PPD Sensitization in Men: Unique Risks and Gendered Behavior


Para-phenyelenediamine (PPD) is one of the most common allergens in cosmetics. While genetics can increase chances of allergy, anyone can develop a PPD allergy. High concentrations and repeated exposure increase the likelihood of becoming sensitized. Basic information about PPD is covered in an earlier article, What You Need to Know About Para-Phenylenediamine.

 Occupations that involve repeated exposure to PPD, such as hair stylists, and fur and textile workers, show higher rates of employees with PPD sensitization [13]. Outside of occupation-related sensitization, the average person is sensitized to PPD through a black henna tattoo, or through the use of hair dye. Prevalence rates of PPD sensitization are about 6.2% in North America, 4% in Europe, and 4.3% in Asia [1]. Overall, sensitization rates appear to be increasing over time [2]. Rates are higher in populations with darker hair, as dark hair dyes contain higher PPD concentrations.  Rates of sensitization are also higher in countries where “black henna” is commonly used in place of traditional henna.

PPD sensitization rates also vary between genders. Both body art and the use of hair dye are gendered behaviors; more women participate than men. This leads some to presume that PPD sensitization is more of a concern for women. While it is true that, overall, a higher percentage of women have PPD sensitization than men, it is important to discuss issues specific to men’s self-grooming and help-seeking behaviors that put the male population at unique risks. Certain populations of men experience higher rates of facial dermatitis due to frequent beard dyeing. Men who work in industries involving frequent contact with products that contain PPD or cross-reacting allergens may be forced out of their jobs to avoid continual allergic reaction. Men show reluctance to seek medical attention; this puts them at risk for future complications which could be avoided. Understanding gendered behavior may lead to better education, prevention, and treatment of PPD sensitization in men.

This man will have permanent scarring from his “black henna” body art, and is now sensitized to PPD.
Source: https://shewhoseeks.blogspot.ca/2012_02_01_archive.html

Avenues of PPD Sensitization

Traditionally, self-grooming and concerns for beauty have been characterized as feminine behaviors. Men spend less time and money in the use and consumption of beauty products and services.  Gender-specific grooming practices will be explored further in the next section. About 30-40% of women and up to 10% of men in North America are regular hair dye users [2],[3]. Another study estimated that 70% of women and 20% of men have used hair dye at least once in their lifetime [4].

On the other hand, getting a “black henna” tattoo is much less gendered in western cultures, leading to a fairly even split in the numbers of males and females getting a temporary “black henna” tattoo. Traditional henna body art is highly gendered; it is used for decorating and beautifying women, especially for celebrations and social events. In contrast, “black henna,” when it is used in spaces of tourism, is used to mimic the look of true tattoos. It is not limited to a specific custom or style. “black henna” is readily available on boardwalks and beaches, and in shopping malls, resorts, amusement parks, festivals, and fairs. Those who get “black henna” body art are usually children or young adults. [5], [6]. Children are attracted to body art that mimics tattoos because they like to imitate adult behavior. Parents who believe that “black henna” is harmless allow their children to have body art done, unaware of the risk of sensitization. Thus, both young boys and girls get “black henna” body art.

A young boy is scarred and sensitized by a “black henna” tattoo.
Source: Daily Mail

Of those who get a “black henna” tattoo, an estimated 50% will become sensitized [6], [7]. Some will experience a delayed contact dermatitis reaction following; some will not. A person can develop a sensitization even if they did not react to their first exposure. It is rare for consumers of “black henna” to understand the connection between the product used to create “black henna” body art, and hair dye. Children become sensitized to PPD through “black henna,” then later on may choose to dye their hair. The chances of a person previously sensitized by black henna having a severe (+++) reaction to PPD hair dye is about 40% [8]. A study found that 16% of adolescents in Manchester, England had a PPD allergy. Most of this was likely caused by the “black henna” they had gotten on holiday [8]. We will see a wave of hair dye reaction cases around 2030, when this population begins showing gray hair.

Source: Presentation to USFDA June 30, 2016: ‘‘Black Henna’ and the Epidemic of para-Phenylenediamine Sensitization: Awareness, Education and Policy, Catherine Cartwright-Jones PhD

While girls and women favor delicate designs, boys and men are more likely to choose tribal-style patterns that cover large areas of the skin with a solid application of “black henna.” This larger surface area increases the amount of PPD to which the person is exposed, thus increasing the risk of sensitization. If the client experiences a delayed hypersensitivity reaction to the body art, a larger area of their body is subject to dermatitis symptoms such as blistering, permanent scarring, and hypopigmentation. This is only just one way gendered behavior creates unique variables in PPD sensitization.

If a parent sees that their child is suffering from a reaction to their “black henna” tattoo, they will probably take the child to a medical professional. Adults, especially men, may be less likely to seek medical attention for their own allergic reaction, especially if it is not severe. Neglecting to seek medical attention causes a person to remain uneducated about the nature of their allergy, putting them at risk for repeated exposures and reactions. Men’s help-seeking behaviors will be discussed later in this article.

Grooming Practices as Gendered Behavior

Conventional ideals for appearance differ greatly between those for men and those for women. Entire books are dedicated to the sociology behind gendered beauty norms; therefore, it is impossible to cover this subject in its entirety within this article. One salient feature is that feminine and masculine norms are often presented as binary, and in opposition with one another [9]. If one behavior is used in traditionally feminine self-grooming, it is avoided in traditionally masculine self-grooming [9], [10], [11]. This is particularly evident in the way we treat hair.  In western societies, most men keep their hair short, while most women have longer hair. Of course, there are many exceptions, and there are people and groups who intentionally choose to defy norms through their appearance. As societal constructs of masculine and feminine ideals shift, so do people’s choices in personal style. However, there is still an overall trend in gendered grooming behaviors. Cosmetics companies actively seek to maintain these norms in the sorts of images they use in marketing their products.

Use self-grooming products while still being manly… Because sports…Or something. Source: Media in Canada

Overall, women dye their hair more than men. Women’s fashion trends change more rapidly than men’s, and women change their personal style more frequently than men do [10], [11]. They do so by altering the length, color, and texture of their hair. Cutting, dyeing, curling, straightening, braiding, and using tools, products, and accessories all help in keeping a style “fresh” or “up-to-date.” Conventional feminine beauty values youth, and fears the appearance of age [9]. Women are much more likely to dye their hair to mask grays, while gray hair is less of a concern for most men. These behaviors play into the higher rate of PPD sensitization in women.

Men’s styles focus on conformity, consistency, and professionalism. Men do not change their hair as frequently.  Feminine beauty is associated with youth; gray hair is undesirable.  On the other hand, men are less concerned with going gray. Gray hair may even increase a man’s attractiveness. It is “distinguished.” The term “silver fox” is used predominately to describe mature, attractive men. Younger men in white-collar professions have even been told that adding some gray into their hair may help their appearance and rapport with clientele [9]. The brand Touch of Gray promises to dye men’s hair while leaving just enough gray to maintain that distinguished, mature image. While traditional concepts of masculinity once idealized the perfect man as rough and rugged, the increase of educated and white-collar careers caused a gradual shift to the image of a clean-cut, well-groomed, professional man, whose power comes from his professional success and wealth, and his ability to attract women [9], [10], [11].

The products on the left all contain PPD. They are marketed toward men, or claim to be “natural.”
The image on the right shows the warning and patch test advisory on Just For Men dye.

Many men do dye their scalp hair and facial hair to mask their grays. The popular brand, Just for Men, directly targets men with its very name. Grooming products marketed toward men attempt to both reinforce the masculine ideal, and present self-grooming as a valid, masculine behavior. Marketing focuses on how the product will augment a man’s ability to attract women, or his image of professional success. By re-framing the use of hair and beauty products as a masculine behavior, companies can increase their number of male consumers.

Men’s use of hair dye is increasing, and the age of the average hair dye user is decreasing. More and more young people are using hair dye as a means of beauty and self expression, rather than for masking gray [22]. This shift in the demographic will lead to higher rates of sensitization and at younger ages, for both men and women.

Dyeing Beards

Facial hair is rather unique to men. Biologically, higher levels of androgen hormones lead to thicker, longer facial hair. While women also have facial hair, it is traditionally minimized through plucking, shaving, or bleaching. Few women have the biological ability to grow thick beards.  Just as scalp hair can be cut, dyed, and styled to express a person’s identity, so can facial hair. Because it is mostly men who have noticeable facial hair, the use of dyes on facial hair and the repercussions are a uniquely male issue.

Facial skin is thin and sensitive. Facial hair, on the other hand, is coarser and more resistant to dye [12]. Those who dye their beards might choose stronger, more concentrated products, or leave the dye on for longer periods of time. This increases the chances of becoming sensitized to PPD. Additionally, a person who dyes their facial hair most likely also dyes their scalp hair, and possibly dyes both at the same time for the sake of convenience. Those who are already sensitized may experienced more severe reactions when the compound comes in contact with their face. The proximity to the nose and mouth leads to further risks. 

Because facial hair grows quickly, a person wishing to mask gray roots will have to dye frequently. Men who use beard dye do so as frequently as once every five days [12], [13]. Men who keep their scalp hair short will also show gray roots more quickly. Repeated exposures both increase the chances of becoming sensitized to PPD, and worsen symptoms for those who are already sensitized.

Furthermore, PPD sensitization can lead to cross-reactions with several structurally similar compounds, including those found in synthetic fragrances. If a man later chooses to shave their facial hair, the process of doing so can create cuts and micro-abrasions that leave the skin vulnerable to reactions from soaps, lotions, and aftershaves [14].

This man is in the hospital for a severe reaction to beard dye. Source: Consumer Affairs

Ethnicity, Culture, and Class in PPD Allergy Variability

A population’s variation in PPD allergy prevalence rates is dependent on several factors, such as behavior, the accessibility of PPD products, and the concentrations within those products. Demographics and geography play into these factors. In many European countries, laws have limited the maximum concentration of PPD allowed in hair dyes, and a related compound, para-toluenediamine (PTD) is often used instead [2]. (Side note: PTD is believed to be less sensitizing than PPD, but those who are already sensitized to PPD are likely to experience a cross-reaction with PTD. We’ll save that can of worms for another time.) In countries where PPD concentration in hair dye is restricted, or where PTD is more commonly used, sensitization rates to PPD are lower [4]. The same goes for countries with greater light-haired populations [1].

Conversely, in countries with less restriction on PPD concentration, and with larger dark-haired populations, we see higher sensitization rates. In many Asian countries, hair dyes with high PPD concentrations are easily available. Popular hair dye brands can contain up to 80% PPD.  “Henna stone,”  which is solid industrial PPD, is widely sold for use in hair dye and body art [6], [7]. The median prevalence rate in Asia is 4.3%, but ranges from 2-12% within regions and sub-groups [13].

 In Saudi Arabia, and among Arabic men regardless of their location, growing and coloring beards is common practice. The prevalence rate for facial dermatitis from dye is high among this population [12]. A Korean study found that about 64% of adults with gray hair had experience using hair dye, and of that group, about 24% experienced a reaction [15].

A study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic investigated sensitization rates in white and black racial groups, and found that rates were similar among both groups for all allergens except PPD. Black people overall showed much higher rates of PPD sensitization than white people (10.6% vs. 4.5% respectively), and black men had much higher sensitization rates than black women (21.2% vs. 4.2% respectively) [16]. This is likely influenced by a combination of hair dye use/exposure, occupation, and genetic differences.

Black hair care is nearly a multi-billion dollar industry. Black women spend more money on cosmetics than non-black women. However, this alone does not explain why black men have significantly higher sensitization rates than black women. One factor could be that black men who dye their beards must do so frequently, and with high PPD concentrations, similar to the phenomenon seen in Arabic men.  One class-action lawsuit against the Just For Men hair and beard dye brand claims that JFM unfairly targeted African American men in their marketing of a product that contained higher levels of PPD.

Various iterations of Just For Men “Jet Black” hair and beard dyes all feature black men on the packaging. Source: Amazon

Additionally, there may be a higher proportion of black men (in comparison to non-black men, and black women) in industries which handle PPD and related compounds, such as fur/leather/textile dyeing, and the manufacture and handling of black rubber products in rubber and automotive industries.

One can look at a statistic for PPD sensitization in, say, North America for example, and make an assumption that all of the population is at equal risk. This is far from the truth; sensitization rates vary greatly between sub-groups. More research needs to be done on specific populations to determine these sub-groups, and the factors which lead to higher rates of sensitization. Hair dye and “black henna” use, as well as occupation cause significant variation. More nuanced demographic data will create a clearer picture of the populations that might require additional attention.

Help-Seeking Behavior, Education, and Prevention

Sociological studies in men’s help-seeking behavior affirm that men are less likely than women to use medical services. Studies have focused on mental help and addiction, as well as common physical ailments such as headache and backache [17], [18]. There has yet been a study specifically regarding the help-seeking behaviors of men and women who experience a reaction to “black henna” tattoos, or PPD hair dye. However, one can infer from the general trend of help-seeking reluctance that there is a large population of men who are sensitized to PPD, who are entirely unaware of the allergy or how to manage it.

Overall, most people who become sensitized to PPD from a “black henna” tattoo are not aware that the sensitizing agent, PPD, is the same compound used in hair dye. Numerous case reports have described patients seeking medical care for reactions to hair dye, who reported having gotten a “black henna” tattoo in the past [1-8], [13], [19-22]. It is estimated that, of those who experience a severe reaction to hair dye, only 10-30% of cases will be seen by a doctor, and even fewer by a dermatologist. [19], [20]. In a survey of 521 Korean adults with graying hair, a whopping 74% of those who reported experiencing a reaction to hair dye said that they did not visit a medical professional. The primary reasons were that they did not feel the reaction was severe enough (44.6%), and that they saw the side effects as a normal part of dyeing their hair (39.3%) [15]. Another article estimated that only 15% of people with a hair dye allergy seek treatment, and only a fraction of these people are patch-tested for allergies [22].

Societal influences cause men in particular to choose to “tough out” medical problems rather than seeking help. If a man experiences a reaction to PPD and chooses not to seek medical help, he deprives himself of crucial information related to his sensitization. Most likely, he will think it was a one-time fluke. He might not learn that “black henna” and conventional hair dyes both contain PPD. He might not learn that PPD sensitization can lead to cross-reactions with other products such as black rubber, fabric dyes, photographic developer and lithography plates, photocopying and printing inks,  oils, greases and gasoline.

Without consulting a dermatologist or allergist, someone who is sensitized may never learn how to properly manage their new allergy, putting them at risk for repeated exposure and worsening symptoms. Furthermore, PPD sensitization can limit prospective occupations, or force workers to leave their jobs due to continuing and worsening reactions to the materials involved. This would affect people in cosmetology, fur and textile industries, rubber industries, automotive industries, work that involves printing and photo development, and numerous other fields [2].

Studies suggest that men’s help-seeking choices are influenced by the perceived potential for embarrassment, as well as the perceived normality of a problem. If an issue is ego-centric, meaning that it may affect a person’s self-image, men are less likely to seek help. The same goes for if a man perceives a problem as abnormal [17]. Advertisements for erectile dysfunction medications have focused on normalizing ED, as well as reinforcing the notion that the embarrassment of ED is worse than the embarrassment of consulting a doctor. This is an example of an attempt to normalize a medical issue and decrease the help-seeking behavior’s threat to a man’s self-esteem.

This ad for Viagra affirms traditional masculine ideology. Source: Outsource Marketing

While statistics show that few people seek medical treatment for reactions to hair dye, additional factors may cause men to do so even less. First, men are less likely to seek medical help than women. Second, because traditional masculine ideals enforce the belief that preoccupation with beauty, especially hair, is a feminine behavior, many men may be hesitant to seek help for reactions to hair dye. Doing so requires admitting to the use of hair dye, which can create a blow to a masculine self-image. While PPD is one of the most common allergens (named Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2006), people remain largely unaware of its risks. Women are more familiar with hair dye reactions than men. Men may perceive a reaction to hair dye to be both non-normal and a threat to self-image. Thus, it is essential that efforts be made to increase awareness about PPD sensitization, focusing on its severity, high likelihood, and prevalence.

Just for Men Class-Action Suit

The hair dye brand, Just For Men, is currently at the center of several class-action lawsuits. Users reported experiencing adverse reactions to the products on their scalp hair and/or facial hair. Some suits claim that the patch test advised in the packaging was not sufficient for determining how the product would affect the skin on the scalp and face. In fact, conducting a patch test may increase sensitization. As mentioned earlier, other suits claim that the company intentionally and unfairly targeted black men in their marketing of their Jet Black hair dye, which the legal group claims to contain 17 times more PPD than other dyes from the same company.

If you are a man who has experienced an allergic reaction to Just for Men, consider looking to find if there is a legal group with an open suit in your area.

This series of class action suits is a positive move forward in demanding stricter regulation and more responsibility on the part of hair dye companies. Such legal action has rarely occurred against companies marketing hair dye to women, and fewer acts have been successful. Overwhelmingly, users of hair dye see adverse effects as a “normal” part of the hair dyeing process, and even choose to continue using products that cause reactions because the thought of going gray is worse than enduring contact dermatitis symptoms [15].


Because women make up the majority of hair dye users, there is a paucity of research specific to men’s use of hair dye. It is likely that more men are sensitized to PPD than current numbers suggest. Data taken from medical databases and case reports only include those people who seek medical attention or make themselves available to researchers. Surveys depend on honest self-reporting of behaviors. Men’s help-seeking behaviors may have cause research numbers to be lower than the reality

Based on available data, men make up a smaller proportion of the PPD sensitized population, in comparison to women. There is an exception in the case of black men in the United States. While hair dye allergies are often framed in the context of the female consumer, it is critical that the male population not be forgotten. The use of dye on beards is unique to men and poses special risks. Studies on help-seeking behavior suggest that men are less likely to seek medical attention if they were to experience a reaction. The idea of self-grooming as a gendered behavior further prevents men from openly discussing their use of hair dye.

Young boys who get a “black henna” tattoo on vacation, while at an amusement park, or in other tourist settings, are at risk of experiencing a reaction later on in life if they choose to use oxidative dyes. “Black henna” tattoos contribute significantly to the number of people who have PPD sensitization. In the future, we will see an increase of both men and women who develop severe reactions to hair dye.  As societal ideals of beauty, self-grooming, and gender norms change, hair dye use may increase among men. Already there is a shift in the use of hair dye as tool for masking age, to an avenue of self-expression in younger populations [22].

In order to ensure that both men and women are properly educated about the risks and prevalence of PPD sensitization, continued efforts must be made in raising awareness. Consumers should be aware that PPD is highly sensitizing, and that reactions from hair dye are quite common. Steps must be taken to prevent PPD sensitization before the onset. This includes continuing to raise awareness about “black henna” body art, pushing for stricter regulation of products containing PPD, and presenting safe alternatives for altering hair color and masking grays.

To learn more about PPD sensitization, visit the following links.

The Henna Page: Black Henna Warnings

Catherine Cartwright-Jones’ PhD Dissertation, “The Geographies of the Black Henna Meme Organism and the Epidemic of Para-phenylenediamine Sensitization: A Qualitative History”

AncientSunrise.Blog: What You Need to Know About Para-Phenylenediamine

To learn how to use plant dyes as a safe and effective alternative for coloring hair and masking grays, read the Ancient Sunrise® Henna for Hair E-Book and visit www.HennaforHair.com, and  www.Mehandi.com.


[1]             Mukkanna, Krishna Sumanth, Natalie M. Stone, and John R. Ingram. “Para-phenylenediamine allergy: current perspectives on diagnosis and management.” Journal of asthma and allergy 10 (2017): 9.

[2]             Hamann, Dathan, Carsten R. Hamann, Jacob P. Thyssen, and Carola Lidén. “p‐Phenylenediamine and other allergens in hair dye products in the United States: a consumer exposure study.” Contact Dermatitis 70, no. 4 (2014): 213-218.

[3]             Redlick, Fara, and Joel DeKoven. “Allergic contact dermatitis to paraphenylendiamine in hair dye after sensitization from black henna tattoos: a report of 6 cases.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 176, no. 4 (2007): 445-446.

[4]             Schuttelaar, Marie-Louise Anna, and Tatiana Alexandra Vogel. “Contact Allergy to Hair Dyes.” Cosmetics 3, no. 3 (2016): 21.

[5]             Goldenberg, Alina, and Sharon E. Jacob. “Is the Use of PPD in Black Henna Tattoo Criminal or Remiss?.” International Journal of Integrative Pediatrics and Environmental Medicine 1 (2014): 22-26.

[6]             ‘Black Henna’ and the Epidemic of para-Phenylenediamine Sensitization: Mapping the Potential for Extreme Sensitization to Oxidative Hair Dye, Presentation at Society of Cosmetic Chemists’ 70th Annual Scientific Meeting, December 10, 2015, Catherine Cartwright-Jones PhD

[7]             Presentation to USFDA June 30, 2016: ‘‘Black Henna’ and the Epidemic of para-Phenylenediamine Sensitization: Awareness, Education and Policy, Catherine Cartwright-Jones PhD

[8]             Smith V, Clark S, and Wilkinson M. “Allergic contact dermatitis in children: trends in allergens, 10 years on. A retrospective study of 500 children tested between 2005 and 2014 in one U.K. centre.” British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, U.K. (2015).

[9]             Synnott, Anthony. “Shame and glory: A sociology of hair.” The British journal of sociology 38, no. 3 (1987): 381-413.

[10]          Ricciardelli, Rosemary. “Masculinity, consumerism, and appearance: a look at men’s hair.” Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie 48, no. 2 (2011): 181-201.

[11]          Barber, Kristen. “The well-coiffed man: Class, race, and heterosexual masculinity in the hair salon.” Gender & Society 22, no. 4 (2008): 455-476.

[12]          Hsu, Te-Shao, Mark DP Davis, Rokea el-Azhary, John F. Corbett, and Lawrence E. Gibson. “Beard dermatitis due to para-phenylenediamine use in Arabic men.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 44, no. 5 (2001): 867-869.

[13]          Handa, Sanjeev, Rahul Mahajan, and Dipankar De. “Contact dermatitis to hair dye: an update.”  Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology 78, no. 5 (2012): 583.

[14]          Jensen, Peter, Torkil Menné, Jeanne D. Johansen, and Jacob P. Thyssen. “Facial allergic contact dermatitis caused by fragrance ingredients released by an electric shaver.” Contact dermatitis 67, no. 6 (2012): 380-381.

[15]          Kim, Jung Eun, Hee Dam Jung, and Hoon Kang. “A survey of the awareness, knowledge and behavior of hair dye use in a Korean population with gray hair.” Annals of dermatology 24, no. 3 (2012): 274-279.

[16]          Dickel, Heinrich, James S. Taylor, Phyllis Evey, and Hans F. Merk. “Comparison of patch test results with a standard series among white and black racial groups.” American Journal of Contact Dermatitis 12, no. 2 (2001): 77-82.

[17]          Addis, Michael E., and James R. Mahalik. “Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking.” American psychologist 58, no. 1 (2003): 5.

[18]          Hunt, Kate, Joy Adamson, Catherine Hewitt, and Irwin Nazareth. “Do women consult more than men? A review of gender and consultation for back pain and headache.” Journal of health services research & policy 16, no. 2 (2011): 108-117.

[19]          Søsted, H., T. Agner, Klaus Ejner Andersen, and T. Menné. “55 cases of allergic reactions to hair dye: a descriptive, consumer complaint‐based study.” Contact dermatitis 47, no. 5 (2002): 299-303.

[20]          de Groot, Anton C. “Side‐effects of henna and semi‐permanent ‘black henna’tattoos: a full review.” Contact dermatitis 69, no. 1 (2013): 1-25.

[21]          Jacob, Sharon E., and Alina Goldenberg. “Allergic.”

[22]          McFadden, John P., Ian R. White, Peter J. Frosch, Heidi Sosted, Jenne D. Johansen, and Torkil Menne. “Allergy to hair dye.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 334, no. 7587 (2007): 220.

Ancient Sunrise® Amla Powder and Its Many Uses

Amla (emblica officinalis) is also known as Indian Gooseberry. It is both eaten and used in hair and skin care products in South Asia. To create amla powder, the fruit is dried, ground, and sifted. Ancient Sunrise® Amla powder can be used as an acid to dye-release henna and cassia mixes and to prevent loss of curl pattern, on its own as a hair treatment, and on the skin as a facial.

In a henna and/or cassia mix that involve indigo, amla lends ash tones to the resulting color. It helps to maintain a person’s natural curl pattern, which can loosen with repeated henna applications. Amla allows more indigo dye to enter the hair, for richer, darker brunettes.

Amla’s natural acids temporarily snap the hydrogen bonds in the hair, allowing the strands to be reshaped. Using amla as a treatment on its own can add body and wave to the hair. This same effect can be utilized for the skin. This powder helps to loosen dead skin cells on the surface and exfoliate them away, leaving clearer, brighter, and tighter skin.

Ancient Sunrise® amla powder is tested by our suppliers to ensure it is free of adulterants. We also run our powder under a microscope to check for any irregularities. It has a pH level of 3.5, making it an effective acid for dye release. It it gentle enough to use directly on skin for short periods of time.

Amla for Neutral/Ash Mixes and Better Brunettes

Amla contains gallic acid, ellagic acid, and ascorbic acid. Gallic acid pushes henna and cassia’s dye molecules toward ash tones, leading to cooler hair color results. This is useful for those who do not want red tones in their brunette mixes, or want a more neutral blonde result.

A mix with just henna and amla will result in a browner or cooler red, with less orange or copper tones. A mix with just cassia and amla will result in a more neutral, “wheat” blonde on light and graying hair, as opposed to a yellow blonde.

To use amla powder to neutralize red and yellow tones, mix 25g (just under three tablespoons) with every 100g henna and/or cassia. Mix the powders with distilled water and dye-release as normal. There is no need for additional acid powders or fruit juice.

If you are adding indigo to your mix, do so as you would normally, mixing Ancient Sunrise® indigo powder with distilled water and combining the pastes immediately before application.

With mixes containing indigo, the result will be a cooler, deeper brunette. This is especially useful for people who want minimal warm tones in their hair, and those who notice that the indigo fades from their hair over time, leaving a red tone. Amla allows more indigo to bind effectively with the hair.

When used in a henna/indigo mix, amla mutes warm tones and aids in indigo uptake.

Amla is not a dye, and will not affect the color of a person’s hair if used on its own. It merely aids in indigo uptake, as well as shifting the resulting color of henna and cassia dyes.

The Ancient Sunrise® Henna for Hair kits in Cool Brunette and Cool Dark Brunette contain pre-measured portions of henna, indigo, and amla for easy mixing and great results.

Amla for Curls and Waves

When henna’s dye molecule binds with the outer keratin layers of the hair, it smooths frizzy, damaged hair and reinforces thin, weak hair. The added molecules also make the hair heavier and thicker. For those with a natural curl pattern, this can mean looser curls. Some who find their curls unruly or unmanageable take advantage of this effect. However, many wish to keep their curls. Adding amla to a henna mix helps to maintain the natural curl pattern.

Keep your color bright and your curls bouncy.

This can be done one of two ways. If you are also looking to mute red tones or achieve a deeper brunette, use Ancient Sunrise® amla powder to dye release your mix as explained above. If you wish to keep a brighter tone, dye-release your mix with your choice of acid, then mix 25g of amla into a paste, and stir this into your henna or cassia just before application. This will protect your curls without neutralizing henna and/or cassia’s brighter tones.

To add bounce and body to your hair, use amla on its own as a hair treatment mixed with Clarity Cassia. The following section will cover this.

Amla as a Conditioning Treatment

Amla can be used with Clarity Cassia to add bounce and body to the hair, to clear the scalp of dead skin, and to balance oily scalps. Amla’s acids cause the bonds in the hair to temporarily loosen, making it possible to temporarily reshape them. The acids also help to exfoliate skin and break down excess oil, keeping the scalp healthy and the pores clear.

Mix a paste of amla powder, cassia powder and distilled water. 25g of amla is needed for every 100g of cassia. The amount total will be dependent on the thickness and length of your hair. Apply the paste throughout clean hair and wrap with plastic, leaving it in for for an hour. Rinse, massaging the scalp, towel dry, and set your damp hair in curls or a braid and allow it to air dry.

Those who have normally very dry scalp and hair, or those who are sensitive to higher levels of ascorbic acid may want to use this technique sparingly or for a shorter amount of time to avoid itching and dryness. One can also use a little bit of oil or serum on the scalp if it feels too dry after the amla treatment.

Ancient Sunrise® also offers a shampoo bar with amla.
All shampoo bars are made with natural ingredients.

Amla as a Facial

High in vitamin C (ascorbic acid), amla paste makes a great facial treatment. It exfoliates dead skin cells, encouraging cell turn-over, and clears away excess oil. It leaves the skin tighter and brighter. Those with acne may find that a regular amla facial helps to lessen and prevent breakouts, and fade hyperpigmentation that comes with scarring. Over time, the complexion becomes brighter and more even, and the skin’s texture is smoother.

            Mix 1-2 teaspoons of amla powder with enough warm water to create a paste. Massage the paste over clean skin, avoiding the eyes. Leave it on for 3-5 minutes. Rinse, pat dry, and moisturize. This can be used once or twice a week. Vitamin C can increase UV sensitivity for some; if this is the case for you, make sure to use an SPF.

If you have further questions about how to use Ancient Sunrise® amla powder, feel free to comment below or contact Customer Service via email, chat, or phone.

Henna on Fingertips, Feet, and Nails: Cosmetic and Practical Applications (Part Two)

How To Henna Fingertips, Nails, and Feet

Part One of this two-part series explored the use of applying henna on fingertips, nails, and feet. Henna was used both as a cosmetic and as a way to heal and protect skin, nails, and hair.

To read Part One, click here.

This section will describe how to use henna paste to decorate and strengthen fingertips, nails, and feet.

Note for US Residents:

The color additive “henna” is approved by the FDA solely for the use of “hair dye” (see, 21 CFR 73.2190); it may not be used for dyeing the “eyelashes,” “eyebrows,” nor the “eye area” for cosmetic product applications. Neither is it approved for cosmetic “skin tattoo” purposes. To use a color additive in any cosmetic product application for which it is not listed for regulation renders it “adulterated” and/or “misbranded.” (see section 601(a) and/or 601(e), and/or 602(e) of the FD&C Act)
Here are the US FDA regulations for the use of henna for the purpose of body art. These regulations have the force of law: https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/products/ucm108569.htm
If you live outside of the US, this does not apply to you.

Always make sure you are using only 100% Body Art Quality (BAQ) henna whether it is on the hair or skin.

How to Apply Henna to Fingertips

Save this for a time when you don’t need your hands. I do this before bed, and sleep with wrapped fingertips.

            Henna on smaller areas of the body is easily done with a rolled mylar cone filled with henna. If you are unfamiliar with how to roll and fill cones, click here to learn.

Set Up

You will need:

  • A cone of henna for outlining. (Or you can use medical tape. See below.)
  • A small bowl or shot glass with about 1T henna. (You can just squeeze out the rest of your cone after outlining.)
  • A small brush
  • Toilet paper or other soft paper
  • Tape


Start with clean hands that do not have lotion or oils on them.

            Use the cone to draw an outline. You may need a friend to help if you wish to do both hands.

            Alternatively, you can wrap a strip of medical tape around each finger. The result will be a nice, crisp line. You will want to choose a waterproof tape with a straight edge (some have a zig-zag edge).


Fill in the skin from the line or the edge of the tape, to the tips of your fingers. I prefer to apply in layers, allowing each layer to dry. This prevents having fingers covered in a thick layer of wet paste that will take forever to dry.


Wait until the paste is dry enough to touch without lifting any away. A hair dryer can help speed up the process. Wrap tissue or toilet paper around each finger, securing with tape.

            If you like, you can pull on a pair of stretchy fabric gloves. The warmth will deepen the stain, and the gloves keep the wraps from slipping off.


            To remove, unwrap your fingertips and gently scrape the paste away with a wooden craft stick or the blunt side of a butter knife. A stiff nail brush helps to remove extra bits. Try to avoid water for the first few hours while the stain settles and oxidizes.

            The stain will deepen over 24-48 hours. To expedite the process and darken the result, gently heat or steam your hands.

On the left, the fresh stain is bright orange. On the right, the stain has oxidized to a deep burgundy after 48 hours.

How to Apply Henna to Fingernails and/or Toenails

If you would like to stain only your nails rather than your fingertips the process is similar, and simpler.

            You can do this either with a cone or a clean, small brush. A recycled nail polish brush would work nicely. Trim and shape your nails as you prefer.

Using a Cone

Squeeze the cone gently and fill over the nail using back and forth motions.  It works well to apply a thinner layer, then apply a second layer as the first dries. As the paste dries,  it darkens and flattens. You will be able to see where you would like to add more paste.


Using a Brush

Henna tends to slip over the surface of the nail, so it is helpful to use dabbing motions rather than treating it the way you would nail polish. Let the first layer set, and then go back in to fill any areas that are thin.


You can either choose to wrap your fingertips similarly as described above, or allow the paste to fully dry on the nails. Damp paste will continue to stain the skin, leading to darker results. If you let the paste dry, keep it on for as long as possible (several hours is good) before gently scraping it away.

            Again, the result will be brighter at first, and deepen over the next couple of days. You can reapply to deepen the color, and apply as necessary as your nails grow. I find that doing this weekly keeps my nails a deep red hue. My nails grow longer and chip less when I maintain hennaed nails.

            Henna will stain the nail permanently, so if you choose to stop applying henna to your nails, a good way to hide half-hennaed nails is to paint them over with polish until the stained portion grows and is clipped away.


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Hennaed nails are a deep red. This color fades very little over time.

How to Apply Henna to Feet

You will definitely want to do this on a particularly lazy day, or in the evening before bed. You might want to have a friend to help you. I am a pretty flexible person and have found that hennaing one’s own feet is possible, but requires awkward positions.

            Start with clean, scrubbed feet. Henna will help the feet shed excess callus and dry skin, but if you’d like your stain to last for a long time, it is a good idea to scrub off anything that is on the verge of shedding already.


Feet can be hennaed in many styles. Hennaed feet have varied by culture and time period. Some people prefer to apply only to the soles. Some apply to the balls of the feet and the toes.  Once you have decided on your henna-feet style, use a cone to draw an outline along the tops and sides of your feet. I prefer a full slipper.

            A helpful trick for keeping it symmetrical: Put on a pair of flats and use an aquarellable pencil to trace outlines on your feet along the edge of your shoes.

You can also use medical tape to create a clean outline. Just apply the paste right over the edge of the tape.


Using the brush or craft stick, apply the henna paste evenly all over your feet. Make sure to apply henna between and under each toe. The paste will want to squish from between your toes while it is wet. Keep reapplying in layers.

            Let each layer dry, then apply again until the paste is opaque and even.  You can use a hair dryer to set each layer before beginning a new one.

            I’ve found that this works better than applying one thick coat. The first layer helps the second layer stick better, and it all dries much faster. If you slather on one super thick layer and try to dry it, the surface will dry but seal in underneath. Once you wrap your feet and get up, all that wet paste squishes out and slides around. Walking around with squishy paste against your feet is really weird.

If you do apply a thick layer, expect to wait a while for it to dry. Put your feet up in the sun, enjoy a beverage, take a nap…


Once your final layer is dry to the touch, use toilet paper to wrap your feet like you are a mummy. Be generous. The layers closest to your feet will get damp and rip. You’ll want several layers over everything, especially the balls and heels of your feet, where you put most of your weight. Use some tape to hold it in place if necessary.

            Then, wrap your feet in plastic. Plastic wrap works well enough. So does a grocery bag. Secure with tape. Finally, pull on a pair of socks and you are ready to walk around!

            Again, I prefer to do this at night and sleep through the processing time. I’ve found that my feet are too fat to fit into any shoes once they are hennaed and wrapped.

Here, just the balls of the feet and toes were hennaed and wrapped.


In the morning (or after as many hours as you can stand), unwrap your feet and gently scrape the paste off with a wooden craft stick or the blunt edge of a butter knife. I prefer to do this either outside or sitting on the edge of the tub with my feet in the tub (paste bits are rinsed down the drain for easy cleanup). Use a stiff brush to clear the remaining flakes, and do a quick wipe with a clean, damp towel.

Getting Fancy

            Want to add some complexity to your hennaed fingertips and feet? Take a look at all of the free pattern books available at The Henna Page. You can even add gems, glitter, shimmering powders, and more.

These feet were hennaed and decorated in multiple steps. Toes and details were hennaed, left for several hours, and allowed to deepen with oxidation. Applying henna and removing after a short period of time created the bright orange stain. Finally, gilding and jewels were added.

Plant Dye Powders and Seasonal Allergies

Fall is upon us. For many, this means sniffling, sneezing, headaches, and itchy eyes. Some people who are sensitive to hay fever and seasonal allergies may notice that they are affected when mixing their henna for hair, while it is on their head, or after it is rinsed out. This is far from serious, and easy to fix.  If this sounds like you, keep reading to learn what may be happening and how to avoid experiencing discomfort in the future. 


In cases of itching, sneezing, headache and other mild allergy symptoms, henna itself is rarely the primary culprit. Allergies to henna itself are extremely rare. Rather, during times when histamine levels in the body are already high (spring, fall, or whenever you normally get seasonal allergies), the body can confuse plant dye powders with pollen or other actual allergens. As a result, some may notice an itchy scalp, headache, or other discomfort while dyeing their hair with henna, indigo, and/or cassia. Most of the time, this is easily ameliorated with an over-the-counter oral antihistamine.

              For those who have a genetic G6PD deficiency, exposure to lawsone and a number of other things such as fava beans can set off oxidative haemolysis. This is particularly dangerous for male infants with homozygous G6PD deficiency. This is not an allergic reaction, but important to keep in mind.


Sensitivity to indigo powder is more common than to henna, and can cause dizziness or headaches for people who are allergic to mold spore. The presence of spore in indigo powder varies from batch to batch; if there is spore, the amount is minuscule and harmless except to a person with severe mold allergies.  Indigo leaves must be partially fermented to release the precursor, indoxyl, which will dye hair.  This partially fermented and dried indigo leaves are called vashma, the indigo used to dye hair. This change through microbial action is not unlike the process that changes wheat paste into bread dough; microbial action is necessary to make the base material useful. If your body is severely allergic to mold spore, you may have an allergic reaction to the remaining spore in fermented hair dye indigo through cross-sensitization.

A magnified image of mold spores.

Source: http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/enlarge/allergy-mold-image.html

              To avoid indigo headaches, try not to inhale any particulates when mixing the paste, then apply and wrap quickly. Some people find that the smell of indigo is the main cause for their headaches. Mixing a spoonful of instant vanilla pudding powder can neutralize the smell. For others, switching from one type of indigo to the other (from Ancient Sunrise® Zekhara indigo to Ancient Sunrise® Sudina indigo or vice versa) or decreasing the amount of indigo used can minimize symptoms.

If I’m allergic to hair dye, is Ancient Sunrise® henna for hair safe to use?

Yes. You can feel safe in knowing that any reactions from Ancient Sunrise® plant dye powders are in no way related to para-phenylenediamine (PPD) sensitivity. Those who have allergies to conventional hair dyes can safely use Ancient Sunrise® products. Unless you have a G6PD deficiency, as mentioned above, any reaction to henna or other plant dye powders will be mild and far from life-threatening.

If it’s not seasonal allergies, then what’s happening?

Besides seasonal allergies, there are other explanations for the discomfort some can experience while using henna for hair, and they all have easy solutions.

Headache: If you experience a feeling of tension and pressure while the paste is on your head, it may be due to the weight of the paste. This is especially common for those who have thick and long hair. This weight can put pressure or strain on the neck, causing headaches. Make sure to apply and wrap in a way that makes your head and neck feel comfortably balanced. If you are able to, spend most of the processing time sitting or lying down in a position where your head is supported. Some prefer to apply their mix at night, and leave it in as they sleep.

              Headaches can also come from the altered direction of the hair follicles. Our hair tends to grow in a certain direction. When we apply a henna paste, it pulls and holds it in a different direction than it is used to, causing some minor discomfort. Play around with the way you apply your paste. Some prefer to arrange their hennaed hair in several twisted sections. Others try to keep their hair in its natural direction, twisting the length into a bun at the base of their neck.

Apply and wrap in a way that is comfortable for you.

              It is also helpful to note that applying henna to the full length of the hair is not necessary if you have previously hennaed your hair. Unless you would like to deepen the color further, a root application will suffice. Henna will not fade from the hair. Root applications will cut down on the amount of paste used, and therefore the amount of weight on your head. It’s also more cost effective!

Itchy scalp: Some notice that their scalp feels dry and itchy after dyeing their hair with plant dye powders. Seasonal allergies can definitely cause this. Other reasons include the acidity of the paste, and residue left over after rinsing.

              Henna is not drying nor damaging. However, some people are sensitive to certain fruit acids. Undiluted lemon juice can be too harsh for sensitive scalps, as can full-strength apple cider vinegar. If you use either in your mix and notice that your scalp feels dry or itchy afterward, dilute with distilled water, or consider using another fruit acid. Some find that they do better avoiding any citrus juice. Apple juice is quite gentle, but still acidic enough for an effective dye release. Ancient Sunrise® Malluma Kristalovino and Ancient Sunrise® Kristalovino fruit acid powders are the gentlest of the fruit acid powders offered by Ancient Sunrise®. They are derived from grapes.

              An itchy scalp and hair that feels dry can come from not fully rinsing out the paste. Plant powder residue, as it dries, can make the scalp itch the same way some dirt or sand might. It increases friction between hair strands, causing it to tangle. Be sure that your hair is fully rinsed by submerging and swishing it in warm water, then pulling a handful of conditioner through it to allow any excess plant particulates to slip out. If you prefer not to use conditioner, a vinegar rinse can help give the hair more slip as well. Follow with a good shampoo. Don’t be afraid to rinse and wash the hair multiple times.

              Because an effective henna treatment requires a person to shampoo their hair both before and after, the scalp can be pretty stripped of its natural oils. It may help to rub some oil or serum into the scalp after rinsing and drying the hair. Please do not put oils into your henna mix!

If you have any additional concerns about Ancient Sunrise® henna for hair and plant dye powders, feel free to call, email, or chat with Customer Service. Please note that they cannot diagnose, prescribe, or offer medical advice.