A swirly tattoo which dates back to the ancient orient has been recently become more popular. What has been advertised as “henna” tattoos actually use something called black henna, which may contain a chemical used in hair dye that can cause some serious skin reactions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises.
The FDA has received consumer reports of some striking skin reactions after a black henna tattoo, including redness, blisters, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and in some cases, permanent scarring. These reactions may happen right after the tattoo is applied, or up to two or three weeks later.
Henna has been used for centuries to dye skin, hair or fingernails. What many don’t realize is that black henna is not actually henna, or at least not entirely. Traditional henna is reddish-brown in color, and is made from a flowering plant of the same name that grows in tropical and subtropical regions in Africa, southern Asia and parts of northern Australia.
“The main difference between regular henna and ‘black’ henna is that a mix of other ingredients with henna is used to darken the color of the temporary tattoo,” said FDA spokeswoman Tamara Ward in an email. “Ingredients may include coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people.”
“You may see ‘black henna’ used in places such as temporary tattoo kiosks at beaches, boardwalks, and other holiday destinations, as well as in some ethnic or specialty shops,” Ward says. “Depending on where you are, though, it’s possible no one is checking to make sure the artist is following safe practices or even knows what may be harmful to consumers.” That’s because not all states have laws or regulations overseeing temporary tattoos.
One way to spot a shop that uses black henna: Adding the PPD makes the tattoo darker and longer-lasting. A real henna tattoo, on the other hand, will be red when it’s painted on, fading to brown on the skin as it dries, and it will only last a few days — so be wary of a shop that advertises tattoos that last longer than that.