Black Henna Tattoos Are Toxic, Florida Department of Health Warns

Black henna contains a chemical known as P-pheylenediamine, which is commonly used in hair dyes
Black henna contains a chemical known as P-pheylenediamine, which is commonly used in hair dyes
via Shutterstock.com

Spring Break is upon us. Which means booze, sun, surf, good times and countless people getting a swirly henna tattoo on their sunburned shoulder. But, the Florida Department of Health has issued a warning over black henna tattoos. 

Black henna contains a chemical known as P-pheylenediamine — or PPD — which is commonly used in hair dyes, and is toxic when applied to the skin as a temporary tattoo. Henna tattoos are supposed to be applied naturally, with ink from dried brown henna leaves, lemon or grapefruit juice, as well as botanical oils. But PPD is cheaper, easier to apply and, because it's black, shows more strikingly on skin.

But, the DOH says that people who get black henna tats are putting themselves at risk of scarring.

"When applied directly to the skin, the PPD found in black henna tattoos can produce serious adverse health effects in children and adults," says Deputy Secretary for Health and Deputy State Health Officer for Children's Medical Services Dr. Celeste Philip. "It is important to be aware of these dangers and take steps to avoid them. Always ask to see the ingredients of the paste before having a henna tattoo applied to your skin or your child's skin."

Natural brown henna is safe for most people, but black henna can cause blistering, redness and, in some cases, permanent scarring. PPD tats have also been known to cause swelling, burning and oozing. 

According to The Henna Page, a comprehensive website dedicated to all things henna, thousands of people have been injured from having black henna tattoos applied.

"I don’t use black henna, but unfortunately it’s not uncommon in South Florida," says henna artist Amber of HennaParty.com

Brown henna is natural and safe and, when applied, has a brown or reddish color
Brown henna is natural and safe and, when applied, has a brown or reddish color
via Shutterstock.com

Amber, who is based in Plantation but travels to folks who want to get a henna tattoo, tells New Times that henna should come in brown only. "It's like coffee," she says, "Brown, brown, brown. Anything else is unsafe."

Natural henna goes on the skin in a thick paste, and starts off as a pumpkin orange before it turns red or brown.

"It has the consistency of mud," Amber says. "Whereas black henna goes on instantaneously and is more striking." 

Generally, if you want to get a henna tat, you should steer away from boardwalk-side vendors, who have a board set up and not much else. Fort Lauderdale Beach, in particular, is littered with shops that offer cheap henna tattoos. The DOH says that it's best to steer clear of those, and find a shop that offers brown henna without black henna as an option.

Amber says you can keep it simple by either asking an artist if they use black henna, or see if they are ICHNA certified

If you've had a black henna applied in recent days, be sure to look out for specific symptoms, such as itching, burning, blistering or scab formation. Symptoms may come within a few hours, days or even weeks, depending on the concentration of PPD used. The DOH says you should seek immediate medical attention if the symptoms begin. 

The DOH has also set up a webpage to report allergic reactions to them via their Injury Report Form.


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