As students hit Florida's beaches for spring break, the Hernando County Health Department wants everyone to be aware of health risks associated with temporary "black henna" tattoos, which have become popular in recent years because they look like real tattoos.
The danger of "black henna" tattoos is that the black color often is a result of the addition of black hair dye, which may contain a toxic chemical called para-phenylenediamine, or PPD. PPD can cause severe allergic reactions, resulting in itching, blistering and possible scarring.
True henna is made from crushed henna leaves, producing a green, greenish-brown or reddish-brown powder that is mixed with harmless liquids, such as oil and/or lemon juice, and applied to the skin.
The henna paste may be applied freehand or by tracing over a stencil with an applicator or brush. No needle is involved. The paste, if left on the skin for eight to 12 hours before removal, leaves a brown or reddish-brown finished tattoo. True henna is not known to cause allergic reactions.
The paste that is used for a "black henna" tattoo is black or brownish-black and dries more quickly than pure henna. The dried paste can be removed in approximately one hour, leaving a black finished tattoo.
Because of the added chemical PPD, "black henna" tattoos make temporary artwork darker, last longer and look more like a real tattoo. The risk of a more real-looking tattoo, however, is the possibility of a severe allergic reaction.
Each year, the Florida Department of Health receives numerous reports, from both children and adults, who had a severe allergic reaction from a temporary "black henna" tattoo they had applied while vacationing in the state.
Individuals who experience a reaction to a temporary tattoo should seek medical attention immediately. The general progression of symptoms includes itching or burning, blistering, oozing, scab formation and, in some cases, permanent scarring.
Symptoms may occur within a few hours or up to a few weeks, depending upon the concentration of PPD in the paste and how allergic a person is.
In addition to immediate medical attention, allergic reactions should be reported to the Hernando County Health Department at (352) 540-6802 or through the Florida Department of Health's Web site at www.doh.state.fl.us.
Albert Gray is the environmental health director for the Hernando County Health Department.