Health Risks of Black Henna Tattoos

The Florida Health Department is issuing advisory against the use of Black Henna tattoos, with the onset of spring break season, according to the Outbreak News blog. Henna is not naturally black in color, and is usually a reddish powder that turns brown when water is added and it is allowed to stand for a while. To induce the black color, a pigment, called para-phynelenediamine is added to it.

Short term exposure to PPD may precipitate dermatitis, asthma, gastritis, renal failure, vertigo, tremors, convulsions and even coma in human beings. The effect of chronic exposure to it are not known in man, though in experimental rats it has been shown to only cause a failure to gain weight, and nothing else.

“About two years ago I had a reaction to a “henna” design of a dragon. The colour faded quickly which surprised me, and about two weeks afterwards my skin welted up about a quarter of an inch in the exact pattern of the dragon. The itching was bad enough to keep me awake at night for several days. The swelling went away, but the pattern stayed for almost a year.

The carcinogenicity of PPD is unknown and its effect on the reproductive or developmental processes are also not clearly known. PPD is basically an allergen that evokes histamine release and a cell-mediated immune response, leading to a cascade which may precipitate the above mentioned conditions.

The primary method of prevention is to ban or restrict the use of PPD in tattooing chemicals, and increasing user awareness so that they may demand to know the composition of the dye being used for tattoo.

“This is how my daughter’s PPD black henna tattoo turned after returning from Bali The worst of it though is she has been feeling ill for the whole week that we have been home. Muscle weakness, headaches, sore throat, stomach ache and light headedness. We are off to the doctors today to show them this information on PPD to see if her symptoms are related.”
This tattoo was applied on the 20th April 2001. This photograph was taken 10 days later “Thought you might like to see how they (the black henna tattoos) look today. The one on her arm is now 1 week and 3 days old.

Images from: East on West, Black Henna Warning

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Published by

Pranab Chatterjee

Skeptic Oslerphile, Scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases. Opinions own. Interests include: Emerging Infections, Public Health, Antimicrobial Resistance, One Health and Zoonoses, Diarrheal Diseases, Medical Education, Medical History, Open Access, Healthcare Social Media and Health2.0. Opinions are my own! Also at: http://infectionscapes.wordpress.com

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