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Warnings Issued After Brits Left Scarred From Henna Tattoos

It is being reported that British holidaymakers are coming home with permanent scars after getting fake black henna tattoos whilst away in popular summer getaway hotspots.

A couple of serious cases have come to light recently, leading to calls for more information on the dangers of inking up with a travel memento.

What is a henna tattoo?

Henna is a dye prepared from the plant Lawsonia inermis. Its leaves are turned into a fine powder that is used for dying clothes, hair and temporarily dying the skin. The tradition dates back as far as Ancient Egypt, but the exact origins of henna tattooing are not clear.

How is it used?

Generally used for celebrations and rites of passage, the art of applying henna is known as Mehndi, though many cultures and regions around the world use it in different ways. It has become very common for Brits abroad to get henna tattoos at local market stalls as a souvenir of their trip, with the option available in a wide range of destinations.

How long does the tattoo last?

Usually between one and three weeks. Factors such as skin type, the body type it is applied to and lifestyle can have an impact on this so it can differ.

Why and how have people been left with scars?

One man from Cardiff asked for a ‘Mike Tyson-style’ patterned henna tattoo on the side of his face at a market stall during a holiday in Zante, costing 10 euros. He later had to go to hospital and get the ink bleached off as that is the only antidote for fake black henna. It turned out the 18-year-old had been tattooed with a cheap substitute to henna, which caused an allergic reaction and has been told his scar could be visible for up to five years.

One further holiday-goer, a female from Derbyshire, opted for a flower design during a family vacation in Bulgaria earlier this year. The ink used for the tattoo on her forearm contained a substance called para-phenylenediamine, which can cause blistering, painful burns and scarring. The 20-year-old also had her design inked at a market stall before noticing the tattoo started to burn as it faded and is reportedly now on a strong course of antibiotics as well as appealing to others not to have black henna tattoos.

What warnings have been issued?

Black henna is known to cause skin reactions and should be treated with caution, particularly in children, according to a consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesman. Tourists are advised to consider the possibility of blistering, permanent scars and life-threatening allergic reactions before allowing the ink to be applied to their body.

Is there any other advice on black henna tattoos?

Guidance has been issued by the NHS to help people tell the two inks apart:

  • The colour of the ink is typically a good guide, with black henna, as the name suggests being black in colour, and regular henna being an orange colour, with a red or brown tint to it.
  • Very dark temporary tattoos should be treated as suspicious and with caution. They also advise anyone considering having a henna or other temporary tattoo to ask for a list of ingredients in the mix.
  • If there is no list, do not go ahead with the tattoo.
  • It is not a certainty that black henna will cause a chemical burn, signs begin with discomfort in the area, then burning and tingling, eventually leading to painful stinging, swelling, redness and blistering of the skin.
  • In many cases the sufferer is left with a permanent scarring of the temporary tattoo area.

Would you get a henna tattoo? Have you heard of any other bad cases of blistering, allergic reactions or scarring? Let us know by commenting below.