Black henna tattoos are a popular, less invasive form of body art than ink tattoos. These temporary tattoos should slowly fade within three weeks, but some customers suffer serious reactions to a chemical in black henna that result in painful chemical burn injuries from the tattoos.
Black henna tattoos are made up of henna, a plant-based pigment, and para-phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical substance that is found in some dyes, textiles, and printing inks. While some people are unaffected by the chemical, others have strong allergic reactions to PPD that result in severe chemical burns on the skin.
In both the United States and Europe, it is illegal to use PPD in skin products. In the US, the FDA must approve any product in a cosmetic product. The FDA has approved the use of PPD in hair dyes—not for skin cosmetics like henna—but some henna vendors illegally combine hair dye mixtures with henna.
Temporary henna tattoos are popular during the summer months and are often offered at music festivals and outdoor markets. But in the last two years, there has been a rise in the number of people suffering serious injuries due to allergic reactions to PPD in both henna tattoos and hair dyes.
The hair dye industry reports that about 4 people in a million will suffer severe reactions to the dye, and scientific studies have confirmed that about 1.4% of people will have a severe reaction to PPD.
Earlier this month, a college sophomore ended up in the hospital with significant facial swelling and second-degree burns on her scalp from an allergic reaction to a hair dye session at her salon. The girl got her hair done at a salon, but the salon did not spot test the dye on the girl’s skin before applying it to her scalp.
This comes a year after a UK woman died from a severe reaction to PPD in her L’Oreal hair dye.
In January of this year, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Just For Men hair dye for causing serious PPD burn-related injuries in consumers of the product.
More often, PPD chemical burns occur when people travel abroad and get temporary henna tattoos from countries without restrictions on PPD. Last fall, a teenager suffered severe burns on her leg after getting her henna tattoo retouched. The teen suffered severe burns and blistering
Two years ago, a 3-year-old boy went into toxic shock from a reaction to the PPD in his Spiderman henna tattoo. The boy was sent to the children’s burn unit at the hospital and suffered permanent scarring from the PPD burns on his arm.
It is important to spot test chemical products on your skin for allergic reactions before applying the products in full. It is illegal to use PPD in henna tattoos, but unfortunately, that doesn’t stop some vendors from using the chemical. Ask about the ingredients in henna tattoos before the substance is applied to you or a child.