Henna tattoos

This article has been translated from Finnish to English by Semantix. You can find the original article at the web adress https://www.kosmetiikka-allergia.fi/tietoa-kosmetiikasta/hennatatuoinnit

Henna tattoos are made using powder from dried leaves of the henna plant (Lawsonia inermis). Compared to ordinary tattoos, the advantage of henna tattoos is that they are temporary and last only a few weeks on the skin. The colour of henna tattoos is red-brown. 

Being allergic to henna is not common. In the sunny holiday resorts of Asia and elsewhere and now also in Finland, the so-called black henna tattoos are readily available. The black colour of these tattoos comes from paraphenylenediamine. However, the use of paraphenylenediamine in products that remain on the skin is prohibited in the EU because it can cause a severe allergic reaction when it comes in contact with the skin. Several cases of allergic reactions caused by black henna tattoos have been reported around the world and in Finland as well. These are cases of contact dermatitis caused by the paraphenylenediamine in the black henna tattoo ink. Allergic reactions to paraphenylenediamine contained in the henna tattoos have also been reported in children.  The first symptom of the contact dermatitis may be a rash in the area where the tattoo was made. Allergic contact dermatitis is a lifelong condition, so a person who got an allergic reaction caused by a henna tattoo containing paraphenylenediamine may in future get a rash caused by paraphenylenediamine or its derivatives in permanent hair dyes. Therefore, dying hair with oxidative hair colours is not recommended for people who have earlier had a black henna tattoo and got an allergic reaction from it. For more information on paraphenylenediamine allergy, see the article ‘Hair dyes and paraphenylenediamine allergy’.

Maria Pesonen
M.D., Specialist in Dermatology and Allergology
Finnish Institute of Occupational Health