Tattoo Me Not

Published January 1, 2004

State health officials are warning that popular painted-on “black henna” tattoos can cause health problems. Allergic reactions are capable of leaving permanent scars and disfiguration.

Florida health officials recently issued an advisory after receiving complaints from the families of teenage tourists who had bad reactions to the temporary tattoos, made of chemically treated “black henna” and improperly advertised as all-natural.

Edith Coulter, the Florida health department’s tattoo and body piercing specialist, said, “None of us were really aware of how the black henna was being made with toxic chemicals. I wasn’t aware you could drive down in some of the beach areas and see so many signs for these tattoos.”

Henna tattoos are painted on the skin with a pen-like tip and typically last three to four weeks. The state warning does not apply to “decal” type tattoos affixed with a cotton ball, which use approved dyes and stay only a few days.

Henna is primarily used as a hair dye and has been used for centuries in the body painting art called Mehndi in India and the Far East.

These tattoos are available everywhere but are predominant at vacation sites, amusement parks, and tee-shirt shops. While state health department officials investigate health-related reactions, be aware henna tattoos may be hazardous to your health.

IT’S YOUR HEALTH is written by Conrad Meier, senior fellow in health policy at The Heartland Institute. This program is produced as a public service by Radio America. Meier passed away unexpectedly on March 18, 2005.