Black henna temporary tattoos

Black henna temporary tattoos are popular at markets, fairs and amusement parks in Canada. But these tattoos can cause severe allergic reactions. Know the safety concerns before getting a black henna temporary tattoo.

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What is black henna?

Black henna can be sold as a black ink or as a mix of black colouring and natural henna.

Natural henna is a red-brown colour. It is made from the dried leaves of the Lawsonia plant. When applied to the skin, henna can leave a brown, orange-brown or reddish-brown tint. Natural henna is generally safe to use directly on skin.

Some colouring ingredients added to natural henna are also safe. It is sometimes mixed with lemon and eucalyptus oil. This can change the shade and how long it lasts on the skin.

Natural henna can be sold as a:

  • powder
  • paste
  • liquid

Why are black henna temporary tattoos containing paraphenylenediamine dangerous?

Black henna is sometimes mixed with hair dye that contains paraphenylenediamine (PPD). Cosmetic products containing PPD that are put directly on the skin (like temporary tattoos) can cause serious allergic reactions.

This is why PPD is listed as a restricted ingredient on Canada's Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist (searchable as "p-Phenylenediamine"). It is also why PPD is not allowed as an ingredient in cosmetic products that are used on the skin. However, it is allowed in hair dyes, but they must display specific warnings and directions for safe use.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction

You may not react the first time you come in contact with PPD. But future exposure (when using hair dye, for example) can lead to an allergy. Allergic reactions to PPD may occur within 1 to 14 days following contact with skin. Reactions usually occur where the product was applied, and may include:

  • redness
  • rashes
  • itching
  • blisters
  • swelling
  • pain

Serious reactions can include:

  • hives (swollen, pale red bumps on the skin)
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • stomach pain and cramping

Anaphylaxis is an example of a severe allergic reaction to PPD. It causes your body's airways to tighten. This type of allergic reaction occurs quickly and may be life-threatening.

If you develop an allergy to PPD, you may also react when using other products, including:

  • hair and clothing dyes
  • rubber chemicals
  • inks
  • some medications

How do I know if a black henna temporary tattoo is unsafe?

Before getting a henna temporary tattoo, you should ask the seller:

  • If PPD or hair dye was used to make the ink or paste.
  • To show you the ingredient list on the label for the ink or paste.
    • Cosmetics sold in Canada must have ingredients listed on the product label.
    • Avoid getting a tattoo if there is no label.

If you are unsure if a henna tattoo ink or paste contains PPD, look for the following signs:

  • The ink, paste or tattoo itself is a very dark black.
  • The tattoo ink sets very quickly.
    • Natural henna paste must set for many hours to completely darken.
  • The ink or paste has very little or no scent.
    • Natural henna tends to smell like soil, hay or an essential oil (a strong smelling oil made from plants).

How do I report the use of paraphenylenediamine in a black henna temporary tattoo?

Contact your nearest Health Canada Product Safety Office if you think that:

  • You have suffered an allergic reaction to a black henna temporary tattoo.
    • You should also contact your health care provider for treatment and complete an incident report.
  • PPD is being used by a local seller to make black henna temporary tattoos.
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