Temporary tattoos are a great way to get some ink without having to make a major commitment. But, even this fleeting style of body art can cause some serious health problems.
"Just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn't mean that it is risk free," Dr. Linda Katz, director of Food and Drug Administration's Office of Cosmetics and Colors, said in a press release.
MedWatch, which oversees FDA's safety information and adverse event reporting program, has received reports of negative and long-lasting reactions to temporary tattoos. Now that spring break is around the corner, the organization fears that people may consider getting the "risk-free" art not realizing there may be consequences.
Unlike permanent tattoos that are injected into the skin, temporary tattoos rest on the skin's surface. They often are made of henna, a reddish-brown coloring made from a flowering plant from subtropical regions of Africa and Asia. The practice of using dried henna to die skin, hair, nails and other materials has existed since the Bronze Age.
Today, however, people use "black henna," which is mixed with other ingredients or even is just made of hair dye. The darker color is appealing and lasts longer, but it could contain a coal-tar hair dye ingredient called p-phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD can cause skin reactions in some people and is not approved to be in cosmetics that are applied on the skin. There is no way to tell what kind of dye is being used at many temporary tattoo stands.
Several adverse reactions include a 5-year-old girl who had red marks on her forearm for two weeks after the temporary tattoo. Another 17-year-old girl had water blisters form. In a particular case, a girl will reportedly have scars on her back from when a black henna tattoo was applied there despite the fact that she had red henna tattoos before and never had a negative reaction. A New England Journal case study in August 2008 showed a girl's blistered hands after she had a temporary henna tattoo applied on her hands at a wedding, the New York Times reported. The marks were expected to stay for at least six months.
"What we thought would be a little harmless fun ended up becoming more like a nightmare for us," the father of the 5-year-old said. "My hope is that by telling people about our experience, I can help prevent this from happening to some other unsuspecting kids and parents."