If you see a shop or stall offering to paint black tattoos onto your skin, don’t be tempted to get one. It could leave you scarred for life and put you at risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Often called “black henna” or “neutral henna” tattoos, these patterns painted onto your skin are readily available abroad. They may also be available in the UK, at festivals and fairs, and to buy online.
But the black paste used in these temporary tattoos may contain high levels of a chemical dye so powerful and toxic that it is illegal to use it on the skin in this way.
Risks of ‘black henna’
The risks of black henna lie in the paste’s ingredients – specifically, a chemical called paraphenylenediamine (PPD).
Although PPD can lawfully be used in hair dyes in the EU, this use is strictly controlled.
Dr Chris Flower, director general of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, explains: “PPD is safely and legally used in permanent hair dyes where clear instructions are given, and where the maximum level is controlled by law. But black henna often contains PPD at high levels, to give a dark colour quickly.
“When applied to the skin in the form of a black henna temporary tattoo, PPD can cause chemical burns and lead to allergic reactions.”
How to tell if it is real henna
Real henna, which is generally safe to use, is an orange colour, with a red or brown tint to it.
Dr Flower says that everyone should be suspicious of black “tattoos”.
“Real henna is never black, but is orange-brown,” he explains. “Any very dark temporary tattoo should be treated with caution.”
Lisa Bickerstaffe at the British Skin Foundation agrees. “Check the colour if a product is described as