What Is a Henna Tattoo? Is It Safe for My Teen?

Henna tattoos are often on the hands.
Olga Engelhardt for www.henna-und-mehr.de/Moment/Getty Images

Henna tattoos are popular options for teenagers who aren't old enough to commit to a permanent tattoo. Henna tattoo shops are often set up in tourist destinations and tropical places where teens may be looking for a fun way to celebrate their vacations.

Many drug stores sell henna body art kits as well. They contain henna paste and teens can apply their tattoos themselves.

What is Henna? 

Henna is a small flowering shrub.

Henna leaves are dried and turned into a fine powder. That powder can be used to dye hair or skin temporarily.

Henna body art has been used to adorn women's bodies in a variety of ceremonies for thousands of years. It's still used in many wedding ceremonies among various cultures. 

Henna Tattoos for Teens

The tattoos are generally an intricate design. They will fade in time, about 2-4 weeks, depending on the type of henna that has been used.

It is close to impossible to remove except through the natural fading, so if you allow your teen to get a henna tattoo, know that it will be there for a while.

Some people say you can speed up the fading by applying hydrogen peroxide to the area daily. But, the results on that are fairly mixed.

Are Henna Tattoos Safe?

The FDA has not yet approved henna for a skin dye in the United States. It is only approved as a form of hair dye. 

It is possible for your teen to have an allergic reaction to henna.

If your teen is going to get a tattoo, conduct a small skin test first.

Although pure henna is usually considered safe, some stains are sold as henna. They often come in bright colors, like blue, green, yellow, or purple. But true henna is an orange, red, or brown color.

Do Not Use Henna on Someone with G6PD

Henna can be dangerous to people with a G6PD deficiency, a condition where the body doesn't have enough of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, which helps red blood cells function.

If your teen has G6PD deficiency you may not know it. Many people don't have any symptoms  until their red blood cells are exposed to certain triggers. For some, henna can be a trigger, causing a breakdown in red blood cells resulting in a variety of medical complications. 

It's a genetic condition that is passed along from one or both parents. It's most common in males. Those with African heritage are affected most, but It can also be common among individuals with Greek, Italian, Arabic, and Sephardic Jewish backgrounds. 

Making the Decision

Most henna tattoo artists don't require parental permission and most will place body art on children of all ages. So it's important to talk to your teen about any concerns or rules you may have before your teen walks past a shop and decides to get a henna tattoo.

Updated by Amy Morin, LCSW.

References

Thobile W, Nikosi A.N., Combrinck S., Viljoen A., Cartwright-Jones C. Rapid analysis of the skin irritant p-phenylenediamine (PPD) in henna products using atmospheric solids analysis probe mass spectrometry. Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis. 2016(128):119-125.

Eghbal F, Fakoorziba M.R., Eghbal M.H., Latifnia S. Survey on causes of hemolysis in glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficient pediatric patients. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences. 2012;24:666–669

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