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FDA Warns of Black Henna Tattoo Risks

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It's popular to get a black henna tattoo over spring break, apparently. While black henna tattoos are temporary, they might leave longer-lasting effects than desired, according to some experts. It's not that the tattoo itself will stay forever, but the possible risks associated with henna tattoos that may. Specifically, "black henna" ink contains para-phenylenediamine (PPD), a coal-tar product which is approved for use in hair dye but may have more serious effects on skin.

The Food and Drug Administration says that PPD can have lasting effects, and has received reports of redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring. PPD-containing hair dye is different from regular henna and you can tell the difference based on how the ink looks on your skin when it is applied. PPD is typically jet black and stains the skin quickly, while traditional henna needs to stay on your skin for several hours or even overnight to create the design. It doesn't last as long either, with a red-brown design appearing at first, that eventually turns to orange before it disappears.

Traditional henna comes from a plant native to Africa and Asia and has been used for centuries in mendhi designs in India, for example. It typically has the smell of tea tree oil, vegetable matter, or pine, while PPD-based dyes will have no odor or a bleach-like odor if they are really hair dyes. The FDA warns that it is dangerous to get any kind of tattoo using a non-FDA approved dye. Just looking at some of the images of black henna tattoos gone awry makes me quiver and want to gag–just don't do it folks.

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  1. Peter Egan says:
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    Luckily, I did not experience any adverse effects from my Henna tattoo. However, there is a funny story behind it.

    I was about 16 years old and vacationing with my immediate family and a couple of friends. We all got Henna tattoos. When we returned to the condo that evening for dinner, I showed my mother my new “tattoo”, which I was content to allow her to believe was real.

    She chased me around the condo with a steak knife for a good 15 minutes before my father and brothers were able to restrain her. She was really going to literally cut the tattoo out of my arm with a steak knife.

    You can imagine how she must’ve felt when we told her it was only temporary…