Beware! The “temporary” henna tattoo you’re considering getting for fun could leave permanent scars! 

Traditional henna – the real henna - is reddish-brown, and comes from a flowering plant. And it’s been safely used for centuries to dye skin, hair, and fingernails. But according to the FDA, some stores and kiosks that advertise "henna" tattoos actually use black henna – which has almost zero real henna in it. Black henna is mostly an inexpensive chemical used in hair dye – known as PPD - that can cause severe skin reactions including painful rashes and weeping lesions that can last for weeks. Black henna can also bleach away skin color, and leave permanent scars. It can even cause liver and kidney damage to people who are allergic to it. And it’s hard to legally prove that the henna shop’s to blame – because adverse skin reactions can take 3 weeks to show up. 

Dr. Sharon Jacob, a dermatologist at the University of California, says the most alarming issue with black henna tattoos is the increasing number of children – some as young as 4 - who are getting them at birthday parties, fairs or on vacation - and having skin reactions.

Parents think they’re safe since they’re not permanent but that’s not true.

So, how can you tell the difference between real henna and the dangerous kind? Genuine henna looks dark green when it’s applied, and fades to brown as it dries. And it lasts a maximum of two weeks.

If a shop advertises long-lasting black henna, run. Vendors are also required by law to tell you if they’re using PPD – so if you’re unsure, ask them.