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Temporary Tattoos Are Risky, FDA Says

Dangers include blisters and permanent scarring (Mar. 25)

Temporary tattoos — popular among girls and young women — typically last from 3 days to several weeks, depending on the product used for coloring and the condition of the skin. Unlike permanent tattoos, which are injected into the skin, temporary tattoos marketed as “henna” are applied to the skin’s surface.

However, “just because a tattoo is temporary, it doesn’t mean that it is risk free,” says Linda Katz, MD, MPH, Director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

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

Some reactions have led people to seek medical care, including visits to hospital emergency rooms. Reactions may occur up to 2 or 3 weeks after the tattoo has been applied.

Henna is a reddish-brown coloring made from a flowering plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia. Since the Bronze Age, people have used dried henna, ground into a paste, to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather, silk, and wool. This decoration — known as mehndi — is still used around the world to decorate the skin in cultural festivals and celebrations.

Today, however, so-called “black henna” is often used in place of traditional henna, the FDA says. Inks marketed as black henna may be a mix of henna with other ingredients, or they may consist of hair dye alone. The reason for adding other ingredients is to create a tattoo that is darker and longer lasting.

The use of black henna is potentially harmful because the ink may include a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause serious skin reactions in some people. By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin.

In a case reported to the FDA, a 5-year-old girl developed severe reddening on her forearm about 2 weeks after receiving a black henna temporary tattoo. In another case, a teenage girl who had experienced no reactions to red henna tattoos developed blisters on her back after a black henna tattoo was applied there. According to the teen’s doctor, she will have permanent scarring.

Source: FDA Consumer Updates; March 25, 2013.

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