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Are Henna Tattoos Safe for Kids?

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Our pediatrician breaks it down.

childs henna tattoo scars and burns

This 11-year-old girl thought she was getting a temporary tattoo at her local mall. What she was left with were painful and permanent scars.

The family attorney believes the girl's injuries point to a type of henna known as black henna. It's a chemical the FDA won't allow for use in temporary tattoos because it can cause this type of reaction. They are now suing the owner of Tennessee's Opry Mills Mall henna kiosk for assault, and suing the mall for negligence.

Are henna tattoos safe for kids? For the answer, we went to momlogic pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson.

"I have seen my fair share of reactions to henna tattoos," Dr. Cara says. "While not very common, anything that comes into contact with the skin can cause irritation or an allergic reaction. Inflamed skin can blister and even scar. There are also reports of inks used in both temporary and permanent tattoos that are expressly not FDA approved."

Dr. Cara continues: "I feel sad for this girl, who thought she was doing something benign and short-lived, and I hope her injury resolves quickly," she says. "But it serves as a good reminder that we ought to think twice before we put anything on our skin. Whether it's a temporary tattoo, face paint, or any other body adornment, we tend to trust the person who is applying it. Meanwhile, the process of application may not be fully sterile, and there is a possibility that we will react to some ingredient. The consequences may -- unfortunately -- be around for a long time to come."



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30 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous August 7, 2009, 1:46 PM

Holy cow! I’d be so mad if that were my 11 yr old kid! It should have been a totally harmless thing.

Natalie August 7, 2009, 2:19 PM

That’s why you use the brown henna ink. And also why you don’t do it in a kiosk at a mall. I had a henna tattoo done when I was 18 by a professional, and it came off in a few weeks. No biggie.

Emily Art August 7, 2009, 2:25 PM

That is terrible. If the FDA won’t approve it, they should not have been using it and she be put out of business. That poor girl. Too bad it wasn’t a small out of sight tattoo.

joeradish August 7, 2009, 3:02 PM

There is no such thing as black henna. To get a scar like the one pictured hi concentrations of PPD, a chemical used in hair dye was used.

Henna has been used as a safe cosmetic for 10,000 years. It is the dried, finely ground leaf of a bush that grows in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The henna powder is mixed with lemon juice, sugar and a small amount of essential oil (used to help the dye release.)

If you are allergic to any of those ingredients, of course, you should not use henna, but that is true of all allergies.

If you want henna and you find an artist, be sure to ask questions like:

Is this black Henna? (If the answer is “yes” run away.)

What do I do after you apply the henna? (The answer should be something like.Leave the henna paste on for as long as you can. 4 to 8 hours is best. Scrape off, don’t wash off the paste and apply moisturizer. Initially the stain will be light, but it will darken over two days to a rich redish brown.)

Where should I get my henna? (Henna stains the darkest on hands and feet. So below the elbows and knees should be recommended.)

Also ask the artist to put some on themselves. So called “black henna” is highly toxic, and the artist if they are smart will not put it on themselves.

Finally, I just want to say that henna is a fun and exciting traditional body art that has been used in many cultures throughout the world. Don’t let this awful picture stop you from exploring it if you are interested.

Joe Radziszewski. ( my wife Nev makes a living as an exceptional henna artist, and I am often her assistant at fairs and festivals. You can see my hands and feet covered in henna at remarkableblackbird.com

Rachelle August 7, 2009, 3:17 PM

It’s sad but the article says the lawyer BELIEVES black henna was used. They don’t even know. I would have the place investigated before just outright suing anyone. Did the girl always have sensitive skin or allergies?

joeradish August 7, 2009, 3:20 PM

Sorry, one more thing. At our booth we don’t do henna on kids under six. Their skin is still developing. We always recommend face painting for small children. Also henna requires too much careful attention for small children. They often smudge it moments after it is applied.

HeeHee August 7, 2009, 5:06 PM

stupid girl made a stupid decision

Anon August 7, 2009, 5:32 PM

Least she got a pretty badass one and not a flower or something stupid like that. Honestly I can’t even tell what it’s supposed to be. Some kind of giant tentacle emerging from a fiery tear in the flesh of her bicep?

Gemini6Ice August 7, 2009, 5:53 PM

ALWAYS do a small test patch. Hair dyes recommend the same procedure before use to ensure no reaction.

brandi August 7, 2009, 10:34 PM

My husband got a henna tatto in mexico on our honeymoon. The same thing happened to him- 3 to 4 years later the scar finally went away. He has no sign of it now- almost 7 years later.

Anonymous August 8, 2009, 7:25 PM

Another chance to sue someone! Where were the parents?

Raja August 10, 2009, 9:43 PM

RE Rachelle’s post. In all my years experience with henna I have NEVER seen a reaction like that to pure unadulterated henna. PPD however, many times.
Henna bodyart will ALWAYS be a brownish - reddish color. Never will true henna be any other color. If you are buying a henna design in any other color you are paying for chemicals and dyes. If it is labled as “black henna” it is PPD and potetially very harmful.

aurhynn August 11, 2009, 12:18 AM

I had one done on vacation overseas, it was “black henna” but was lucky enough to not have a reaction to it. Thank you joeradish for the info.

Callista August 12, 2009, 7:23 PM

My mother applied a Henna tattoo to my 3 year old and it was fine. We tried a little spot on her first to make sure she wasn’t allergic. We also have done it on our Girl Guides (ages 9-11) and once before on Sparks (5-6) (with parental permission of course). The henna was bought at an indian store and mixed properly. I don’t know if I would get it done at a kiosk or not as I don’t know where it comes from.

CK August 16, 2009, 11:10 AM

Well Henna tattoo is safe for kids only if henna is natural free from chemicals. So where to get 100% natural and fresh henna…
I was looking for henna cones on amazon and this the one I found http://bit.ly/N2VFG. The henna is excellent and its 100% natural, hence safe for kids..

Anonymous August 25, 2009, 6:06 PM

that effect was caused ppd added to the henna making in black henna. it was not pure henna

Umm Qahtan to be ! September 8, 2009, 1:08 PM

There is such a thing as black henna, its the usual red/brown henna natural poweder but what happens is the people who make it add PETROL to make the henna turn out black. Ask me how i know, ell cos i have lived with the arab people who do it for 20 odd years and also because i didnt get it done as i found out i was pregnant and the PETROL that makes the henna black can affect the baby..
Please do ask people, even smell the henna tube before u put it on urself, child or not, people with sensitive skin will get burnt from it, people with hard skin and not sensitive can handle it with no probs..do a patch test before u cover urself in this stuff. Use ones sense of mind.

marassaya September 27, 2009, 1:53 PM

So What is ‘Black Henna’?
Para-phenylendiamine or PPD based black hair dye. This is an illegal chemical to use on the skin in Canada, because of its severe toxicity:

Para-phenylenediamine is a strong sensitizer.
Sensitizer means that every body is naturally allergic to PPD to some degree, and every time the PPD is used, the body will react more violently to it. Some people have PPD tattoos once or twice without reaction. But on the 3rd or 4th time, that same person could end up with permanent scarring or end up in the hospital in a life threatening reaction. There can also be sensitization to other products. So after having a PPD tattoo without reaction, you could a week later react severely to: cosmetics, lotions, sunscreen, medications, black clothing, ink, dark leather, etc..

PPD is carcinogenic & causes many other health problems!
Within seconds the toxins from PPD ‘henna’ enter the blood stream and can cause: Cancer, liver tumors, asthma, angioneurotic edema, renal failure, mutated cells, muscle necrosis causing death, permanent scarring, chronic skin conditions, eye & face irritation, bronchitis, etc…
When PPD breaks down in the body, the metabolic residue is more damaging than the actual PPD molecule.

PPD has a delayed reaction:
Typically, a person won’t react until 3 – 10 days after having a PPD tattoo applied. Usually by this time the negligent artist has moved on, unaccountable to the damage caused & the person fails to make the connection between the PPD and reaction.

How to tell if it’s PPD ‘Black Henna’
1. If you can watch first & see that the paste is black & stains the skin right away, it’s PPD.
2. Ask how long the paste needs to stay on. If they say less than 1 hr, it’s not real henna.
3. Ask them what colour it will stain. If they say black instead of red-brown, it’s not henna.
4. Ask the artist what’s in the paste. If they can’t tell you, don’t trust them.
For your safety & the health of others, please report anyone using illegal PPD “Black Henna”

Julie Smith November 10, 2009, 12:34 AM

Henna tattoo designs are quite popular among the youths for its vibrant and unique color, undefined edges, and temporary stay on body parts. Originated basically in India and known as Mehndi Art, Henna tattoos are used for different occasions – marriage, Eid, Diwali, Mawlid, Passover, Nawroz, etc.

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