FDA: Beware of ‘black henna’ tattoos

Spring Breakers, beware. That henna tattoo might really not be henna at all. And it might not be as temporary as you think.

File photo. (Fareed Khan / AP)
File photo. (Fareed Khan / AP)

The Food and Drug Administration warned Monday that the popular temporary tattoos, in which ink is applied to the skin in intricate patterns that last from several days to several weeks, can actually last a lot longer. And not in a good way.

“Just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn’t mean that it is risk free,” Linda Katz, director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, said in a consumer update.

The agency said some consumers have reported a range of adverse reactions that can outlast the tattoos themselves and, in some cases, have led to emergency room visits. Among them: Skin redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight and even permanent scarring.

Traditional henna is a reddish-brown coloring made from a flowering plant found in parts of Asia and Africa. For centuries, people have ground henna into a paste and used it to decorate everything from leather to hair, fingernails and skin. The FDA attributed many of the problems that have occurred to the use of “black henna” that often is used in place of the more traditional henna. It can include hair dye with p-phenylenediamine, or PPD, which can cause an ugly range of skin reactions. A study last August in the Journal of the German Society of Dermatology found that PPD in hair and eyelash dye caused allergic reactions in a group of people.

Black henna often can be found in temporary tattoo kiosks common in tourists areas, such as beach boardwalks. The FDA noted that while some states have put in place regulations governing temporary tattooing, others have not.

So be careful with those henna tattoos out there, kids.

A few examples of bad reactions can be found on Twitter:

 

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on food and drug issues.
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