Are There Advantages to a Temporary Tattoo?

Many people see body art, like tattoos, as a way to express themselves artistically. And while these tattoos can provide a unique decoration to your body, it's important to consider the consequences and risks of permanently inking your skin at a tattoo parlor — and weigh them against the option of a temporary tattoo, such as a henna tattoo.

The Risks of Permanent Tattoos

Permanent tattoos involve using a needle to inject ink into the skin. Besides being uncomfortable to downright painful, permanent tattoos pose various potential health risks:

  • Scars
  • Irritated or inflamed skin (dermatitis)
  • Skin infections caused by bacteria
  • Allergic reactions to tattoo ink
  • Small lumps that form around the tattoo called granulomas
  • Serious infections like hepatitis and HIV transmitted through use of non-sterile tattoo needles

There could also be long-term complications, like not being able to have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or having complications from the scan, because of metallic dyes and inks. After an MRI, swelling around the tattoo may result; fortunately the swelling isn't common and generally subsides fairly quickly.

Finally, consider another big downside of getting permanent tattoos: This art will mark your body for the rest of your life. You may change your mind about the tattoo you’ve chosen or about having a tattoo at all. Though it may be possible to remove tattoos, it can be painful and expensive and may not always erase them completely or smoothly.

Temporary Tattoo Risks

You can get the effect of permanent ink through a temporary tattoo. This can be either a decal that is transferred to the skin or a henna tattoo. A henna tattoo, a body art called mehndi, uses a plant-based ink called henna, which is painted onto the skin.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved all inks used in these temporary tattoo methods. Henna, which naturally creates an orange or brown color, may contain added ingredients and chemicals to create a different color, such as blue or black.

In fact, the FDA received reports of serious and long-lasting side effects of temporary tattoos, which included raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, and permanent scarring.

Be particularly wary of any temporary tattoos that contain p-Phenylenediamine, also called coal tar or PPD, as this ingredient is known to cause an allergic reaction in some people.

There is a ban on temporary tattoos that don't declare their ingredients on the label, so they are not allowed into the United States. But the FDA can't regulate all temporary inks used commercially by professionals, so there's no guarantee that the temporary tattoo you're getting is safe.

Making the Decision to Tattoo

You can still enjoy the art of tattoos, but be safe and smart about your choice. You may want to consider a temporary tattoo before or in place of a permanent tattoo if you:

  • Aren't sure that you will always want a tattoo
  • Aren't sure that you will always want the specific tattoo that you’re considering
  • Can't afford to attempt to have a tattoo removed later on
  • Are concerned about the possible health risks of infection or allergic reaction from a permanent tattoo

If you do decide to get a permanent tattoo, find a tattoo parlor that meets all the requirements of your local health department. Make sure that the tattoo parlor employs only licensed tattoo artists and is safe and clean.

If you aren't completely sure that you want to commit to a permanent tattoo, consider a temporary tattoo that will fade over time, giving you the chance to decide if you really want it and whether you like the design that you chose.

When you opt for a temporary tattoo, regardless of the reason, remember to be safe and reduce your risk of an allergic reaction before you take the plunge.

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