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In The Know: Black Henna Tattoos May Leave Permanent Scars

SunBuddy Lotion Applicator - Temporary Tattoo

Spring break is here and many young adults show off cool body art by getting henna tattoos. Henna tattoos are realistic-looking and temporary, lasting from a few days to several weeks before fading away. Risk free and fun, right? Well, a new warning from the FDA states that certain temporary tattoos can cause permanent damage. In this case, the warning is for “black henna” tattoos.

Unlike permanent tattoos where ink is injected under the skin, henna tattoos are drawn or stenciled onto the skin’s surface. Traditional henna is reddish-brown and is derived from a flowering plant that is native to Asia and Africa. Traditional henna has been used for skin decoration for centuries and is not part of the warning.

The FDA warning has to do with “black henna” tattoos that contain para-phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD is commonly used for hair dye, smells like bleach or ammonia, and is not approved for direct application to the skin. If the temporary tattoo artist is using ink that is jet-black and stains quickly, then it is most likely PPD based.

Direct application of PPD to the skin can have horrible side effects. The FDA has received reports of redness, blisters filled with fluid, loss of pigmentation, and permanent scarring. The reactions may be immediate or may not appear for a few days or weeks after exposure. One particular report from a mother, who also happens to be a nurse, states that her daughter’s skin looked “the way of a burn victim, all blistered and raw.”

Protect your skin and if you are thinking about getting temporarily body art, be sure that the artist is not using “black henna.” Be on the lookout for jet-black ink, as it may be PPD based. When in doubt, don’t take the risk or you may be left with a permanent scar.