FDA Warns Temporary Black Henna Tattoos Aren’t Safe

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Temporary Tattoo

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a new health warning saying temporary tattoos known as “Henna” may pose health risks for some.

Unlike getting a real tattoo, 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.

“However, just because a tattoo is temporary 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.

People have used natural henna as a cosmetic and a dye for hair and fabrics for thousands of years. Henna is a reddish-brown pigment that comes from the flowering plant Lawsonia inermis, which is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia.

Temporary tattoos often use “black henna,” which may contain a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people. By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin, the FDA noted.

Reactions to this “black henna” may occur immediately after a person gets a temporary tattoo, or even up to two or three weeks later.

In speaking with NBC, FDA spokesperson Tamara Ward explained that the longer lasting ink in black henna style tattoos have been linked to symptoms including redness, blisters, oozing lesions, increased sensitivity to sunlight and permanent scarring.

“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 continued. “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.”

Dr. Neil Sadick, a professor of clinical dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College with a private practice in Manhattan, told NY Daily News that he has treated several patients for black henna reactions in recent years.

“People can contact dermatitis from the henna in the tattoo,” he said. “They can get weeping blisters, or another allergic reaction. We usually treat it with topical steroids, oral steroids or antihistamines. It usually doesn’t scar, but it could if it’s untreated.”

The FDA said that people who have a reaction to, or concern about, a temporary tattoo should contact a health care professional and contact MedWatch, which is the agency’s safety information and problem-reporting program. This can be done online or by phoning 1-800-FDA-1088.

FDA Warns of Harmful Tattoo Infections

Officials have noticed a recent increase of infections and illnesses linked to contaminated tattoos.

Are temporary tattoos safe?

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