Henna tattoos can cause allergic reactions

Para-phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical commonly used for black hair dye, is often added to natural henna in order to increase the intensity and longevity of the temporary tattoo, but PPD can cause serious skin reactions and is prohibited for application directly to the skin. As reported at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, lack of regulation of the tattoo industry means people are getting black henna tattoos and putting themselves at risk for serious skin problems.

‘Perhaps the most alarming issue we are seeing with black henna tattoos is the increase in the number of children – even children as young as four – who are getting tattooed and experiencing skin reactions,’ says Dr Sharon Jacob, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego.

‘Kids make up a significant portion of the population that receives temporary tattoos, because parents mistakenly think they are safe, since they are not permanent and are available at so many popular venues catering for families. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. To date, there have been hundreds of reports of black tattoos causing allergic contact dermatitis, with reactions ranging from mild eczema to blistering and permanent scarring. Signs of an allergic reaction include redness and itching, bumps, swelling and blisters. Topical steroids can stop the allergic reaction.

‘Some people become sensitised to PPD from just one exposure and develop a lifelong sensitivity, along with an allergy that can cause a cross reaction to other compounds, including certain medications.’

So, if you or your child wants a henna tattoo, make sure that it is vegetable henna, not PPD-adulterated henna.

Read more about henna / PPD reactions at our SkinsMatter site

First published in September 2008

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