Consumer Watch: Oklahoma Teen's Temporary Tattoo May Not Be Temporary

Wednesday, November 24th 2010, 5:29 pm
By: News 9

Amanda Taylor, News 9

OKLAHOM CITY -- For Mason Dickerson, a high school senior, getting the name "Kylie" on his back didn't seem like a big deal. After all, this tattoo was supposed to be temporary.

"We've been dating for three weeks so I was like 'You know what, I'll get a cross with your name'" Dickerson said.

Never did he think within a week, his back would have a huge red rash. So his mother took him straight to the doctor.

"He said basically it's a chemical burn," said Julia Blood. "It may fade over time. It may not."

Dickerson got the body art at the 2010 Oklahoma State Fair. He said Orhan Erkin had a booth and was doing what's known as Black Henna.

For centuries, Henna, which is derived from a plant and considered safe, has been used to decorate the skin before celebrations. It temporarily dyes the skin a reddish-brown color.

But Black Henna isn't really Henna at all. It's typically black hair dye which contains a chemical called p-phenylenediamine, or PPD.

The FDA has said using PPD directly on the skin is illegal. Everyone who uses it doesn't develop a rash, but it happens enough for a national dermatological association to call PPD one of the worst allergens.

"If I had known this was actually going to scar or something, I would have never gotten it. No way!" Dickerson said.

By the time the family contacted Consumer Watch, the Oklahoma State Fair was over. And while there were several booths applying body art at the Tulsa State Fair, none of the vendors were using Black Henna, and for good reason.

"I swear I've seen people have it branded on them for life," one body art vendor told Consumer Watch.

He switched from using Black Henna to a natural fruit extract.

"I would never put it on my skin," he said, "So why would you put it on yours?"

So, why do some vendors still use it? It boils down to profit.

"You can go to Sally's Beauty Supply and buy that stuff," the artist said. "It's hair dye and it's $4-$5 a case and you're making thousands of dollars off of it."

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is now stepping in to stop its use.

"It's not approved to be in contact with the skin for prolonged period," said Travis Brown with the State Health Department Consumer Protection Division. "So if we're made aware of that and received complaints then we could go out into that vendor and discuss the issue with them, try to verify that it was actually black hair dye being used."

Brown said they've only had one complaint this year, which was Dickerson's. But since then, they've become more educated about the dangers.

"It's something I will probably make calls to the State Fair Board…to make them aware before next year," Brown said.

Starting next year, before leasing a booth, Henna artists will be required to provide an affidavit to the State Fair Board stating their ink does not contain PPD.

Consumer Watch reached Orhan Erkin on the phone. And he said he doesn't quite know what's in the temporary dye he buys.

"Who knows which one is real Henna, fake Henna, who knows?" Erkin said.

But he said he's been using it for 10 years, and this is the first time someone's had a reaction.

And that reaction seems to be fading. After taking medication, Dickerson's shoulder looked better. Still, his mom just wants to make sure no one else has to wonder if they'll have a permanent reminder of their temporary tattoo.

"I want to know how to get the process to get this started to get this banned in Oklahoma," Blood said. "I think it's detrimental and shouldn't be allowed in our state."

While the FDA said black Henna shouldn't be used on the skin – they simply regulate the product, not the application of it.

State Representative Harold Wright said he is working on drawing up legislation to possibly ban PPD use in temporary tattoos.