FDA Finds Temporary Tattoo Ink Toxic

Planning to jazz up your look with a temporary tattoo this summer? Make sure you know what’s in the dye, or you could be in store for permanent skin damage.

The United States Food and Drug Administration released a warning about a potentially harmful substance known as black henna. MedWatch, the FDA’s safety information program, has reported complaints of unwanted side effects including blisters, redness, loss of pigmentation, raised red weeping lesions, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring.

The FDA released pictures along with the warning. In some cases scarring took the shape of the henna tattoo.

Henna, a dye made from a flowering plant that grows in Africa and Asia, has been used astemporary tattoo ink for centuries. In Ancient Rome it was used as a cosmetic hair dye, in Morocco, as a wool and leather dye.

Today henna is synonymous with the spindly temporary tattoos used in traditional ceremonies around the world. In the US, getting a henna tattoo has become a popular, “fun” thing to do. Henna tattoo artists have become ubiquitous at weddings and children’s birthday parties, and at malls and beaches, where the tattoos are sold at kiosks.

How could a substance that has served as a safe and natural dye for hundreds of years now be considered a health hazard? Well, it turns out that “black henna” isn’t actually made from natural henna.

Talk about false advertising.

To give black henna it’s unnatural dark color (pure henna is reddish in color), manufacturers taint it with black hair dye. That hair dye is often p-phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical that can be toxic when applied directly to skin.

As dermatologist Dr. Richard Thomas pointed out, exposure to a contact allergen like PPD can have lifelong effects, “The risk is becoming allergic to PPD. It can cause allergic contact dermatitis, which can be a brisk, nasty reaction.”

Unfortunately for consumers, the FDA warning did not cause blank henna to be yanked from every shelf in America. Although states have jurisdiction over tattoo parlors, some states do not regulate temporary tattooing. So, if you live in a state where temporary tattoo regulation is lax, black henna may continue to be sold by temporary tattoo artists who are not legally obligated to comply with FDA warnings.

How to Stay Safe

1. If you or your child is in the market for a temporary tattoo, hire an artist who uses pure, natural dyes.

2. Empower your children and friends to make smart decisions by informing them of the dangers of black henna.

3. If you’re concerned about a temporary tattoo or any other cosmetic product, the FDA recommends filling out a complaint form by visiting the MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.