Can Henna & Temporary Tattoos Affect Skin?
For whatever reason, applying temporary body art to skin isn’t the first thing we think of when we envision dangerous activities. Swimming with sharks in a steel cage, driving against oncoming traffic, climbing up a frozen waterfall…these dare-devil undertakings seem much riskier than getting an intricate henna tattoo drawn up our arm. But according to the FDA, seemingly-harmless temporary tattoos—like henna—may leave you in an unexpected place: the emergency room. If you’re a fan of temporary body art, you’ll want to keep reading!
Think about it: Have you ever stopped to think about what a temporary tattoo can do to your skin? The mere fact that it’s temporary—typically lasting from three days to several weeks—makes it seem less of a skin issue, especially when compared to its permanent counterpart. PSA to all: That’s just not the case. In fact, the FDA warns that some reactions to these temporary drawings applied to the skin’s surface can be severe, and long outlast the temporary tattoos themselves. Yikes!
WHAT EXACTLY CAN HAPPEN TO SKIN?
So what exactly can happen to the skin after a temporary tattoo application? MedWatch, the FDA’s safety information and adverse event reporting program, received reports of serious and long-lasting negative reactions from consumers. Not surprisingly, some consumers with severe reactions had to seek immediate medical care, including visits to the hospital. What’s scarier is that these reactions may not crop up right away, and can instead take up to two or three weeks to show.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S SAFE AND WHAT’S NOT?
Traditional henna has a reddish-brown coloring and is made from a flowering plant native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia. It’s commonly used around the world to dye skin among other things and is popular in cultural celebrations and festivals. However, there is a so-called “black henna” that can often be used in place of traditional henna, which can be a mix of henna with other ingredients. Sometimes, the black henna is really just coal-tar hair dye alone. The reason it’s blackened is so that the tattoo appears richer and lasts longer, but this type of henna is what the FDA warns is potentially dangerous. Why? Because coal-tar hair dye contains p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing who will react negatively or not, but PPD is currently not permitted by law for use in cosmetics. There’s also no way of really knowing which henna has PPD, since regulations for temporary tattooing differs from state to state. In other words, it’s possible that your state has no licensed board checking to see if the artist is following safe and recommended practices.
Bottom line: While henna tattoos can look pretty on the skin, you don’t want to get stuck with more than you bargained for. It’s up to you to make informed decisions. Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of the possible outcomes. To learn more about the risks of temporary tattoos, visit fda.gov.