Temporary "black henna" tattoos causing rise in skin allergies

Dermatologists have reported rise in skin allergies and irritations caused by the ingredients used in the temporary tattoos advertised as black henna.

The British Skin Foundation (BSF) has issued a consumer warning about so-called “black henna” after its research showed that four out of 10 dermatologists have seen patients with skin reactions caused by its use.

BSF warned that the majority of “black henna tattoos” are not based on henna at all, but a substance called para-phenylenediamine (PPD), which is found in hair dyes.

PPD is legal for use in hair dye, but its use in skin-contact products such as temporary tattoos is illegal in the European Union.  

When applied and left on the skin, PPD can cause blistering, burns and even scarring. It can also leave people with a lifelong sensitivity to PPD, which increases the risk of a severe allergic reaction to hair dyes in the future.

The BSF’s survey also found that around half of the patients who had reacted had got their temporary tattoos outside the EU, where their use may be legal, but the other half got them within the EU, with 27% of these in the UK.

About two-thirds of dermatologists approached had seen an increase in patients with reactions to hair dyes, many of whom have previously had a temporary tattoo.

Consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson Dr Anjali Mahto said, “Black henna is well known to cause skin reactions and should be treated with caution, particularly in children.”

The warning has been backed by the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA), whose director general, Chris Flower, said, “Having a ‘black henna’ temporary tattoo presents a significant risk of a very nasty adverse reaction to the tattoo itself. It also increases the risk of either not being able to use most hair dyes in the future or having a bad reaction to them if the warnings are ignored.”

The associations have begun a discussion about the dangers on Twitter, using the hashtag #AvoidBlackHenna