Henna Tattoo Warning

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Kid's Doctor

Posted on November 30, 2012 at 6:01 AM

Have you been on vacation or maybe somewhere during your travels when one of your children talked you into letting them get a henna tattoo?  I have written about the dangers of tattoos and managed to “forbid” my own children from getting tattoos (due to the risk of hepatitis, infection etc.) and I try to do the same with all of my patients as well.  I also discourage tattoos since they are “permanent” unless you want to go through the pain and expense to have laser tattoo removal in your later life! 

With that being said, I have always recommended that kids/teens “just get a henna tattoo”. You can find people to do henna tattoos all over the place and certainly many spring break beach destinations have people creating cute henna tattoos on kids all day long. Seems easy, harmless, painless and they are often very attractive (for the short term!) 

Well, I just read an interesting article from the journal Skin which discussed several cases of an allergic reaction to henna tattoos. These cases were all in teens who had gotten a henna tattoo while on vacation and then developed local reactions around the tattoo. The reactions varied from intense itching to redness and tenderness overlying the tattoo. In one case the area actually blistered while in another the “dragon tattoo” became hyperpigmented almost like a true tattoo, secondary to the allergic reaction. 

The journal article explained that the henna paste typically used by “henna tattoo artists” is not pure henna. There are usually different agents added to the paste to help darken the henna color. One of the additions may be a compound called PPD which is actually one of the most frequent contact allergens around.  PPD is also found in most hair dyes as well. 

There have been probably been millions of henna tattoos applied without problems. The literature only reports “more than 100 cases of contact dermatitis due to temporary tattoos”. 

So, with that being said I think the chance of having an allergic reaction to the fun beachside henna tattoo is pretty rare.  But, if your child does seem to have a weird reaction overlying the tattoo, you might be the one to figure out why! 

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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