Monday the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that temporary tattoos, popular and commonly applied by small retail outlets, may be putting customers as risk of serious dermatological complications. FDA’s safety information and adverse event reporting program MedWatch has received reports of serious and long-lasting reactions that consumers had not bargained for after getting temporary tattoos. Reported problems include redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring.
FDA’s warnings refer particularly to the use of so-called “black henna” tattoos. Henna is something widely recognized as a fun and less-permanent alternative to actual tattoos. It is commonly applied by artists on beaches as a popular tourist attraction. Traditional henna is made from a flowering plant from which henna derives its name. The danger, the FDA warns, is from alternative skin coloring methods that are often used at these beach-side kiosks.
Some proprietors take traditional henna and mix it with p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical commonly used in hair dye and some industrial chemicals. It begins as a clear substance that when oxidized will turn dark. In other cases, henna is completely foregone in favor of this or other hair dye chemicals only.
The problem, as explained by trichologist Brian Plunkett in a YouTube clip, is that allergies to PPD are very common. Trichologists specialize in the study of the hair and scalp. Plunkett describes having a class of 27 students, seven of whom have been exposed to black henna, wherein two of those students had an allergic reaction. It is because of this that experienced practitioners in the hair industry and FDA strongly recommend a “patch test” to verify whether a client has the allergy.
The results of the allergy can range from minor to severe, and are usually permanent. Oftentimes the reaction will initially produce a painful swath of red welts across the exposed area. The affected patch may permanently be prone to dermatitis and will remain more sensitive than other areas of skin. Reactions from black henna can happen within minutes of application, but it could be days before a noticeable reaction results.
The FDA says the best method to avoid problems is to be attentive to the ingredients of the henna being applied. This is not always an effective method, however. While ingredient lists are required on consumer-purchased products, many henna designs are done by small businesses. These businesses do not have to purchase products with the ingredients disclosed, and may even be mixing their own.
Clearly anyone looking to get henna applied to their skin should go to reputable dealers. Anytime a color besides the natural brownish color is being used, one should always make sure to know exactly what is being used to alter or create the color being applied. FDA’s advisory comes as many college students across the country go on spring break, raising the risk of potential exposure higher than usual.
Advisors recommend it is best to make sure one is informed before deciding to get any kind of ink applied to one’s skin.