28 May 2017Last updated

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Ask the expert: I’m allergic to henna

Use of natural henna does not usually trigger allergic reactions

Dr Ikramullah Al Nasir
4 Apr 2016 | 04:34 pm

I’ve been using henna for a long time to colour my hair and beard but of late find that I have developed an allergy to it. I do not like to use chemical dyes. Please advise.

Use of natural henna does not usually trigger allergic reactions, but at the same time it can only temporarily colour your hair with a yellowish-red shade. As such, most of the marketed henna that colours the hair black are not natural henna, and are called black henna. Natural henna is made from ground leaves of the plant Senna italica while black henna is usually derived from indigo and may also contain many unlisted dyes and chemicals.

Your skin reaction is most likely caused by one of the chemicals in black henna. 
Such reactions are medically diagnosed as allergic contact dermatitis.

These reactions could be mild, moderate, severe or extremely serious in nature (anaphylaxis).

Allergic contact dermatitis reactions do not occur on first or early exposures. Initially, these chemicals sensitise the human immune system and it’s only on subsequent exposures that symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis become pronounced. The mainstay of the treatment for a long-term remission or achieving a cure is possible only through stopping the use of such dyes.

To treat the allergic skin reactions, we usually prescribe potent topical steroids together with a short course of oral antihistamine. Extremely severe, generalised reactions might need hospitalisation in rare cases.

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Dr Ikramullah Al Nasir

Dr Ikramullah Al Nasir

is a specialist dermatologist and founder and president of Dermacare Skin Health Services.