Temporary Black Henna May Cause Serious, Permanent Skin Reactions, Says FDA

Temporary Black Henna May Cause Serious, Permanent Skin Reactions, Says FDA
July 22, 2015

Tattoos aren't for everyone. They're pretty permanent and some people don't like that kind of commitment. Henna tattoos offer a temporary option, but a recent fad is starting to concern health officials.

So-called black henna is being used in place of traditional henna and the chemicals that make it darker and last longer can have dangerous reactions with the wearer's skin.

Mehndi is a centuries-old tradition used around the world to decorate the skin for cultural festivals and celebrations. Henna is a flowering plant that is dried and ground into a paste and used to create intricate shapes and designs on a person's skin.

Black henna, on the other hand, may contain other ingredients to make the stain darker or longer lasting. These inks may actually be hair dye or a mix of traditional henna and other ingredients.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that the extra ingredient used to darken henna is often a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous reactions in some people. By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended for staining the skin. The only permitted use for PPD is in hair dyes, and even then the label must have a cautionary statement.

Some black henna wearers reported reactions almost immediately after it was applied to the skin. Others had reactions two or three weeks later. Wears said they experienced redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and permanent scarring. Some reactions have led to medical treatment, including emergency room visits and ongoing skin sensitivity that can affect day to day activities.

After a reaction, some people find that they are now allergic or sensitive to related chemicals that can be found in things like textiles, sunscreens, and medications.

Black henna tattoos are often found in temporary tattoo kiosks at beaches, boardwalks and other vacation destinations as well as in some specialty shops.

Laws regulating tattooing and cosmetology vary from state to state, which means some states may have laws overseeing temporary tattoo shops, while others don't. Before diving in to some temporary body art, check with the local jurisdiction to find out how or if these practices are regulated.

If you have a reaction or concern about a temporary tattoo, or any other cosmetic, contact your health care provider. You can also report adverse event to the FDA's Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.

More information can be found here.