Old Wives' Tales
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Toxin du jour
Claim: Temporary black henna tattoos can cause permanent scarring.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, June 2007]
Origins: While we can't yet confirm this particular story about the two tots permanently scarred by temporary henna tattoos applied in Seaside, Florida, the risks decried in the account are surprisingly real.
For thousands of years, people have relied on henna, an Old World tropical shrub of the loosestrife family, to color their hair and decorate their skin. Pure henna is green but
Temporary tattoos worked in pure henna are generally safe. (It is extremely rare to develop an allergic reaction to pure henna.) However, those executed in "black henna" are not always so.
Black henna is a PPD-boosted synthetic version of the real thing. Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) is used in these concoctions to darken designs and thereby produce dramatic black patterns. Black henna can make delicate skin erupt into blistering redness that sometimes leads to permanent scarring. The reaction can also spread, causing grotesque full-body swelling, itching, and skin sloughing.
Black henna is not always safe to use. Permanent scarring can result from its application, and a tattoo meant to be worn for a few days can become a lifelong mark. Also, someone who has had a bad reaction to black henna may afterwards become extra-sensitive to PPD and similar chemicals, including some antibiotics and local anesthetics. Future reactions will likely be more severe.
Even when there isn't an immediate bad reaction to a tattoo worked in black henna, just having had that form of skin art can set up the wearer for misery in the future. Thanks to the concentration of PPD in the formulation used to execute skin designs (up to 15.7%), the temporary tattoo sensitizes its wearer to that chemical. More than two-thirds of hair dyes currently contain PPD or related chemicals, which means the former tattoo wearer may well experience a delayed hypersensitivity reaction when she decides years later to change her hair color. Said reaction can range anywhere from redness and irritation around the hairline and scalp to complete swelling of the face and a rash all over the body.
In 2006, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named PPD its "Allergen of the Year."
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has this to say about temporary or henna tattoos:
Since henna typically produces a brown, orange-brown, or reddish-brown tint, other ingredients must be added to produce other colors, such as those marketed as "black henna" and "blue henna."In 2002, North Wildwood, on an island off the New Jersey shore, joined neighboring oceanfront resort Wildwood in banning henna tattoos because it found it impossible to determine which contained FDA-approved dyes and which didn't.
In addition to color additives, these skin-decorating products may contain other ingredients, such as solvents.
Barbara "banned on the run" Mikkelson
Last updated: 18 June 2007
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