For some years, the British Skin Foundation has been warning the public about black henna temporary tattoos, which can cause extreme and severe skin reactions. A recent survey among dermatologists suggests such reactions are on the rise.
Black henna temporary tattoos (BHTTs) are often touted at holiday hotspots around the world, particularly outside Europe, and sometimes at events such as music festivals here. The ‘ink’ used to paint BHTTs onto the skin contains dangerous levels of a chemical called PPD — a powerful dye which should never be applied to the skin. It is illegal to use PPD in ‘leave-on’ products in the EU market.
As the BSF say, when PPD is used in this way, “it can cause blistering, painful skin burns and may lead to scarring”. The images are never pleasant, and this one below right on a young boy of six is far from the worst I’ve seen.
The risk of a ruined holiday, pain, and scarring aside, just one exposure can leave you with a lifelong allergy to PPD, which is used widely in permanent hair dyes, for which normally it is extremely effective. Reactions to PPD in hair dye have hospitalised women in the past, and there have been occasional deaths too. See here for safe PPD Free options to dye or color your hair.
This black — or ‘neutral’ — henna is sometimes found illegally for sale online. Real henna is brown or red / orange, and reactions to it are rare. If you cannot be certain what you are dealing with, avoid it at all costs. Remember that those with eczema or existing allergies may be more susceptible to reactions to black henna.
If you see it for sale, or black henna tattoos being marketed, do report it.
In the UK, report to The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA).
In Europe, report to Cosmetics Europe.