Fact Check

Henna Tattoo Scarring

Can temporary black henna tattoos permanently scar children?

Published Jun 18, 2007

Claim:   Temporary black henna tattoos can cause permanent scarring.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, June 2007]

Black Henna tattoos


I am sending this email to the majority of my address book - please pass this one on. It is so important!

We were in Seaside, Florida, 2 weeks ago and decided to allow our children to get "henna tattoos" - the adults decided to indulge, as well. This was done at a very nice, "high-end" place - next to $2 - 3 million dollar homes. I asked if it was "safe" for children and was assured that it was a "natural" dye with no consequence.

10 days later , my 7 yr. old and my 5 yr. old are having "severe" allergic reactions to the "black henna". Their tattoos will now, most likely, be permanent scars. They are reacting to PPD - a substance added to natural henna to make it more "black" and allow it to set more quickly.

Now that my girls have been exposed to PPD - they can NEVER have their hair dyed - as it could be fatal. They can not ever use PABA - based sunscreens, they can not have "Sulfa" anti-biotics, they can not use most cosmetics, and they can not have most drugs ending in "-caine". Our first visit is to the dermatologist tomorrow and then to the allergist to determine the life long consequences of this exposure.

PLEASE do not allow your children to get these "all natural henna tattoos" unless you are 100% sure they are pure henna (which has a much lower rate of allergic reaction). MAKE SURE THEY DO NOT CONTAIN PPD! It can be a life altering decision.

Take care,


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 at least somewhat 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

dries to a dark brown or orange hue. To create body art (also known as mehndi), henna is mixed into a paste with essential oils and applied to the skin in intricate patterns. When left on the skin for at least four hours, the paste produces patterns that last up to just over three weeks.

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." So-called "black henna" may contain the "coal tar" color p-phenylenediamine, also known as PPD. This ingredient may cause allergic reactions in some individuals. The only legal use of PPD in cosmetics is as a hair dye. It is not approved for direct application to the skin. Even brown shades of products marketed as henna may contain other ingredients intended to make them darker or make the stain last longer.

In addition to color additives, these skin-decorating products may contain other ingredients, such as solvents.

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.

Barbara "banned on the run" Mikkelson

Last updated:   6 January 2014


    Anthony, Lorrayne.   "Think Before You Get Inked; Doctor Warns."

    The Canadian Press.   9 April 2007.

    Frampton, Andrea.   "Patterns of Faith."

    Copley News Service.   31 March 2006.

    Kesner, Julian.   "Your Bod, Babe! To Dye For."

    [New York] Daily News.   10 August 2006   (p. 59).

    Reischel, Julia.   "That Temporary Tattoo Could Be with You for a Long Long Time."

    [Broward-Palm Beach] New Times.   23 March 2006.

    Wenner, David.   "Mother Seeks Rub Out of Tattoo Chemical."

    [Harrisburg] Patriot News.   14 August 2006   (p. G13).

    Associated Press.   "North Wildwood Joins in Henna Tattoo Ban."

    9 March 2002.

    CBC News.   "Doctor Warns of Extreme Reactions to Hair Dye, Tattoos."

    6 March 2007.