Henna tattoos on holiday: what you need to be aware of

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Henna tattoos on holiday: what you need to be aware of
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Henna tattoos, also called mehndi (in Hindi) or harqûs (in Arabic), are a tradition that has perpetuated right up until the modern day. However, nowadays, they are frequently being  touted on holiday beaches, with increasing numbers of people offering henna tattoos. Dermatologists have released a warning about this practice, which is becoming more and more popular in holiday resorts and beaches. 

Where do henna tattoos come from?

Henna tattoos are an ancestral type of temporary tattoo. They are traditional in Northern Africa, but also in parts of Asia – particularly Bangladesh and Northern India. However, it is somewhat misleading to call them tattoos, as they generally disappear after a maximum of about two weeks. The tattoo, which starts out a dark brown colour, becomes progressively orange coloured until it gradually fades to nothing.

Are there some body parts that are more dangerous to tattoo than others?

No, pure henna tattoos do not pose any risks, regardless of the part of the body on which they are placed.

Traditionally, henna tattoos are applied all over the body, and feature symbols of protection, good luck or magic, among others. However, nowadays, the majority of tattoos are purely aesthetic and the designs are made up, and they are generally done on the hands or feet.

What does pure henna paste contain?

Henna is a plant. The leaves are harvested and they are crushed to make a powder. The powder is mixed with water and indigo or a dark liquid (such as tea or coffee). Lemon juice and sugar are then added. The recipe is therefore 100% natural, and does not pose any risks. 

henné plage Docteur Tamalou
© Maryviolet /iStock

So why are dermatologists raising an alert?

We are finding more and more people offering henna tattoos on holiday beaches. However, the product being used is not pure henna. It is often mixed with other substances, particularly p-Phenylenediamine (PPD). This substance is an allergen. Your skin could have a reaction, and the tattoo could thus become permanent.

What are health professionals recommending?

Doctors are recommending that you do not get a henna tattoo on the beach, as there is an elevated risk that the substance used will not be pure henna.

If you have the misfortune of getting a henna tattoo that does not disappear, here are a few recommendations:

  • Most importantly, protect the tattoo from sunlight
  • Do allergy testing, as your dermatologist or allergist may need to know more about the nature of the product used
  • Consult a dermatologist ASAP in order to limit the extent of the reaction.

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