mislabeled as black henna, the truth about neutral henna, and how to find out if there is green dye in the henna powder.

(1) One common error is "black henna."  Let's begin by stating the fact that there is no such thing as black henna.  "Black henna" is a name that has been attached to 2 different types of substances in the henna industry.  The first substance is a harsh chemical which contains para-phenylendiamine (PPD).  PPD is a phosphorus based black hair dye that causes blistering, rashes, sores, and is a potential carcinogen.  Unfortunately, some people apply this substance to the skin in order to get a design that looks black, and similar to a real tattoo.  Health Canada warns against black henna.

(2) The second substance is in powder form and is derived from the indigo plant.  Indigo, when used as hair dye in conjunction with henna can give you a jet black stain, thus, distributors of indigo labeled it as black henna.  For the sake of keeping things simple, distributors label indigo as black henna, because it can give you a black stain (on the head only).

(3) Another common error is "neutral henna."  Again, there is no such thing as neutral henna.  This time, distributors made a mistake by naming this neutral henna.  In all reality, "neutral henna" is either the henna powder with very low levels of the dye molecule (lawsone), or a powder derived from a plant called cassia obovata.  Cassia obovata is a powder that looks very much like henna powder, but generally does not stain the hands or hair.  Cassia is an excellent conditioner, making the hair glossy and thick, promoting a healthy scalp and hair growth. Because of its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, cassia conditioning treatment is perfect for dandruff.  Henna Art now has cassia for hair available! Please do not be mistaken:  "cassia" by itself is the name for cinnamon, whereas "cassia obovata," also commonly known as "senna" is the product used for the hair. 

(4)  Finally, there is "green" in henna.  Sometimes, farmers/distributors of henna powder spray a green dye on the leaves while they are drying.  This green dye is supposed to enhance the look of the henna powder, making it more aesthetically pleasing.  However, the only thing this does is add a chemical dye to the henna leaves.  Since some people think greener is better, distributors of henna powder often sell powders with green dyes, in hopes of increasing sales.  In all reality, "greener" does not mean its better.  As mentioned previously, some of the best henna powders are more yellow or brown instead of a bright green.  While the green dye is not detectable with the naked eye, you can test your powder to see if there has been artificial dyes added to the henna leaves.  This can easily be done by mixing a small amount of henna powder with water or lemon juice.  Place a quarter size amount of paste in between two pieces of plastic.  Wait 10 minutes and check for results.  If there is a visible green dye separating from the paste, then there are artificial dyes added to the powder.  If there is no bleeding of green dye, and all you see is the paste, then you are good to go!  Remember, with henna powder--you get what you pay for!  Buy quality henna powder, always triple sifted for body art!

With this information, it will be easier to choose the right henna powder, and distinguish the differences among commonly made errors associated with henna.

Happy henna shopping!