March 24, 2008

Tattoo Taboo: Warning Issued for Black Henna

By Dusty Ricketts, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach

Mar. 24--FORT WALTON BEACH -- Anyone considering getting a black henna tattoo might want to think twice.

The Florida Department of Health has issued a warning against the use of p-Phenylenediamine, commonly referred to as PPD or black henna, because it can trigger allergic reactions.

While traditional henna is made from a plant and has been used for hundreds of years to decorate the skin, black henna is a chemical used in hair dyes.

Okaloosa County commissioners recently approved an emergency ordinance that requires all businesses that offer black henna tattoos to warn its customers of potential side effects.

"This is happening all over the state and all over the nation at popular tourist communities," said Dr. Karen Chapman, director of the Okaloosa County Health Department. "We felt strongly the least we could to is to warn them."

Reactions to PPD range from itching and blistering to permanent scarring. Not everyone is allergic to PPD, and Chapman said it is impossible to tell who is before it's too late.

While allergic reactions have been reported throughout the state, Edith Coulter, an environmental adviser with the Florida Department of Health's Bureau of Community and Environmental Health, said most of the complaints have come from Northwest Florida.

Her department received 17 complaints from the Panhandle last year.

The state Department of Health does not have data on the number of black henna tattoos given, so it does not know what percentage of people is susceptible to allergic reactions.

Udi Boskica, owner of Wings and Alvin's Island stores in the area, said his businesses stopped using black henna last year after hearing about the allergies. His stores have replaced black henna with jaqua, a plant-based paste that replicates the bluish-green look of traditional tattoos for about two to three weeks.

"Because it caused damage to people's skin and caused reaction to people's skin ... and I want people to come in happy and go home safe, so we're just going to do the jaqua," Boskica said. "If people want to get some henna, they can go to a different place. We do not want to take a chance."

Coulter was not sure whether jaqua would end the problem. There have been no reports of negative side effects so far, but she said the product is still new.

"We have no experience with it," Coulter said. "We just have to wait and see."


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