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.
Sabina @GirlvsGlobe says
I’m so sorry this happened to your little one, what a bad experience! 🙁 I’ve hear about the problems with black henna before which is why I didn’t end up getting a lovely tattoo in Marrakech and regretting it. Now you’ve made me realise I was being smart after all! Hope your girl recovers fast <3
I wanted to do the same thing but I’m glad that this is on here otherwise I might have gotten it and I have sensitive skin to polyester, certain types of rubber, etc
I’m so sorry to hear that…I’m traveling through Morocco these days and just last week someone told me about black henna…the real natural one should be green, they said. Thanks for spreading the word as nearly all henna makers I’ve seen in touristy destinations use the black unhealthy one…
Dani Blanchette says
Geez! i just followed your link and read up on Black Henna. Im glad i did. Nevermind the scarring – the long-term effects are horrific!
I hope your daughter does not have any lasting effects from this. But I bet her scar will go away in a few months or so. I get the exact same kind of burn scars from contact allergies to band-aids and medical-grade adhesive (the latter which is supposed to be non-allergenic), and to contact with most metals. The scars go away in a couple weeks to a few months depending on how long I was in contact with the allergen. Her’s likely will too. Or she’ll be the cool kid with the body modification at school. 🙂
Just trying to look on the bright side. 🙂 I hope she gets better soon.
Nora Anthony says
Sorry to hear about your daughter. I too made the mistake of getting a supposed henna on my hand in Marrakech. It has been 24 hours since the henna application, and I am super itchy and the area is inflamed, no welts as yet. I went to the pharmacy and they gave me Hydro cortisone 0.05% and Zertec. I am wondering if I should go get the stronger oral one, what is your recommendation based on your experience.
Eric Stoen says
Nora – I’m sorry to hear that. I’m glad you already have hydrocortisone.
I can’t give any medical advice – I only know what the dermatologists told us. The hydrocortisone creme that we got in Paris was 0.1%. The doctor in California said that he would have gone even stronger, but I don’t know what that means – whether there is a stronger creme or whether there was an oral option? FYI, I can’t see any sign of the seahorse on my daughter anymore.
Please add a comment in a few days with what you chose to do and how it’s working. I’d love for this post to be a good reference for people going forward, so the more first-hand information, the better.
Nora Anthony says
Thank you for your quick reply. Great to hear about your daughter. Sorry, the hydrocortisone i was given was 0.5% not 0.05, so a little stronger. I will continue to monitor and if it gets worse, will go see a dermatologist when I arrive in Barcelona in a few days. I will definitely post back in a few days to keep this helpful blog informed.
Amanda @ Adventures All Around says
Oh my goodness… the pin for this piece caught my eye on Pinterest and I’m so glad I clicked through. I had no idea this was a problem and will definitely let friends know (and will get onto sharing that pin too!).
i’m so glad there’s no permanent scarring in the end, but how crazy that such a seemingly innocent thing can cause such problems.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks for sharing the pin! I quickly wrote this post two summers ago when I was shocked that such a simple thing could cause life-long problems. Most people who find the post do so after getting black henna tattoos and having problems, so I created a couple pins to hopefully get people to proactively avoid black henna. I’d love for the pins to get widely-distributed.
Holy cow! What a horrible experience for your girly! I am so sorry to hear of her pain. My son had a scary allergic reaction once – that is scary stuff to watch and to be in a foreign country at the time – scary stuff!
Thank you! Thank you for sharing. I will pass it along.
Eric Stoen says
How long did it take for the scar to completely fade? Did your daughter have blisters or just dermatitis-like reaction?
Eric Stoen says
It took a good year for it to disappear completely. There were blisters.