Boardwalkers beware: The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that temporary tattoos, including henna tattoos that are popular at spring break and summer beach destinations, are "not necessarily safe" and have been linked to several severe skin reactions.
"Just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn't mean that it is risk free," Linda Katz, director of the FDA's office of cosmetics and colors, said in a statement. The agency has received reports of "redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight and even permanent scarring" due to "black henna" tattoos.
Henna tattoos originate from southeast Asia but have become popular in the United States. They do not involve piercing the skin and generally last for several weeks before naturally fading away. Traditional henna uses a natural reddish-brown dye made from henna leaves, but in its report, the FDA says that many boardwalk temporary tattoo purveyors use coal-tar hair dye to darken standard henna to make it last longer. which has a reddish-brown color.
That hair dye contains a chemical called p-phenylenediamine, or PPD, that can cause severe reactions if applied to skin. PPD is banned from cosmetics that are intended to be applied to the skin, but the agency says there is little federal- or state-oversight and regulation of what chemicals are used in henna tattoo ink.
According to one complaint received by the agency, a teenage girl had a reaction that looked "the way a burn victim looks, all blistered and raw." They warn that the reactions "may be severe and long outlast the temporary tattoos themselves." The reactions can occur immediately or may take up to three weeks for symptoms to occur.