Black “henna” tattoos may cause serious skin problems, the FDA warns.henna

The FDA’s safety information and adverse event reporting program, MedWatch, has received reports of serious and long-lasting reactions related to temporary black henna tattoos. Reported problems include redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring.

“Black henna” is often used in place of traditional henna. Black henna inks may be a mix of henna with other ingredients or may be hair dye alone. The extra ingredient used to blacken henna is often a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), which has been linked to dangerous skin reactions. By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin.

Medwatch received several reports including one regarding a 5-year-old girl who developed severe reddening on her forearm about 2 weeks after receiving a black henna temporary tattoo. The mother of a 17-year-old girl said her daughter’s black henna tattoo became red and itchy and later began to blister, and the blisters filled with fluid. And another mother, whose teenager had no reaction to red henna tattoos, describes the skin on her daughter’s back as looking “the way a burn victim looks, all blistered and raw” after a black henna tattoo was applied there, and now she may be scarred for life.

Please report any cases of patients presenting with temporary tattoo complications to Medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.