Henna and PPD

Henna powder

PPD, or paraphenylenediamine, is a chemical used in most permanent hair dyes, especially the darker types. When mixed with an oxidiser (typically hydrogen peroxide) and applied, it penetrates shafts of hair and transforms into an oxidised form whose molecules are too large to ‘escape’, thereby creating long-lasting color very effectively. There is no better chemical for the job. 

On the flip side, it’s highly allergenic, and potentially dangerous to those who have developed a sensitivity to it. There are ‘milder’ chemicals similar to PPD (other phenylenediamines or toluenediamines), which are a little less allergenic, but these aren’t quite as effective.

For anyone with allergies, dyeing one’s hair always carries a risk. Often the process involves mixing sachets of chemicals together, applying them to the hair, then later laundering the hair with an unfamiliar shampoo and conditioning it with an unfamiliar conditioner … All in all, there could be many new ingredients being applied in sequence, any number of which could be triggering. The likelihood of a reaction, be it to PPD or to another component, such as one of the preservatives or fragrances used, is relatively high.

Henna is a 100% natural coloring agent, although results can be a little unpredictable and of course temporary. The severely allergic often have no other option, and some become very fond of using it, even if it doesn’t work successfully for all. Either way, it is often recommended as the safest conceivable alternative, as reactions to it are almost unheard of. 

But is every henna hair product necessarily safe? 

There are plenty of trusted suppliers of pure henna powder and other 100% botanical products which should be. Suvarna in the UK, for instance, is perhaps the best niche stockist of brands such as the Cosmos-certified It’s Pure Organics and others (use code ALLERGY15 for 15% off across all Suvarna products). And there are popular products such as those by Light Mountain in the US.

Although henna ingredients are sometimes used in formulated cosmetics — such as those in Surya Brasil’s Henna Cream — I’d always assumed that any henna-based hair dye would be PPD free, as I was certain the permanent oxidative hair dye manufacturers restricted themselves to only artificial coloring agents within their formulations.

How wrong I was. The recall of this Indian henna-based product by Henna Vital (pictured left) this week in Europe both caught my eye and killed my assumption stone dead. 

Shockingly, it not only contains PPD — counter-intuitively to many, no doubt, given it’s henna-themed branding — but it also contains it in quantities too high to be sold on the EU market, whose cosmetic laws place a restriction of 2% PPD in the final solution as mixed according to instructions. 

It’s a salutary reminder to never become blasé about that golden allergy rule — “Every label, every time” — and to always buy your cosmetics from trusted suppliers and familiar brands, at least until you have done your homework on any new products which appear on the market, and you take every sensible precaution on use. 

The expression ‘Black Henna’ on any product should perhaps ring alarm bells. Bear in mind that you have to be even more careful outside Europe, where restrictions on PPD may not apply. This is particularly relevant with regards to so-called black henna tattoos, which are offered at many tourist hotspots around the world, and contain PPD in potentially very high levels, but perhaps little or no henna. Remember: henna is not black. Never allow yourself or your child to be painted with black henna when abroad. See my previous article on the potential consequences … 

And if you’re looking for safe PPD-free hair colours and dyes, then click here for a long list of permanent, semi-permanent, temporary, and alternative options. 


  1. Bo Bryan

    I have had an allergy towards ppd for years now and I have tried lots of different products that are supposed to be ppd free but are not! The only one out there for me is Surya Brasil Henna Cream – Natural Hair Colouring – Dark Brown – 70ml
    No ppd and no swelling of the face or reaction in any way.

    1. Alex G (Post author)

      It’s possible that you react to TDS and other related chemicals to PPD, which are used in PPD-free ‘permanent’ dyes. But good you’ve found a safe one with Surya.

  2. Billie

    FYI- I work in cosmetology and do hair color. I am 75% gray. I used hair color for about 8 years as an enhancement not to cover gray. I went from none to 40-60% gray after a traumatic experience 7 years ago. Two years ago I had a bad reaction to professional hair color. I switched to pure henna. I had used this many years ago to enhance my natural red highlights. All brands Id used were pure, because I had learned about black henna and other additives. (One I’d used was Menhandi that I had been using for a long time on and off.) I used henna and cassia (an old formula for me.) . As expected, it did not cover gray but dimmed it a little, gave a nice shine and colored the non-gray nicely. About the third time I had the same awful reaction as with professional color. I’d also had a reaction to Naturtint and Sunrise. Now, I wear gloves and a mask at work so I can continue to pay bills. I did quite a bit of research on Hairprint. It will not color/fix white or “highly gray” hair. It is very messy like henna. It takes several applications before you see results. And you cannot use it with any other hair color that is on your hair. (You will have to let it all grow out if it is permanent color!) And finally, last but not least, Hairprint is incredibly expensive. This is just info I have gleaned over the years. The reason I wrote is because people don’t always understand how dangerous hair color is. And to think someone would have cuts put into their skin and put ink under the epidermis is scary. The other thing is that many chemicals stay in the body. And after 40 or 50 years old, it is harder to fight off/heal after colds, flu, muscle pulls, surgery, bone breaks, etc. Just something to think about and consider before making any kind of permanent or chemical changes or enhancements to the only body we are going to have.

    1. Alex G (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing your experience Billie. Indeed you’re right – you have to balance whether changing your appearance, however you do it – through hair dye or tattoos or even make-up – is worth it given the potential for reactions and sensitivities. But many women (mostly women) want to continue to do so, so we have to find the best and safest ways where possible to help them. Stay well, and thanks again.


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