Black Henna tattoos can leave permanent damage

May 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you've ever thought about getting a tattoo, but didn't want to make the lifetime commitment, temporary tattoos are a way to test it out.

You've probably seen "black henna" booths at street fairs and along beach boardwalks. But some temporary tattoos can leave permanent damage.

Madonna displayed henna designs on her hands in the video for her song "Frozen," embracing the ancient tradition of temporary body art, using a plant-based dye. But the federal government is warning against the use of a toxic coloring called black henna that's anything but natural.

Valley henna artists like Seretta Wilson, are also seeing red, over black henna. She makes her own, organic henna in her Fresno County home, but gets plenty of questions about black henna.

"I lose a lot of clients," said Seretta. "Anytime I'm doing an event. And they ask me, 'do you do black henna'? And when I say no, I actually lose a lot of people."

The Food and Drug Administration warns, black henna, as seen in this video, from Georgia. Often contains a dangerous chemical called para-phenylenediamine or PPD, a coal-tar product that's approved for use in hair dye, but not meant to be applied directly to the skin. A Georgia girl had a black henna, temporary tattoo put on her arm, but an allergic reaction caused her skin to bubble.

Fresno registered nurse, Beverly Taylor has seen allergic skin reactions from temporary tattoos and says the damage can be devastating.

Taylor explained, "Not everybody gets a reaction but if you're unfortunate enough to get a reaction, it can give you some problems for the rest of your life."

These pictures on the state of Florida website show the kind of scarring that can happen from black dye henna.

Seretta and other henna artists don't even like the name, black henna, because it can be mistaken for the real, natural, henna.

"There's no such thing as black henna," said Seretta. "You get the normal organic henna and you add black hair dye to it that has PPD in it."

Seretta says before you get any kind of henna work, check the actual material.

She mixes her own, using natural henna powder, lemon juice, sugar and natural oils to make a pleasant smelling paste.

Then it's applied to the skin in ornate designs. The material should be raised as it dries, then it flakes off to reveal a brownish to reddish color on the skin that fades over time.

You saw Seretta mix her own, natural henna. She says the texture and scent of henna are the first clues about whether it's natural. Real henna should at first, look like a green paste. Black dye henna would look flat and smell like a chemical. Or it could have no scent at all.

Seretta says black henna can also be called "Aztec henna" and should never be used on children.

So before you roll up your sleeve for a henna design, ask the artist what's being used on your skin, so a pretty design doesn't turn into an ugly nightmare.

In 2009, the family of an 11-year-old girl, sued a mall in Nashville, after the black henna tattoo she got at a mall kiosk, left her with permanent scars.

If you have an allergic reaction to a temporary tattoo, get medical help right away.

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