BfR repeats its warning about henna tattoos

Allergy specialists are concerned: more and more patients are consulting them because they have had an allergic reaction to a henna tattoo, hair dye or textile. The trigger is often a so-called "body painting" which they had done whilst on holiday. The fine, black henna tattoos are popular souvenirs from southern countries where artists offer to do them for cheap on streets and beaches. Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) is added to make the henna dye darker and more intensive. This substance has a highly sensitising potential which means that renewed contact with PPD may lead to allergies. In Europe para-phenylenediamine may not, therefore, be added to cosmetics used to dye the skin. In the field of cosmetics its use is restricted to hair dyes. "A lay person cannot tell whether a body painting dye contains the sensitising PPD or not", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. He advises holidaymakers against getting henna tattoos on precautionary grounds.

Henna is a powder from the leaves of the shrub Lawsonia inermis, which is indigenous for instance in India, Africa and Sri Lanka. The colouring agent is used in hair dyes. It has not been authorised in Europe for cosmetic application to the skin. There have been no reports that henna itself has a sensitising effect. Allergic reactions are mostly triggered by para-phenylenediamine after application of henna which has been added to the orange-yellow henna colour to darken and make it more intensive.

Para-phenylenediamine has a highly sensitising effect and can trigger serious dermatoses when there is renewed contact. Individuals who have reacted sensitively once to PPD may react in an allergic manner throughout their lives to the substance or dyes with a similar chemical structure. They have to avoid products which contain this substance. This is not so easy because, aside from being present in hair dyes, para-phenylenediamine is also a component of colouring agents in dark leather goods and dark textiles where it is also used.

In 2004 BfR therefore warned against henna tattoos because of the risks associated with tattoos and permanent make-up (cf. Press Release 03/2004 of 10 April 2004). Since body painting is becoming increasingly popular, BfR once again draws attention to the related risks.

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