Black Henna Tattoos Pose Danger, FDA Warns Spring Breakers

Black henna tattoos were a common trend a while back and still prove popular among spring break revelers seeking to accessorize their skin for beachwear — but health officials have issued a warning about the cosmetic practice that can leave longer than expected marks on some skin.

Black henna tattoos have long been a staple of weddings in India, and the temporary and intricate designs are meant to slowly fade after application, staining the skin for a short time but not in the same subcutaneous way an actual tattoo does.

The problem with black henna tattoos, it seems, is impurity — the traditional method for henna tattoos, called mendhi, takes hours to “set.” On beaches and boardwalks, NPR reports that the version offered is often not a traditional henna tattoo:

“The bad actor is p-phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical derived from coal tar that can cause skin allergies. It’s sold as hair dye, and sometimes people doing henna tattoos use it because it dries faster and has a darker hue than the brownish red of traditional henna … But PPD isn’t supposed to be used on the skin. And the FDA says it has received reports that it is, including a 5-year-old girl with blisters on her forearm two weeks after getting a “henna” tattoo, and a teenager whose back was blistered and raw.”

Although the FDA says the classic black henna tattoo formula is safe, quickie beachside versions are less likely to be the time-consuming, approved version. Experts warn that loss of pigmentation, increased photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight), and permanent scarring can result from black henna tattoos.