Posted on September 4th, 2012
Categories: Uncategorized

A not very much talked about, but quite a real danger, lurks in the form of the innocent looking, fun, henna tattoos so many of our children have while holidaying on the beautiful Kenyan coast. My daughter had had a reaction to such a tattoo on her back a couple of years ago, with the outline of the tattoo raised and red, itchiness, and then a scar in the form of the tattoo which faded over time. I was therefore aware that she could have another reaction, and told her not to have one, but when the henna lady came around, she assured us that hers was “real” henna, and that we must have previously been subjected to the “fake” stuff. Naively, we believed her and let our daughter have a tattoo on her arm.

Within hours the tattoo was red, hot and starting to swell up. The next morning we were greeted by a sight, as large blisters had appeared and she had scratched her skin raw in her sleep. I rang Karen Surgery in Nairobi for advice and was told to give her antihistamine and steroid tablets, apply anti- inflammatory cream on the site to avoid secondary infection, and to cover it up to avoid sun damage. This is her arm on day 3:

We did some research over the internet and found that a chemical called ppd (para-phenylenediamine) is added to the henna and this is what our daughter reacted to. The frightening thing is that it works like a bee sting allergy, one’s system gets sensitized and each reaction is worse than the previous one. I bumped into Steve Parkinson at Malindi airport, he medi-vacs people for a profession, and he told me that he has evacuated several children from the coast with toxic shock syndrome / anaphylactic shock as a result of “black henna”. From talking to other friends and acquaintances, the family doctor and the chemists both in Watamu and Karen, I have gathered that these reactions aren’t as uncommon as one would think, and even children who have never had a reaction before, can suddenly develop one. Our daughter, thankfully, is fine and her scar is fading, but she must never subject herself to certain hair-dyes, eye lash tints, sun-creams, medicines, and such like with ppd in them and she will have to learn to read cosmetics labels before using them. So next time you’re on holiday, think twice before you allow your child to have a henna tattoo!