Nokyoung Xayasane
April 02, 2013

Warning: Temporary Tattoos Can Be Toxic

So, you kinda wanna get a tattoo but getting inked is way too permanent. But there’s always the alternative of getting a fake tattoo, right? Bad news. Temporary tattoos can cause some pretty nasty side effects.

Photo credit: Keith Peterson

“Just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn’t mean that it is risk free,” says Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

A ‘black henna’ tattoo
Via: Diva Body Art

That’s because many temporary forms of skin art that are advertised as “henna tattoos” contain little to no actual henna at all. Instead, they’re full of a toxic chemical called p-phenylenediamine (PPD).

Real henna is a red, plant-based dye that isn’t known for causing bad reactions; it appears brownish-red when applied to the skin. To make a darker stain that lasts longer, some unscrupulous folks add PPD to create what’s known as “black henna.” In fact, some black henna contains no actual henna at all,  just straight PPD.

Many permanent hair dyes contain PPD since they’re not supposed to be in contact with the skin for long periods of time, but the chemical is banned from skin cosmetics. Unfortunately, temporary tattoo artwork isn’t subject to any regulations like your regular tattoo parlor, which has to answer to the Department of Public Health — so it’s buyer beware.

Some of the side effects of these temporary tattoos include blisters, redness, lesions, increased sensitivity, loss of pigmentation and even permanent scarring in extreme cases.

So the next time you’re thinking about getting temporarily inked, ask what kind of dye will be used. If they call it black henna or can’t confirm that it doesn’t contain PPD, go someplace else. As cool as they may look, these tattoos aren’t worth the risk.