Temporary Tattoos Are Not Risk Free!
A group of friends compare their temporary tattoos. The smallest hand
(top right) belongs to a five-year-old who developed severe reddening
(bottom) where the tattoo was placed. (Photos used with permission, by
break is on the way, or maybe summer vacation. Time to pack your swim
suit, hit the beach, and perhaps indulge in a little harmless fun. What
about getting a temporary tattoo to mark the occasion? Who could it hurt
to get a temporary tattoo?
It could hurt you, if you actually
get one. Temporary tattoos typically last from three days to several
weeks, depending on the product used for coloring and the condition of
the skin. Unlike permanent tattoos, which are injected into the skin,
temporary tattoos marketed as "henna" are applied to the skin's surface.
"just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn't mean that it is risk
free," says Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA's Office of
Cosmetics and Colors. Some consumers report reactions that may be severe
and long outlast the temporary tattoos themselves.
FDA's safety information and adverse event (bad side effects) reporting
program, 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
Some reactions have led people to seek
medical care, including visits to hospital emergency rooms. Reactions
may occur immediately after a person gets a temporary tattoo, or even up
to two or three weeks later.
Not Necessarily Safe
may be familiar with henna, a reddish-brown coloring made from a
flowering plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa
and Asia. Since the Bronze Age, people have used dried henna, ground
into a paste, to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather, silk and wool.
This decoration—sometimes also known as mehndi—is still used today
around the world to decorate the skin in cultural festivals and
However, today so-called "black henna" is often
used in place of traditional henna. Inks marketed as black henna may be a
mix of henna with other ingredients, or may really be hair dye alone.
The reason for adding other ingredients is to create a tattoo that is
darker and longer lasting, but use of black henna is potentially
That's because the extra ingredient used to blacken
henna is often a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD),
an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people.
Sometimes, the artist may use a PPD-containing hair dye alone. Either
way, there's no telling who will be affected. By law, PPD is not
permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin.
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. While states have jurisdiction over
professional practices such as tattooing and cosmetology, that oversight
differs from state to state. Some states have laws and regulations for
temporary tattooing, while others don't. So, depending on where you are,
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.
number of consumers have learned the risks the hard way, reporting
significant bad reactions shortly after the application of black henna
If you have a
reaction to or concern about a temporary tattoo or any other cosmetic,
in addition to recommending that you contact your health care
professional, FDA asks you to contact MedWatch, the agency's problem-reporting program. You can also call 1-800-FDA-1088 to report by telephone, or contact the nearest FDA consumer complaint coordinator in your area.
- The parents of a 5-year-old girl
reported that she developed severe reddening on her forearm about two
weeks after receiving a black henna temporary tattoo. "What we thought
would be a little harmless fun ended up becoming more like a nightmare
for us," the father says. "My hope is that by telling people about our
experience, I can help prevent this from happening to some other
unsuspecting kids and parents."
- The mother of a 17-year-old
girl agrees. "At first I was a little upset she got the tattoo without
telling me," she says. "But when it became red and itchy and later began
to blister and the blisters filled with fluid, I was beside myself."
She explains that as a nurse, she's used to seeing all manner of
injuries, "but when it's your own child, it's pretty scary," she says.
another mother, whose teenager had no reaction to red henna tattoos,
describes the skin on her daughter's back as looking "the way a burn
victim looks, all blistered and raw" after a black henna tattoo was
applied there. She says that according to her daughter's doctor, the
teenager will have scarring for life.
This article appears on FDA's Consumer Update page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
March 25, 2013
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Labels: allergies, black henna, skin reactions, temporary tattoos