Temporary tattoos, or fake tattoos, sound like a good idea. After all, they’re not permanent – most of them last only a few weeks – and you don’t have to worry about dirty tattooing needles or the risk of hepatitis or HIV. On the other hand, temporary tattoos aren’t free of problems either. Can temporary tattoos be a health risk?
Can Temporary Tattoos Be a Health Risk?: What Are They Made Of?
Some of the most popular temporary or fake tattoos are made of henna paste that comes from the henna plant – which is also used to make natural hair dyes. Many teens get henna tattoos at fairs or temporary booths that are set up to create skin art. When henna paste is painted on, the color attaches to the outer layers of the skin and stains it temporarily. The design slowly disappears as the outer layers of the skin are shed. A temporary henna tattoo can last for days to up to several months.
Problems from Henna Tattoos
The problem is very few temporary tattoo artists use straight henna because it’s difficult to get a true black color with henna alone. Most artists add a coal tar dye called para-phenylenediamine, also known as PPD, to the henna paste. Adding this chemical has the additional benefit of speeding up the tattooing process. While henna only stains the outer skin cells, PPD is able to penetrate much deeper and enter the bloodstream. This is the same ingredient, found in many synthetic hair dyes, that’s associated with cancer – although studies are still conflicting on this.
Can Temporary Tattoos Cause Skin Problems?
Another concern is the risk of allergic skin reactions and contact dermatitis which are becoming increasingly common with temporary tattoos. Allergic reactions to henna are rare, so the problem lies with the PPD. Temporary tattoos have even higher concentrations of this chemical than hair dyes – and hair dyes quite commonly cause allergic reactions and contact dermatitis. Some of these skin reactions can be severe enough to lead to long term inflammation and pigmentation changes to the skin. It’s a problem that can be difficult to treat.
Risks from Temporary Tattoos: The Bottom Line?
Temporary tattoos applied with pure henna paste are safe, but most vendors use henna enhanced with PPD – which can cause allergic reactions and may be a cancer risk. A better alternative is to use body paints designed for face painting or stick-on tattoos instead – or make your henna paste at home.