Temporary tattoos, also known as “hennas”, carry more health risks than most people realize, according to a new report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

People often believe that because the tattoo is only temporary – from three days to several weeks – that it won’t carry long term risks. Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, noted: “just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn’t mean that it is risk free.”

In contrast to typical tattoos, hennas are only applied to the surface of the skin, as opposed to being injected.

However consumers have reported long term reactions that often outlast the temporary tattoos. The reactions can start right after getting the tattoo or a few weeks later.

The FDA adverse event reporting program, called MedWatch, have received numerous reports of people who get temporary tattoos experiencing problems, such as:

  • Blisters
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Raised red weeping lesions
  • Permanent scarring

A few cases have even led to visits to emergency medical care.

Henna tattoos are becoming increasingly popular

Hennas were originally made from a flowering plant, which was grounded into paste, to dye skin and fingernails and wool. However, nowadays, “black henna” has included more ingredients such as coal-tar hair dye. The reason for adding these extra ingredients is to make the tattoos darker and longer lasting.

The coal-tar hair dye often added to make black henna contains a substance called p-phenylenediaine (PDD). This ingredient can be very dangerous and cause serious skin reactions. It is currently illegal to add PDD to cosmetics but there’s no way of telling who will be affected.

Black henna can be very dangerous and there isn’t that much regulation on temporary tattooing in most parts of the U.S. Therefore it is possible that there isn’t anyone checking the quality or risks associated with certain tattoo artists.

The Alabama Department of Public Health issued a similar warning a few years ago concerning the risks of temporary black henna tattoos.

One case involved a 5-year old girl who got a temporary tattoo and then developed extremely severe reddening two weeks after, her father said:

“What we thought would be a little harmless fun ended up becoming more like a nightmare for us. My hope is that by telling people about our experience, I can help prevent this from happening to some other unsuspecting kids and parents.”

The mother of the girl added:

“At first I was a little upset she got the tattoo without telling me. But when it became red and itchy and later began to blister and the blisters filled with fluid, I was beside myself.”

The mother added that as a nurse, she’s used to seeing all manner of injuries, “but when it’s your own child, it’s pretty scary.”

If you experience any reactions after getting a temporary tattoo you should immediately contact your doctor and report it to MedWatch.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist