It’s fun to be a little reckless on vacation. Three weeks ago my kids were zip-lining through the Costa Rican rain forest, and we were eating fruit directly from roadside stands – no washing, no idea (in some cases) what it was. Water skiing or parasailing – why not? Then, when we were on Rhodes for a day ten days ago, our eight-year-old daughter asked to get a temporary henna tattoo. It didn’t seem like a big deal – I’ve watched many people get henna done, primarily in India, and we hadn’t heard of any reactions or negatives. So we said yes. The artist got to work and roughly 15 minutes later she had a large seahorse on her left arm. We were advised not to touch the ink for half an hour.
We didn’t give much thought to the tattoo after that, other than it being a reminder of a fun day on a Greek island. It progressively got lighter, and we figured it wouldn’t it wouldn’t be around much longer.
Then yesterday, she started complaining about the tattoo area itching. We looked at it and there were large welts in the shape of a seahorse. Within an hour she was in agony. We gave her allergy medicine and waited to see if her arm would improve. It didn’t.
Today it was still bad. I took her to a Parisian pharmacy and, in broken French, asked for medicine for an allergic reaction. I showed the pharmacist her arm. The pharmacist then consulted with another pharmacist, and they came back to me and told me that I had to take her to a doctor. Right away. They even got on the phone and found a nearby dermatologist who spoke English. One hundred Euros later we had a prescription for a topical corticosteroid (0.1%). The doctor said that it will hopefully clear up in under a week.
But that’s not all. If you do an internet search on Black Henna, it’s scary. Apparently henna at vacation destinations often contains an ingredient banned for use on skin in western countries, para-phenylenediamine (PPD). There are numerous lifelong potential side-effects, including scaring. The information was out there – we just didn’t know about it. The tattoo artist in Rhodes may not know about it. All of the girls waiting in line behind my daughter likely didn’t know about it. But now we do.
Don’t let your kids get black henna vacation tattoos! It’s fun being a little reckless. But we didn’t think that a simple temporary tattoo could have lifetime complications.
UPDATE – AUGUST 27 – We went to see a dermatologist as soon as we got home and he advised that there is likely to be long-term minor scarring. He would have used an even stronger corticosteroid than the doctor in Paris prescribed, as he said that scarring is determined by how you treat the initial allergic reaction. His primary advice was to use sunscreen on the area.
UPDATE – 2016 – We can no longer see any sign of the seahorse on my daughter’s arm, so I’m happy to report that there’s no lifelong scarring. But she’ll still likely have a lifelong PPD sensitivity.