Are Temporary Tattoos a Health Risk to Children?

Photo:  Attribution Some rights reserved by GerryTAre temporary tattoos for kids safe?

Are temporary tattoos for kids safe?

In our home, we have avoided temporary tattoos.  I think they are really ugly as they fade away, and I have no idea how or what they are made of to last through repeated washings.  Yesterday, my children came home from school with a few temporary tattoos in their Valentines.  My daughter asked me if they were safe.  I told her I did not know what they are made of, but that anything you put on your skin is similar to ingesting it via your mouth.  She then told me I should write a post on it.

Here’s a summary of information I found when I researched the subject:

Livestrong.com: The Health Risks of Temporary Tattoos for Children

Decals

Temporary tattoo decals, usually applied with water, contain color dyes that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, (FDA) as cosmetics, meaning the agency has tested them and found them to be safe for direct dermal contact. The FDA has received reports of minor skin irritation including redness and swelling, but the cases are child specific and have resulted in no warnings to the general public. The FDA has in the past issued import blocks on products that do not comply with federal labeling laws, so check to see that the temporary tattoos you buy for your child clearly list the ingredients to be safe.

ehow.com: The Health Risks of Temporary Tattoos for Children

While temporary tattoos are fun for children, some of the potential side effects can cause a lifetime of misery. Be sure to check the types of dye listed as ingredients used to make the temporary tattoos and be on the lookout for paraphenylenediamine (PPD). This chemical has been found to cause severe allergic reactions in children and adults…

Skin Conditions
Common skin irritations and conditions caused by black henna include eczema, swelling, blisters, rash and scars. Eczema is a painful skin issue that causes swelling, peeling and dryness of the skin. Once this condition is diagnosed, it is common to have regular outbreaks throughout a lifetime. Swelling and blisters can usually be addressed by visiting your doctor, but the after-effects can be serious. After exposure to these, cross-allergies can occur after coming into contact with other items that contain similar chemicals, like hair dye, sunscreen and printer ink.

Babies Online: Temporary Tattoo Dangers to Children

A doctor has issued a warning to parents when it comes to wearing temporary tattoos created with black henna. Dr. Sharon E. Jacob in a presentation to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes that black henna commonly used in creating temporary tattoos, causes serious skin reactions…

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does prohibit the use of para-phenylenediamine (PPD) directly on skin. However, persons still add black henna to natural henna (which is safe) so as to make the markings more long-lasting.

The next time you go somewhere and want to allow your child or children to get those attractive temporary tattoos ask what ingredients are in the dye being used. If it contains PPD, you should just walk away. This doesn?t mean that all henna is dangerous and cause allergic reactions. Vegetable henna that has not been modified with the addition of PPD is safe for use.

Livestrong.com: Safety of Temporary Tattoos for Toddlers

Decals

The most common type of temporary tattoo comes as a decal. The tattoo is an image printed on water-permeable paper. You press the paper, ink side down, against the skin and dab the back of the paper with a moist towel or cotton ball, which transfers the image to the skin. The colorful cartoon-character tattoos aimed at toddlers are decals. The Food and Drug Administration requires that decal-type tattoos use only pigments that have been approved for use in cosmetics, meaning they are non-toxic and non-allergenic.

However, not all decal tattoos conform to FDA regulations. The agency has issued import alerts for certain tattoos made in China and Taiwan that include non-approved ingredients, don’t declare their ingredients or don’t display an “FDA Approved” ingredients label on the packaging. When choosing temporary tattoos for your toddler, the FDA advises that you look for such a label; at the very least, don’t buy temporary tattoos that give no indication of what’s in their ingredients.

My Optimum Health: Tattoo Safety Tips

Are temporary tattoos a safer option?
Rub-on decal tattoos are generally safe to use. People with sensitive skin may still develop a reaction, though. Foreign-made decals may contain colors that aren’t FDA-approved, so check labels carefully.

Henna tattoos contain dyes that are not approved by the FDA for use on the skin. Henna and some of the chemicals that are added to it to make it look darker blue or black are approved only for use as hair dye. These substances can cause serious skin reactions.

No tattoo – temporary or permanent – is completely safe. Knowing what to look for and what to ask before you get inked is the best way to protect your health and also the quality of the body art you get.

Do temporary tattoos lead to a desire for permanent ones?  Probably not.  I’m more concerned about what may actually be in those tattoos than my children will be covered in ink as adults.

U.S Food and Drug Administration: Temporary Tattoos & Henna/Mehndi

What about “decal”-type temporary tattoos?
Temporary tattoos, such as those applied to the skin with a moistened wad of cotton, fade several days after application. Many contain color additives approved for cosmetic use on the skin. However, FDA has received reports of allergic reactions to some temporary tattoos.
An Import Alert is in effect for several foreign-made temporary tattoos. According to Consumer Safety Officer Allen Halper of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, the temporary tattoos subject to the import alert are not allowed into the United States because they don’t have the required ingredient declaration on the label or they contain colors not permitted for use in cosmetics applied to the skin.
What about henna, or mehndi?
Henna, a coloring made from a plant, is approved only for use as a hair dye, not for direct application to the skin, as in the body-decorating process known as mehndi. This unapproved use of a color additive makes these products adulterated and therefore illegal. An import alert is in effect for henna intended for use on the skin. FDA has received reports of injuries to the skin from products marketed as henna.
Since henna typically produces a brown, orange-brown, or reddish-brown tint, other ingredients must be added to produce other colors, such as those marketed as “black henna” and “blue henna.” So-called “black henna” may contain the “coal tar” color p-phenylenediamine, also known as PPD. This ingredient may cause allergic reactions in some individuals. The only legal use of PPD in cosmetics is as a hair dye. It is not approved for direct application to the skin. Even brown shades of products marketed as henna may contain other ingredients intended to make them darker or make the stain last longer.
In addition to color additives, these skin-decorating products may contain other ingredients, such as solvents.

This may be another instant where I appear as a parenting hypocrite, as we have applied henna tattoos in the past but fear the transfer decals. It’s interesting that black henna contains PPD, but I think the henna tattoos we’ve used are safe.

I did allow my children to apply their Valentine decal tattoos. It’s a rare occasion, and I figure once won’t hurt them.  Perhaps I should lighten up on my temporary tattoo stance, or perhaps not.

Comments

  1. It does sound like the decal tattoos are “safe enough” for occasional use, unless of course your child is one of those who is allergic to the dyes! But that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe for everyone, no more than peanuts being dangerous for everyone because some kids are allergic.

    It’s not as though we’re constantly applying these decals to our kids’ bodies every day. And as for them looking ugly as they fade — you can use vegetable oil, I think, or maybe rubbing alcohol, to help scrub them off.

    But it is something I never even stopped to question, and that’s most unlike me. :) So I’m glad you thought about it and looked into it. I’m also one that would have assumed that henna was “safer”, so it’s good to know the difference now between real henna and “black henna”.

    Interestingly, my son is a kid with sensitive, allergic skin. He had a bad reaction to face paint on Halloween when he was 3 — nothing dangerous, no anaphylaxis, but his face puffed up like a puffer fish. We’ve tested face paint a couple times since, (in small areas of course) with similar results. He’s also had similar reactions to certain sunscreens. Especially the coloured ones. We’ve stopped using sunscreen on him entirely now, just to be safe.

    But he’s never had an issue with the decal tattoos at all.

    • Jennifer Lance says:

      Unfortunately, I see kids at school and preschool that do constantly have tattoos on. They are so proud of them. I just wonder what constant exposure does.

  2. When it comes to temporary tattoos, I think sure, why not? I wore them when I was a kid. They were always a lot of fun to wear and share with friends. I never had any adverse side effects from them. But, thanks to this article, I will always check the packaging to make sure it says they’re safe. Thanks!

  3. A couple of years ago, my husband gave my daughter a big temporary tattoo kit – dozens of temporary tattoos and skin safe pens to draw more. I didn’t like it, but the kids were delighted.

    What made me laugh was how my husband started freaking out about how much my daughter in particular liked the tattoos. He started worrying that she’d want real ones later on. Kind of fun reminding him that HE bought the kit, and if he wasn’t comfortable with her playing with them so enthusiastically, he shouldn’t have bought the kit.

    None of my kids have ever had a visible reaction, thank goodness.

  4. This is a great post; you’ve done a terrific job of gathering all the available data regarding the safety of temporary tattoos. I work for the world’s largest manufacturer of temporary tattoos. We are located in Tucson, Arizona and print, in Arizona, 90% of the temporary tattoos in North America and 65% of the temporary tattoos in the world. We are able to command so much of the market precisely because safety is a a major concern for parents when it comes to temporary tattoos.

    You point out the ink used for temporary tattoos, which is completely different from henna ink, is regulated by the FDA. US manufacturers must abide by safety regulations and standards. As a US manufacturer, all of our temporary tattoos are safe, non-toxic & hypoallergenic. We use only safe and non-toxic colorants and a time-proven manufacturing process that ensures our products meet or exceed all applicable U.S. and international regulatory requirements.

    Most likely, the temporary tattoos your child bought home were printed by us. The temporary tattoos parents buy at Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R US, Walgreen’s and other retail stores are very likely printed by us as well (our retail division, Savvi, supplies these locations). Parents should always check packaging and the back of the tattoo for ingredients, just as you point out. If they’re printed by us, they will find the safety information they are looking for.

    Thanks again for posting this information! I appreciate how enthusiastic you are about kids being active and playing outside. We see temporary tattoos as an activity that is a healthy alternative to video games, computers and TV. I hope your children enjoyed their Valentine’s Day temporary tattoos. They come off easily with baby oil, rubbing alcohol or scotch tape.

  5. Most kids’ temporary tattoos are the decal type tattoos and not henna. The post overlooks that many decal temporary tattoos are printed on a polyvinyl film, and usually the end user doesn’t know what is in that film. Some are a PVC film, and may have hormone disrupting phthalates . . . .

    • Jennifer Lance says:

      Thanks Jennifer! That’s just the kind of information I was looking for that I could not find. Have you written anything on it? Please post a link if you have.

  6. I’ve been quite fierce in my stance against temporary tattoos for kids. Though, as my son gets older (he’s now 3.5) I find myself starting to allow a little leeway in some of my hard core rules… he still hasn’t had one of those tattoos, but I think that if he did have one I would be ok with it. So long as it’s only a one time thing (or, once per year at most).
    The truth is that I don’t even trust reading ingredients anymore – there are so many half-truths and lies by the companies that sell kids toys and products that I just am constantly trying to avoid one thing or another. It’s exhausting!

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