PPD “Black Henna” peddler at a festival or venue near you?

I just had a conversation with a festival attendee, who called to ask my advice about what to do with her henna that did not look how she expected it to. We determined that what she got was definitely not henna, and almost certainly PPD.

I am posting a version of the letter that I sent so that you can use it for inspiration, editing as you need for reporting PPD “black henna” peddlers to festival organizers. My hope is that the letter educates the festival organizers, has them concerned about the safety of the public at their festival, and provides them with the tools they need to distinguish natural henna from PPD and other chemical dyes.

I left out scary wording like “legal liability”, as my goal is not to scare them into taking action or to see me as threatening them in any way.

Here’s the letter, so you can use it as a jumping off point when you encounter this same problem:

Dear ___ Festival Organizers,

One of your festival attendees just contacted me, seeking advice on what to do after getting black “henna” at your festival.

Please review the following information on black “henna”, which contains PPD black hair dye, and in fact usually contains no henna (a plant that yields a reddish brown dye) at all:


After reading this information, I hope you will agree that allowing PPD black “henna” at your festival is not good for your attendees’ health and safety, and hope that you are able to shut down the booth that is offering it.

I am sorry to say that the festival attendee did not get the name of the business running this booth, which is why she Googled henna in ____ and ended up finding and talking to me to discuss her concerns. If you have multiple vendors who say they are doing henna, the way to distinguish natural henna from black or other chemical “henna” is the following:

-Natural henna smells earthy and pleasant – it smells most like the essential plant oils that are added to it.
-Natural henna paste is greenish brown in color when it is wet. When it dries, it looks dark or black, but ONLY once dry.
-Natural henna will stain the skin light orange when left on for at least 5 minutes – the color will be very light at first, and will darken over 24-48 hours.
-Natural henna artists are always happy, and very quick, to disclose all of the ingredients in their paste – both upon being questioned, as well as usually on signage within the booth. Acceptable ingredients include the following: leaves of the henna plant (they MUST say this first and foremost!), lemon juice, tea/coffee/water/other natural liquid, and essential plant oils that are approved for use on skin such as cajeput, lavender, tea tree, and niaouli, plus sometimes a natural sugar (ie table sugar, molasses, fructose).

-Black PPD or other chemical additives smell funky and unpleasant – at best, like hair dye – at worst, like kerosene.
-Black / chemical paste is dark, black or almost black, even when it is wet.
-Black / chemical paste stains the skin the promised color immediately – whether it be black (which is of course the worst stuff, the PPD black hair dye) or red or brown or very bright/dark orange (which can be a range of other chemical dyes). It does not darken over time.

I hope that you find this message helpful. I have no intention of applying to do henna at your festival since I am busy with other events this weekend most years, and have no business interest in sending it. I am purely concerned with public safety at your festival, and hope that you are too.

Thank you,
Your Name Here
Natural Henna Artist

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