The Temporary Tattoos Trend: Get Ready to Ink Up

Tattoos are hot right now. It seems like you can’t click on a celebrity rag without seeing the latest ink on the arms of starlets like Scarlett Johansson or Megan Fox. But not ready to write out your thoughts on your inner wrist? Not to worry, because temporary tattoos are the Next Big Thing. In fact, the JWT Intelligence Think Tank lists them as a “thing to watch” in 2011.

What exactly does the mainstreaming of tattoos mean? For one, you now can get temporary skin art from Chanel. For $75 clams, apply limited addition markings to your skin that look like earrings, necklaces, and the iconic Chanel logo. Beyonce’s mother’s fashion label, House of Dereon, is also offering temporary skin art for a more affordable $16. And finally, JWT Intelligence reports that you can even get temporary tattoos made of gold in Dubai.

But what if you just want a good old-fashioned henna tattoo? I live in Los Angeles, and for years I would make a bimonthly trip to Venice to get a henna tattoo. Henna artists line the Venice beach walk and they do spectacular work. I’d get hennaed up and spend the next week or two sporting artistry on my hands. Best of all, I could mix things up. Some weeks I’d have hands covered in designs, other times I would just go for a simple symbol.

Almost all the time, people thought my markings were permanent – which, naturally, pleased me like an teenager eager to fit in with the cool kids. (I don’t have any permanent tattoos.) But after years of getting temporary black henna tattoos, I have to wonder – is the ink safe? As it turns out, if the artists were using black ink – probably not.

Traditional henna, as seen above, can be very pure. The art of henna, also called mehndi, has been practiced in India, Africa and the Middle East for centuries. Pure henna is actually a paste made from a dried henna plant. It can be mixed with lemon juice and cloves, or it can be mixed with essential oils. It creates a paste that is applied to the skin – and when it falls off, it leaves a dark brown marking that will generally fade after a week or two.

But throw some modern technology into the mix and you could end up with a toxic soup. Black henna ink can contain para-phenylene diamine (PPD). This is the ink commonly used by street vendors. At best, PPD can cause an allergic reaction. At worse, it can cause cancer, reproductive issues, neurotoxicity and more. Skin Deep gives it a rating of a 10, which is practically saying it was made in the vat of a nuclear reactor. So if you notice your henna artist is using black ink, be sure to ask him or her about the ingredients he or she used.

Image: Henna by Heather – Mehndi in Boston / Providence M

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.