In late March, the Food and Drug Administration released a warning for a popular, longer-lasting temporary tattoo. The tattoos are often administered in tourist areas by artists, and are commonly known as black henna tattoos. As they gain popularity, more people are complaining of serious allergic reactions, including redness, blisters, oozing lesions, increased sensitivity to sunlight and permanent scarring.

The reason black henna tattoos last longer than the traditional red henna tattoos is because of an extra ingredient called p-phenylenediamine, or PPD. PPD is also found in many types of hair dye, especially those designed to cover gray hair. The traditional henna dye has been used for skin application and dying fabrics and textiles for thousands of years, and is generally very safe. Black henna is a different product entirely, and may not include natural henna in its ingredients.

Unfortunately, application of black henna tattoos can cause serious problems down the road, even if no initial reaction occurs. A recent study published in the Journal of the German Society of Dermatology identified PPD as the cause of seven people who had serious allergic reactions to hair dye, all of whom had black henna tattoos previously. On average, it takes six years after the initial application of a black henna tattoo for the reaction to hair dye to appear.

Very few states have regulations in place regarding temporary tattoos, but the FDA has asked anyone who suffers a reaction from temporary tattoos or other cosmetics that might contain PPD to call 1-800-FDA-1088 to report the problem.

Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT