While the ink used for permanent tattoos is injected into the skin, temporary
tattoos are applied to the skin's surface. Temporary tattoos often use "black
henna," which may contain a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine
(PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people.
By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin,
the FDA noted.
The agency has received reports of serious and long-lasting reactions in
people who received temporary black henna tattoos. The reported problems include
redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased
sensitivity to sunlight and permanent scarring. The reactions can occur
immediately or up to two or three weeks later.
Incidents involving black henna tattoos that were reported to the FDA
- A 5-year-old girl who developed severe reddening on her forearm about two
weeks after receiving a tattoo.
- A 17-year-old girl whose skin became red and itchy and later began to
- A mother who said her teenager daughter's back looked "the way a burn victim
looks, all blistered and raw." A doctor said the girl will have scarring for
The FDA said that people who have a reaction to, or concern about, a
temporary tattoo should contact a health care professional and contact MedWatch,
which is the agency's safety information and problem-reporting program.
The Nemours Foundation offers youngsters information about tattoos.