MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Health Department is looking into a possible health risk associated with henna tattoos after about a dozen kids dealt with skin infections, staph, and possible scarring following getting tattooed at a party.

Eva Streitz is one of those kids.

She thought a henna tattoo would be a great way to mark the end of her eighth grade year.

Nearly all of her 56 classmates had the same idea when a henna artist was brought in for their graduation party.

“When she showed it to me, I thought it was awfully dark,” said Michelle Streitz, Eva’s mom.

Eva didn’t think twice about the stinging she felt when the ink was put on her hand.

“I thought it was normal, because it was happening to everyone,” Eva Streitz said.

In the days that followed, however, she and her mother realized something wasn’t right.

“It got on my face, and it spread.” Streitz said.

At about the time her daughter’s infection flared up, Michelle Streitz started hearing about other people’s kids having reactions to the tattoos.

The reactions ranged from inflammation to scabbing and blisters. Some students even had to be treated for staph infection.

An internet search of symptoms had Michelle Streitz wondering if the artist used black henna, which often contains a chemical (PPD) that can irritate skin.

“A lot of people mistakenly think that just because it’s natural it’s going to be safe, and that’s not necessarily true,” said Kirk Hughes, of the poison control center at the Hennepin County Medical Center.

“It makes me nervous, now, because we don’t know what’s in hennas,” Michelle Streitz said.

Most of the students have healed, but some are dealing with the possibility that something temporary may now be permanent.

“That would be terrible. When I go out, I like to cover it up, because it looks bad,” Eva Streitz said.

The henna artist told one of the mothers she did not use black henna. The artist was not available for comment.

Comments (20)
  1. we says:

    There is nothing more permanent than temporary!!!!

    1. mary says:

      Like temporary taxes!

  2. Cindy Trusty says:

    I’m a henna artist who has been fighting to get the word out on black henna for years! This is the perfect example of a black henna reaction, and that henna artist is probably lying (or didn’t know what she was using). The PPD in “black henna” is the same chemical that makes hair dye black — and it can cause chemical burns, which is what happened to these poor kids.

    Don’t blame the henna — blame the irresponsible artist who either intentionally used something NOT meant for use on skin, or who wasn’t well educated enough to BE a henna artist! I’ve repeatedly been told I should offer “black henna” by people, because (as they tell me) “they do it at the Somali Mall in Minneapolis, so it must be safe.” NO IT ISN’T. I just hope this doesn’t scare people away from safe, REAL henna!

    1. Sarah in Outstate MN says:

      Cindy, I didn’t know any of that. Thanks for the info. I color my hair brown to cover up some greying roots. Is black henna used in brown dyes too? At age 38 I refuse to accept greying roots.

      Also, what about the temp tatoos where the tatoo is on a piece of paper and you hold the paper to your skin with a wet washcloth? is black henna used in those too? Thanks for the information.

      1. Josie Malone says:

        Sarah, I’m not sure if the same chemical is in brown hair dyes — I dye my hair a very dark brown, kind of black-brown, so I am concerned too, and will check the next time I color my hair.
        As for the tatoos on the pieces of paper, they are just ink, they are not henna. I suppose it is possible that people with sensitive skin can have a dermatitis-type reaction that may itch a little bit, but those tatoos should not cause chemical burns like the ones talked about in this article.

        1. Sarah says:

          I’ll be checking too the next time I go in for a hair color. I’ll be asking my stylist EXACTLY what is in this color. She wants to chemically straighten my hair too, but have always resisted since I was born with naturally curly in winter/frizzy in summer hair. I know formaldehydes (sp?) is sometimes used in those and I will not put that stuff anywhere near my body.

      2. Cindy Trusty says:

        Sarah, I tried posting this last night, but it didn’t show up. I’m not sure if PPD is in brown hair dye, but I don’t think so. A study a few years ago showed that people who dye their hair black have higher cancer rates than those who dye it any other color, which proves how scary this stuff is.

        As for the lick-and-stick tattoos, you have no idea what has been used to make them. Best to stay away from them, as some of them have been recalled in the past due to being manufactured with unsafe ingredients. Hand-painted glitter temp tattoo kits are available at Michael’s, or you hire someone to do them at a party…but at least those are made with skin-safe ingredients, not an unknown quantity.

        Again, the advice is, know what you are putting on your skin!! Same goes for face painting — Stone Arch Festival had a guy painting people with acrylic art paint, which can contain all kinds of dangerous chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. Make sure any body art you get is done using ingredients made for use on SKIN, not on paper, walls, crafts, etc.

        1. Sarah says:

          Cindy, thank you for replying. My kids like the temp tatoos, but I think after reading this article and your reponse I’ll just say no.

          I’ll have to ask my stylist what is in the hair color dye she uses on my hair. I didn’t know about the black hair color/higher cancer rate. But it may not be too surprising.

          Again, thanks for responding.

        2. Ogie Oglethorpe says:

          “As for the lick-and-stick tattoos, you have no idea what has been used to make them. Best to stay away from them, as some of them have been recalled in the past due to being manufactured with unsafe ingredients.”

          I have seen NO evidence to support this statement.

          It sounds to me like you’re hoping for a sale to come to a party and draw on people with Henna, which to me seems even an even dumber way to pass time than a harmless little lick n stick decal.

          1. paula southern says:

            well as someone from the UK I cannot be accused of touting for business!

            I know Cindy & what she says is true…when you are in a business you get to hear all sorts that you might not as a general consumer. However, I would say that if you purchase the waterslide tats from reputable supplier (eg http://www.snazaroo.us) then you should be OK.

            I would also like to say that all safe henna artists campaign about the evils of black henna, most of us who have come to the art through interest rather than through culture, are FAR more cautious about what we use, we have researched thoroughly all issues related to the art form – I for one mix my own paste with known, skin safe, ingredients so I can inform my customers & they can make an informed choice. I do this as I love doing henna & want to carry on being insured to do it!

            The PPD reaction is why we are all supposed to have a skin test 24 – 48 hours before having your hair dyed, so as long as you test each time you should not be scared, but if you do react then it means no more permanent hair dye….it will be semis & temporaries for you, speak with your local salon if you are worried…..

            There are very rare reactions to henna, these are ‘napthaquinone sensitivity’ reactions. If within three hours of henna application, a person becomes very itchy, and wheezes, or has a tight feeling in the chest, they are allergic to natural henna.
            The itching does not take the shape of the design, as in PPD “Black Henna”, and the onset of the reaction is within hours rather than days.
            This sensitivity will not leave open sores, scars, or harm a person’s future health. However, the person should NOT get henna’d again!

            There is also a sensitivity that young children under 6years old can have if they are G6PD deficient, full details are in the link below



            The Henna pages are stuffed full of solid information on henna, although they are not the be all & end all for henna artists & suppliers, as there are many fantastic ones around who supply safe & fresh henna, both in the US & here in little old England:-)


  3. Larissa Symbouras says:

    I agree with the above poster.

    I’m also a henna artist, from New Jersey, and my first two “henna tattoos,” before i was in the business and was educated about it, were black henna. One was done at Seaside Heights on the boardwalk, and one on St. Mark’s Place in Greenwich Village. Thankfully, I didn’t have a reaction to it. My friend, however, did. She was with me at Seaside, and had a large tattoo done across her upper back, and ended up with horrible, painful welts. We later learned that it was “black henna,” laced with PPD.

    Regular old henna, the natural plant powder mixed with lemon juice and essential oils, does NOT create this reaction. It’s the PPD. As the first commenter said, PPD is what’s in hair dye. The next time you’re at the drugstore, read a box of hair dye. They specifically tell you NOT to get it on your hands or let it sit on your scalp… and here these unscrupulous or uneducated alleged henna artists are applying it directly to people’s skin and telling them to leave it there and let it soak in. Of course there’s a reaction.

    Also note: Even if you have had black henna tattoos and have not had a reaction the first time, your body can actually build an allergy to it and start having reactions with repeated use. Don’t do it.

    If you’re getting a henna tattoo, the initial stain should be orange, then darkening over a few days to a dark brown. That’s it. Not black, not in color. Brown.

  4. Victoria Welch says:

    I’m a Minneapolis henna artist who has been working with and educating the public about black henna for years. Black body art, is NOT henna. It is black hair dye and it isn’t safe nor is it supposed to be applied to the skin. Henna is a safe natural product. It’s been used for thousands of years. I see lots of people at festivals who show me their scars and tell me their stories. I had several today at Pride. Aside from black body art – it’s not henna and I refuse to call it such – another concern is the prepackaged henna cones that are available for purchase from Indian and South Asian grocery stores. The have no ingredient list and are chalk full of preservative and chemicals.
    Always ask your henna artist three key questions:
    1. what color will my henna be?
    answer: it starts out orange and turns brown in 1-2 days.
    2. What is in your henna mix?
    If they can’t give you an exact answer – walk away! My henna contains henna leaf, organic lemon juice, organic sugar, wyndmere naturals organic lavender and tea tree essential oils. That’s it.
    3. How long do I need to keep the henna paste on?
    answer: at least 4 hours or as long as you can or the longer the better. Henna takes time to stain the skin. PPD stains the skin in 30-60 minutes.

  5. wootieup says:

    The title to this article is a little misleading and it should have stated that at one party, Black Henna may have been used. It makes it sound like ALL temporary tattoos could leave permanent damage. And it does sound like they need to investigate with the artist a little more…if all kids had a reaction it isn’t rocket science to know what the cause is. You don’t see this happening at fairs, birthday parties, etc. all the time

  6. Pennie says:

    I’ve had a henna “tattoo” and the artist actually gave me all of the info Victoria told us voluntarily. Never had to ask her anything. The only problem I had with the henna was it stated flaking of earlier than I expected.

  7. Cindy Trusty says:

    Victoria, it isn’t just the prepacked henna in Indian markets that you have to worry about. A lot of henna artists here in the Twin Cities rely on HennaKing to supply their henna — and HennaKing refuses to supply an ingredient list! A friend of mine got a henna tattoo…had a reaction (mild one of just itchiness and redness) and was surprised, because she’d gotten henna for YEARS with no problems. The henna artist said her henna came from HennaKing, and when we contacted HennaKing to ask them what was in the henna, THEY WOULDN’T RESPOND! No acknowledgement at all…and I know they sell black walnut powder to make it stain darker, so we’re wondering if they put that in their standard henna, because my friend IS allergic to many foods.

    She’s never had a reaction from my henna, or any other henna, and now is a henna artist herself. So beware of ANY henna where the artist can’t tell you exactly what’s in it, no matter WHERE it is from.

    I have links to references on more information on my website at http://www.cindyscc.com, if people want to educate themselves further.

    1. Cindy Trusty says:

      I should clarify that this allergy reaction happened several years ago…HennaKing
      may have updated their customer service department with instructions to help people and say what’s in the henna. 🙂

  8. Cindy Trusty says:

    Again, the advice is, know what you are putting on your skin!! Same goes for face painting — a recent large Minneapolis art festival had a guy painting people with acrylic art paint, which can contain all kinds of dangerous chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. Make sure any body art you get is done using ingredients made for use on SKIN, not on paper, walls, crafts, etc.

  9. Cheese Curd says:

    Many thanks for the comments from those in the know! Very informative, and very likely to help others avoid unnecessary and similar experiences!

  10. MinnesotaGirl says:

    hello! I recently went to the Somali Mall in Minneapolis on West Lake Street and Pillsbury. Everyone was saying how you could get henna for cheap and how it was black and looked better than the brown/orange traditional henna. So my friend and i wanted to do something fun and somewhat spontaneous so why not? BAD IDEA. First of all it was the most expensive tattoo ever because are car got towed from the walgreens parking lot. Then when we walked in she just did are henna she did not tell us anything about it, or how long it would be on. Sure the design looked amazing, and she did it purely from her head. IT WAS BLACK HENNA.. which i found out later was super dangerous. Thank goodness i didn’t have a reaction too it, but i think its horrible because how was i supposed to know.. how is any person supposed to know?

  11. Holly Al-Abad says:

    I am a natural henna artist from Sourheastern MN. I have seen many people get black body art and had no idea that henna is NOT black! They don’t ask questions and assume it must be safe. Please ask questions about the artist, the ingredients and do they guarantee exactly what is the paste. I make mine from the ingredients listed by Victoria. And yes, PPD and it’s many chemical names are in virtually every form of permanent hair dye, including Aveda and even highlights. If you have had a reaction please get all the information about it, because you will be sensitized to medications, ome clothing dyes and sunscreens, etc. Natural henna is extremely safe!!

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