The Rare But Scary Dangers of Henna Hair Dye

·Senior Editor
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A beauty and health vlogger whose online feeds typically feature beautiful green smoothies, raw kale spring rolls, and shots of wheatgrass took a scary turn recently, when her salon color — supposedly done with all-natural henna — triggered a horrific allergic reaction that landed her in the ER.

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“I’m still not one hundred percent yet. I’m weak and very tired but I’m taking it one day at a time,” Chemese Armstrong, of Texas, tells Yahoo Beauty. “I don’t know the brand of the henna because it was done at a salon. The salon owner has yet to get in contact with me. My focus right now is my health.”

Armstrong’s nightmare began when she decided to get her hair darkened at an Austin salon, Jamila Salon Suites. She had zeroed in on the place because it offered dye jobs done with natural henna, noting on its website that it is “safe to use” and recommended for clients with “sensitive scalps or allergies to chemicals.”

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Armstrong, while on vacation in Miami in 2014, had discovered her allergy to the chemical additive p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) when she had her hair dyed in a salon and suffered a severe reaction of itchy, swollen skin. PPD is associated with liver toxicity; skin, eye, and lung irritation; and cancer. A dermatologist advised her to try henna the next time. Though she was nervous, Armstrong felt comfortable after speaking with her service provider at Jamila and asking her “a million questions” about the henna, which, according its website, Ancient Ayurvedic, is safe, all-natural, and manufactured in Austin. They did a strand test, waited 30 minutes, and then proceeded.

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Armstrong giving an update on her condition in a Mar. 14 video. (Photo: YouTube)

But within hours of her treatment, Armstrong’s scalp felt like it was “on fire,” and her face began to swell. Her eyes were soon swollen shut, and she was in “severe pain … and starting to freak out because it was getting worse,” she explains in a recent YouTube video update. She wound up first at a doctor’s office and then, when the situation didn’t improve, the ER, which finally got the reaction under control, sending her home with an EpiPen.

“This whole thing has been extremely, extremely traumatic,” she says in the YouTube video, and sharing her story and photos was “very personal,” particularly her Facebook post, from March 9, which showed the terrifying progression of her facial swelling.

“If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I try to be as transparent as possible,” she began. “You will also know that my 100 days of just juice and smoothies has been very important to me. Today is day 100!!! The past couple of days have been extremely rough. … I’m not in any more pain and I feel things are heading in the right direction. I hate that this had to happen but now I’m even more focus on making sure that my health is number one priority.”

Yahoo Beauty reached out to Jamila Salon Suites on Thursday and spoke briefly with Jamila, assumed to be the owner, who said that perhaps Armstrong’s reaction was from the henna itself. When pressed on the ingredients of their henna product, she added, before rushing off the phone, “Sometimes we get the henna from Whole Foods, sometimes from India, so we don’t really know.” In a subsequent email, she wrote, “The henna I use comes from India, where most of henna is grown and processed. There have been no allergic reactions to this henna product. No PPD is indicated by the manufacturer.”

Armstrong says she’s reached out to the salon herself but has not gotten a response. Still, she adds, she’s more interested in getting back to normal than in placing blame.

“This just made me realize that I need to pay more attention to what I put in my body and what I put on my body. I like to think of myself of a naturalist and I just want to be more mindful about [that],” she said in her video. “I just really want to move forward with my life.”

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(Top photos: Facebook)