If you have read recent reports by the FDA warning of the dangers of black henna tattoos, then you may be wondering if decal (press-on) temporary tattoos are safe? The answer is almost always yes. To help you navigate temporary tattoo safety we’ll walk through the main varieties of temporary tattoos including decal tattoos and henna tattoos and discuss the safety implications of each.
Are Decal (Water Transfer) Temporary Tattoos Safe?
The most popular type of temporary tattoos are press-on decal, or water transfer tattoos. The tattoo is an image printed on water-permeable paper. The paper is placed ink-side down and when moisture is applied the image transfers to the skin. The FDA requires that decal-type tattoos use only pigments that have been approved for use in cosmetics; this means they are non-toxic and non-allergenic. They are easily removed with rubbing alcohol or baby oil.
If decal temporary tattoos are legally sold in the United States, then their color additives have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as cosmetics. This means the FDA has determined they are safe for “direct dermal contact.”
Not all decal tattoos conform to FDA regulations. The FDA has issued important alerts for certain temporary tattoos made in China and Taiwan that include non-approved ingredients or which do not declare their ingredients on the product packaging. When choosing temporary tattoos, the FDA advises that you look for the ingredients used on the packaging or label. Do not buy decal-type temporary tattoos that give no indication of the ingredients used to manufacture them.
Are Henna Temporary Tattoos Safe?
Another alternative is henna-based tattoos, which generally contain no additives. Henna is a plant-derived substance, which is painted on the skin staining it a reddish-orange to brown color. The semi-permanent nature of henna, the lack of the realistic colors (which decal temporary tattoos offer), and the time-consuming application process makes henna a relatively poor option for children. If you do choose henna temporary tattoos ensure that they are pure henna.
Dermatological publications report that allergic reactions to natural henna are very rare and the product is generally considered safe for skin application. Serious problems can occur from the use of henna with certain additives. The FDA and medical journals report that “black henna” temporary tattoos are especially dangerous.
The FDA has warned consumers to avoid any temporary tattoos labeled as “black henna” or “pre-mixed henna,” as these can contain potentially harmful ingredients including silver nitrate, carmine, pyrogallol, disperse orange dye, and chromium. “Black henna” gets its color from paraphenylenediamine (PPD) a textile dye approved by the FDA for human use only in hair coloring.
In Canada the use of PPD on the skin is banned. Research has linked these and other ingredients to a range of health problems including allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory reactions, and late-onset allergic reactions to related clothing and hairdressing dyes. Reactions can occur long after application. Neither black henna nor pre-mixed henna are approved for cosmetic use by the FDA.
Are Temporary Tattoo Kits Safe?
There are a variety of “temporary tattoo kits” in the marketplace for producing custom temporary tattoos in quantities as low as one. These kits generally include temporary tattoo paper, temporary tattoo adhesive and application sponges. The paper is used with an inkjet printer or laser printer.
Websites that produce color custom temporary tattoos in very small quantities use inkjet printers. The company producing these may not be using safe, dye based ink in the inkjet printer, which is the only way to produce very small quantities of custom temporary tattoos. Carefully check the reverse side, packaging, or any correspondence from the tattoo retailer for a list of ingredients that have been used to produce the temporary tattoos. It is critical that you ensure the inks used in producing these low quantity custom temporary tattoos are not potentially toxic.
Are Airbursh Temporary Tattoos Safe?
Airbrush temporary tattoos are sprayed on by an artist using a stencil with alcohol-based FDA approved cosmetic inks. Airbrush temporary tattoos are also easily removed with rubbing alcohol or baby oil. The types of airbrush paints used for creating art or decorating clothing should never be used for tattooing, as they can be toxic and allergenic. Ask the tattoo artist what kind of ink is used and whether it meets FDA approval.
Does the FDA Approve Any Temporary Tattoos?
No. The FDA does not “approve” any temporary tattoos. The FDA approves the color additives used in making temporary tattoo products. Purchase temporary tattoos from a reputable manufacturer that uses FDA approved color additives and has met or exceeded the safety testing requirements required for retail distribution. Knowing what to look for and what to ask is the best way to protect your health and guarantee the quality of the body art you get.
You can visit the FDA’s page about temporary tattoos to learn more.