Additives Used in Henna Tattoo Materials – Potential Health Concerns
Questions and Answers
What is henna?
Henna is red or brown dye that is typically derived from the dried leaves of the henna shrub (Lawsonia inermis). In the United States, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), henna is approved for hair dye only. Henna is used in direct application to the skin for temporary tattoos, in particular for decorating hands and feet. Dried leaves are ground into a fine powder and mixed with oil or water to make a paste which is applied to the skin. Allergic reactions from pure henna are rarely reported. It is not advised that henna be used in infants or young children.
What is black henna? What is PPD?
Other ingredients can be added to henna to darken the color and lengthen the time that the tattoo is visible. This is referred to as “black henna.” One of the additives frequently used to make a darker color, is para-phenylenediamine, an ingredient in hair dye. Para-phenylenediamine or PPD (this is not the PPD or purified protein derivative used in tuberculosis testing) is not approved for direct use on the skin. PPD in cosmetics directly applied to the skin can cause allergic reactions that can result in intense itching, redness of the skin, blistering and in some cases scarring. (Reactions can also occur from hair dye, although the concentration in hair dye may differ from what is used in “black henna” and dye is usually washed out within 30 minutes, so it does not have prolonged contact with skin). Some individuals with skin reactions develop scars with lighter or darker patches of skin. Scars can last months or be permanent in some cases. Individuals who have sensitivity to PPD may have allergic reactions later on to substances that are similar chemically, which may be in a variety of products including hair dyes, sunscreens and medications.
What about other additives to henna?
Allergic reactions from the use of pure henna products on the skin have rarely been reported. A variety of other additives may be in a henna product and may cause an allergic reaction.
How do I know what is in a temporary tattoo product?
Retail cosmetics must list ingredients on the label. The requirement for listing ingredients does not apply to products used exclusively by professionals for application at a salon, booth or fair. Consumers are advised to inquire what is in a henna product. Artists and vendors are advised to check with suppliers regarding the ingredients in a product.
When do reactions occur?
If someone has been sensitized (previously exposed) to PPD, and the product contains PPD, a reaction may occur in 24-48 hours. Most reactions to “black henna” occur 4-10 days after the application, but reactions can occur up to 3 weeks later. Allergic reactions to other compounds may also occur quickly if there was a prior exposure or develop later (often within 10-14 days).
What can be done?
If a reaction is suspected, please see your health care provider promptly. Consultation with a dermatologist may be helpful. In addition to a possible reaction to the product, it is important to check that there is not also an infection.
How do I report an adverse reaction to a temporary tattoo?
You can contact the Minneapolis FDA district office at 612-758-7221.
See the FDA Website for more information.
What do the reactions look like?