Today, tattoos are considered a fashion accessory. With top celebrities getting inked, teenagers and even younger kids can’t wait to get similar designs on their bodies. While permanent tattoos are painful, expensive and well, permanent, temporary tattoos are quite popular among pre-teens and teens. One of such temporary tattoos is the henna tattoo. And with the trend catching up, one question that all parents need to ask is – Are henna tattoos safe for the kids?
What Are Henna Tattoos
The word ‘henna’, which comes from the Arabic word ḥinnā, is a dye prepared from the henna plant. The dye is commonly used for coloring skin, nails, hair or leather. Henna tattoos are temporary designs made on the body using these dyes. Though these tattoos originated in Egypt and were embraced by the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, the trend has caught up in the western countries in recent times. The tattoos are made by staining the top few layers of the skin as opposed to injecting ink into the skin as in the case of permanent tattoos. Young people and even kids are seen sporting these temporary tattoos in parties and at carnivals.
Henna tattoos are popular among kids because:
- They are temporary. The tattoo wears off in 1-2 weeks.
- The procedure of getting a henna tattoo is painless.
- They are inexpensive.
- When done by a professional, the designs can be quite beautiful and attractive.
Types of Henna
You need to know what types of henna are used in the tattoos to better understand what is safe for kids.
- Natural Henna – It is made up of a paste from the dried leaves of the henna plant and essential oils like Eucalyptus oil or lemon oil. The paste is dark bottle green in color. The artist would recommend the tattoo to be washed off after 4-5 hours or that the design be left overnight to dry. After the dried henna is scraped off or washed, the design is orange in color and it slowly darkens to a red-brown in the next 24 hours. Once completely darkened, it starts fading and is gone in a week or so.
- Black Henna or Chemical Henna – Some henna artists apply black henna which will give the body design a black color, more like a real tattoo, instead of the red-brown of the natural henna. This henna is laden with chemicals to deepen the color. It might contain unlisted dyes too. It often contains para-phenylenediamine (PPD), a hair dye that is banned from using on the skin in many western countries.
How Can Henna Affect Your Child
Natural Henna is generally considered safe. Since it is a plant-based extract, when used in the pure form without chemical additives, it is low-risk. However, since it usually contains essential oils, predominantly eucalyptus oil, you might want to steer clear of it if your child is allergic to essential oils.
The chemicals in black henna can trigger several skin allergies. The hazards of PPD are more serious. It is known to cause severe allergic reactions such as itching, blisters, and even permanent scarring! Black Henna pastes can contain PPD from 10% to a staggering 80%! And if that isn’t scary enough, PPD exposure in childhood can lead to several problems in adulthood too. If a person is sensitized at an early age, he or she may become allergic to chemical hair dyes, perfumes, printer ink, and even some medications when older. The effects may include hospitalization or life-threatening reactions.
How to Keep Kids Safe
The red flags – if you find these, run away from the tattoos like the plague!
- The artist tells you the paste being used is not pure henna, but with additives to enhance color.
- The artist asks the paste to be washed off after one hour.
- The artist tells you the tattoo would be a nice black like the permanent tattoos.
- The henna paste has a strong chemical odor and black color.
- The henna is natural, but your child is allergic to essential oils.
Finally, remember that you can never be too careful with the kids. So, if in doubt about the quality of the henna, it is best to avoid letting your child get a tattoo, even if it creates tension with your child.
If after your child has had a henna tattoo, they develop an allergic reaction, go to the doctor! Also, if you suspect your child has had a tattoo previously, it would be advisable to consult a physician even in the absence of any reaction, to discuss the consequences of PPD exposure.