Getting a temporary tattoo might seem harmless, but it can have serious consequences, federal health officials say.
In October, the Food and Drug Administration warned about skin infections linked to undetectable contaminated ink used in regular tattoos. Now, the agency is sounding an alarm about temporary tattoos using black henna – tattoos some may have chosen thinking they were safer than having ink injected under their skin.
But some users have reported permanent skin scarring after getting a black henna tattoo. Others exposed to the ingredient have reported life-long sensitivity to not only that substance but also several drugs and sunscreen ingredients.
Jenney Wren Orewiler, 47, of Rome City, who does temporary henna tattoos at area farmers markets and festivals, stays away from black henna. She says there is too great a potential for adverse reactions.
“I have never used black henna, and I won’t use black henna, and it’s because I’ve heard of people who have gotten them,” Orewiler says.
FDA officials say the adverse reactions have been traced to a black henna ingredient known as p-phenylenediamine, or PPD. The substance is listed as a contact allergen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is not U.S.-approved for application to the skin.
But it can be found in some hair dyes, and some tattooists use them to blacken henna, which is typically reddish brown, FDA officials say. Some black henna may consist of hair dye alone or use a more-concentrated form of PPD, officials add.
Orewiler points out that some artists use black henna brought back from countries such as India, where U.S. standards don’t apply. There may be no ingredient list – or it may be in an unreadable language, she says.
“I would just say avoid it,” she says of black henna.
FDA officials say skin reactions can show up right after a black henna tattoo or up to three weeks later. Some reactions have sent users to the emergency room.
Reported reactions include itching, redness in the shape of the tattoo, blisters, weeping red welts, loss of skin pigmentation and increased sensitivity to sun. Skin infections can develop secondary to scratching.
Symptoms can be treated with steroids taken by mouth or applied to the site, antihistamines and antibiotics.
FDA officials say many reactions have been in teens and young children who get spur-of-the-moment tattoos at fairs and carnivals or while on an out-of-country vacation.
One mother told the FDA the skin on her daughter’s back “looked the way a burn victim looks, all blistered and raw” after a black henna tattoo. She reported the girl had not reacted to regular henna, but a doctor had told her the reaction will leave permanent scars.
FDA officials point out that those who apply temporary tattoos, which generally fade in a few days to a few weeks, are typically unregulated.
In Allen County, no regulations govern temporary tattoos, though other tattooists are regulated and shops inspected, says Amy Hestind, spokeswoman for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health.