Catherine Cartwright-Jones PhD

Catherine Cartwright-Jones PhD

Presentation at Society of Cosmetic Chemists’ 70th Annual Scientific Meeting & Technology Showcase, December 10, 2015

‘Black Henna’ and the Epidemic of para-Phenylenediamine Sensitization: Mapping the Potential for Extreme Sensitization to Oxidative Hair Dye


Any person who has a ‘black henna’, the popular temporary tattoo created by ornamenting skin with paste  containing 15% to 80% para-phenylenediamine, is at risk of a severe allergic reaction to oxidative hair dye. The number and severity of these reactions is increasing, and have included hospitalization and death. Many of the extreme reactions are caused by sensitization from unusual levels of para-phenylenediamine in ‘black henna’ temporary tattoos, the time the ‘black henna’ paste is left on the skin, the size of the area painted with ‘black henna’.  These may be complicated by the age of the client at first exposure.  The para-phenylenediamine sensitization rate in children has risen to 8% in 2004, and 16% in 2015 according to a broad study presented to the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference in 2015 (1). 

The allergic reactions to oxidative hair dye following a ‘black henna’ temporary tattoo are especially severe because of the high levels of para-phenylenediamine painted onto skin and the extent and duration of the application.  In the Kligman (3) sensitization test, a patch of 10% para-phenylenediamine sensitized 100% of subjects in five applications or fewer.  Tests of ‘black henna’ paste in areas of tourism have been found to be from 15% to 80% para-phenylenediamine (4) (5). These high concentrations of para-phenylenediamine ‘black henna’ are left on the skin a minimum of twenty minutes, and the applications are frequently very large, imitating large permanent ink tattoos.  This increases the dose-time sensitization curve, resulting in extreme levels of subsequent allergic reactions.  In some instances where there have been a number of people exposed at the same time to the same ‘black henna’, then examined by a health department, 50% of subjects were sensitized by the first application of ‘black henna’ (6).

Catherine Cartwright-Jones PhD

Click HERE for complete conference abstract: ‘Black Henna’ and the Epidemic of para-Phenylenediamine Sensitization:
Mapping the Potential for Extreme Sensitization to Oxidative Hair Dye

Click HERE for the presentation:
'Black Henna' and the Epidemic of Para-Phenylenediamine Sensitization‘: the Demographics of Extreme Allergic Reactions to Oxidative Hair Dye. *

Henna Body Art in South Asia: Encyclopedia of Popular Culture in Asia and Oceania, Greenwood Press/ABC-CLIO

The ABC-CLIO/Greenwood Reference collection is filled with historical information of all kinds. It comprises authoritative resources on core topics such as business and war and also includes a breadth of biographies for today's most important people.

MLS from Kent State University, August 2006
Developing Guidelines on Henna: A Geographical Approach
Master's Essay

PhD with dissertation on henna at Kent State University, Department of Geography, Spring 2015

The Geographies of the Black Henna Meme Organism and the Epidemic of Para-phenylenediamine Sensitization: A Qualitative History.


Catherine Cartwright-Jones runs TapDancing Lizard LLC and the Henna Page site group, and is constantly  renovating, rewriting, and expanding the sites to better serve the henna community and explore the diversity of henna history, traditions, art and science.  Catherine is the owner, and does most of the the writing, photography, webmastering, and business management, assisted by a team of workers.

Catherine Cartwright-Jones began seriously studying henna in 1990. She has been a professional artist since 1970, and holds a pictorial arts degree from UCLA.  She is has completed her masters and doctoral dissertation on henna in the department of  Geography at Kent State University.

Catherine has gone overseas the last several summers for research projects on henna's history and traditions, most recently on a research grant from the Iranian Heritage Foundation.  She has lectured on henna at colleges, universities and museums, been a consultant on henna to the National Botanical gardens in Washington DC and the Royal Botanical Gardens in London.  She has worked with Discovery Channel,  BBC,  Better Homes and Gardens, and National Geographic, as well as provided expert testimony on copyright law for henna artists in two USA federal court cases.

If you'd like to contact Catherine for media interviews, magazine or academic articles,  lectures, consultancy, to provide expert legal testimony on henna ... or to henna you ... email her for her CV and references.

Catherine has written and published books and academic papers on henna.  Some people believe her to be the worlds foremost scholar and researcher on  henna, and she frequently appears on tv and in print as a henna expert. Fortunately, no one in her family, certainly not herself, takes her anywhere near this seriously, otherwise she'd quickly become a tedious old cow. 

Otherwise, Catherine is "60-something",  has been with her husband since 1968, and has two adult children, 4 cats and two pug dogs.  She likes to cook but maintains a voluntary ineptitude for housekeeping.

Articles in Publication

PhD dissertation:  "The Geographies of the Black Henna Meme Organism and the Epidemic of Para-phenylenediamine Sensitization: A Qualitative History."


This qualitative history investigates the problem of the global epidemic of para-phenylenediamine sensitization through the epidemiology of the black henna meme organism.  ‘Black henna’ contains para-phenylenediamine oxidative dye, a highly sensitizing chemical which produces delayed hypersensitivity reactions on the skin. ‘Black henna’ body art evolved from traditional henna body art when artists began to add para-phenylenediamine to traditional henna body art because the chemical dye produced a faster, more efficient, darker stain. This chemical addition caused blistering, scarring in the area of the pattern, with a reaction appearing five to twenty days after application in about 15% to 50% of the subjects.

A maximization test of 10% para-phenylenediamine paste to skin causes sensitization in 100% of subjects in five or fewer applications.  All tested 'black henna' pastes have higher concentrations of para-phenylenediamine, from 12% to 80%, and all 'black henna' temporary tattoo applications are larger than a patch  test.

The connection between the body art and onset of the reaction was not well understood by patrons, and often not seen by the artists.  The latent severe chemical sensitivities caused by these applications often remained invisible for years. The ‘black henna’ temporary tattoo became a popular souvenir of exotic destinations and local celebratory cosmetic, as well as a profitable informal economic venture for the artist; the understanding of the risks did not proliferate along with the ‘black henna’ meme.

The ‘black henna’ meme replicated from local practice into global cultural geographies through pop culture, tourism, and the Internet.  Online and print media commentary about ‘black henna’ began around 1997, at which point the replication and evolution of the black henna meme organism became visible and recoverable, so the epidemiology of the ‘black henna’ meme can be recovered to trace the epidemiology of para-phenylenediamine sensitization.

This work analyzes the history, geography and cultural phenomenon of black henna meme organisms in the tourist industry through memetics and discourse analysis of online commentary on ‘black henna’ and the para-phenylenediamine sensitization epidemic produced by ‘black henna’ between 1997 to 2014.  This work will also estimate the date of onset and size of the sensitization epidemic, and propose a solution of management through competing meme organisms.

Co-author: "Lawsonia inermis L. (henna): Ethnobotanical, phytochemical and pharmacological aspects," Ruchi Badoni Semwala, Deepak Kumar Semwala, Sandra Combrinck, Catherine Cartwright-Jones, Alvaro Viljoen. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, June 2014

Abstract and Ethnopharmacological relevance:

The use of Lawsonia inermis L. (henna) for medicinal and cosmetic purposes is inextricably linked to ancient and modern cultures of North Africa and Asia. Literature and artwork indicates that Lawsonia inermis played an important holistic role in the daily lives of some ancient cultures, providing psychological and medicinal benefits, as well as being used for personal adornment. Although henna was historically applied to the hands and feet to protect against fungal pathogens and to hair to combat lice and dandruff, other traditional uses include the treatment of liver and digestive disorders, reduction of tissue loss in leprosy, diabetic foot disorders and ulcers.

Phytochemistry: Almost 70 phenolic compounds have been isolated from various parts of the plant. Naphthaquinones, which include the dying principle lawsone, have been linked to many of the pharmacological activities. The terpene, β-ionone is largely responsible for the pungent odour of the essential oil isolated from the flowers. In addition to other volatile terpenes, some non-volatile terpenoids, a single sterol, two alkaloids and two dioxin derivatives have also been isolated from the plant.

Bioactivity: Henna is a pharmacologically important plant with significant in vitro and in vivo biological activities. Although a myriad of pharmacological activities have been documented, the antioxidant and antimicrobial activities are the most thoroughly investigated. Some incidents of adverse reactions following application to the skin have been reported, but these are mainly confined to cases involving individuals with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency and reactions to adulterants added to henna products.

Conclusions: Adulteration of henna is very common and may have resulted in unwarranted scientific findings. Phytochemical profiling studies of the plant, which are crucial for the establishment of proper quality control protocols, are lacking and hamper the development of medicinal products. Although many in vitro studies have been conducted to evaluate the pharmacological activities and many in vivo studies have focussed on the toxicity of extracts, more in vivo studies to validate pharmacological activities are needed. The roles of specific compounds and their synergies have not been comprehensively investigated.

Author of articles on cosmetics, henna, hamam, and harem for:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women
Edited by Natana J. DeLong-Bas
Oxford University Press, 2013  ISBN-13: 9780199764464
Current Online Version: 2013 eISBN: 9780199764471

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women provides clear, current, comprehensive information on the major topics of scholarly interest within the study of Islam and women. With more than 450 articles written by leading international experts and with a concentration on contemporary issues, it is a single source for accurate overview articles covering all aspects of this flourishing area of research. Organized around the central conceptual themes in research on Islam and women including Self and Body, Immigration and Minorities, Culture and Expression, Politics and Polity, and Community and Society, as well as Science, Medicine and Education among others, this work examines the scholarship on Islam and women that has expanded exponentially over the past twenty years, as well as cross-pollination between other fields and disciplines.