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Temporary tattoos can cause long-lasting allergic reactions: FDA

March 25, 2013|By Eryn Brown
  • Henna tattoos may cause allergic reactions in some people, the FDA said Monday.
Henna tattoos may cause allergic reactions in some people, the FDA said… (Kevin P. Casey / Los Angeles…)

That temporary henna tattoo may leave a longer-lasting physical effect than you had hoped for, and it may not be pretty, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.   

That’s because an extra ingredient included in the longer-lasting “black henna” tattoos in wide use today — hair dye including p-phenylenediamine, or PPD — can cause nasty allergic reactions in some people, including redness, blisters, oozing lesions, increased sensitivity to sunlight and permanent scarring.  Reactions can occur right after a tattoo is applied to the surface of the skin or can appear up to two or three weeks later, the FDA reported.

Henna is a reddish-brown pigment that comes from the flowering plant Lawsonia inermis, which is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia.  People have used natural henna as a cosmetic and a dye for hair and fabrics for thousands of years.  But so-called black henna, often used in tourist destinations and other specialty shops, is a different product and may not include natural henna at all. A key ingredient in the temporary tattoos is dye containing PPD, the same stuff used to color hair, to make the embellishments darker and longer-lasting. 

Though the FDA consumer alert dealt with tattoos, PPD also causes allergic reactions elsewhere.  A growing number of people, including me, break out in itchy welts when they color their hair with PPD-containing dyes. In my experience, this includes pretty much any product that effectively covers gray, even those advertised as "natural."

A recent study in the Journal of the German Society of Dermatology identified PPD as the culprit in the cases of seven people who developed allergic reactions to hair and eyelash dyeing.  All had histories of sensitization to PPD after receiving black henna tattoos. It took about six years post-sensitization for the reaction to the hair dye to appear.  The authors of the report added that PPD allergies could “have occupational impact, especially for hair dressers and cosmeticians.”

Some states have regulations overseeing temporary tattoos but others don’t, the FDA update reported.  The agency asked people who suffer reactions to temporary tattoos (or other cosmetics) to notify MedWatch or a regional consumer complaint coordinator or to call 1-800-FDA-1088, to report the problem.  

The New Zealand Dermatological Society also maintains a Web page about PPD allergies.

Follow me on Twitter: @LATerynbrown

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