Temporary Tattoos

Temporary Tattoos

Visit any state fair or carnival and you will find a booth selling some form of temporary tattoos. From airbrushing, sticky transfers, and Henna, temporary tattoos are a fun and practical way to experience body art without the permanence of traditional tattoos.

Many assume the colorful dyes and paints are safe to put on the skin. For the most part, temporary tattoos are safe and easy to remove, but enough controversy from unscrupulous artists has surrounded the art form that it warrants discussion.

The Draw to the Art Form

Temporary tattoos have been around for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would find them inside cereal boxes or for 10 cents in gumball machines. Today, the tattoo is just as fun and with the added benefit of being socially acceptable, teenagers enjoy the look or style created by them.

For those who want a permanent tattoo, a temporary one provides an opportunity to trial the art form. I purchased my one and only permanent tattoo when I was forty-five years old and I doubt I would have ever considered it if not for the temporary tattoos that I wore and enjoyed.

Get the latest information, tips & recipes for healthy living delivered directly to your inbox.
Your privacy is important to us.


Child-friendly tattoos, referred to as kiddies transfers, start to fade within a few days. In lieu of fading, other child-friendly brands will peel or lose the designs within a day or two. In either case, tattoos made for children can be removed with soap and water.

The more adult-like temporary tattoos produced today are designed to fade slowly over time. If the look is no longer desirable, it can easily be removed with rubbing alcohol. Those with sensitive skin who experience friction-related rashes should not get these types of tattoos.

Temporary Tattoo Types

There are a number of different types of temporary tattoos. Some are manufactured from plant-based products like Henna and Mehndi, while others are paint-based such as African Harquuns and Tempi lines.

The most popular type of temporary tattoo is made from Henna: the brown, burgundy, and orange dyes are absorbed into the epidermal level of the skin and fade over time.

At a close second are the airbrushed tattoos. It looks professional and authentic because of stencils and the lightness of the airbrushing.

The newer body paints are made from cellulose, ethanol, and castor oil, with many imported from Africa. African Harquuns are made from plant resins, carbonized wood, lignite, and cellulose.

Black Henna

Technically, temporary tattoos made from black henna are not from henna, as henna extracts are never black. The black color is from a chemical called para-phenylenediamine (PPD). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved this chemical for use in hair colorants only. However, the levels of PPD found in black henna are more concentrated than levels found in hair color. Chemical tests have determined it to be a skin allergen and it has the tendency to cause chemical burns on the skin that could lead to scarring.

The Lure of Black Henna

Unfortunately, black henna has become popular because it is cheaper for the unscruptious artist to mix henna with PPD, thus increasing a profit margin. In addition, the product is easier to handle due to its quick drying properties. The deep black hue gives the tattoo a more authentic look.

Consumers who have little to no experience with temporary tattoos are easy targets for these dishonest artists.

Distinguishing Good Artists from the Bad

A reputable artist will never offer temporary tattoos made from black henna. Unfortunately, being able to identify a reputable artist is sometimes tricky. Avoid shops that advertise black henna tattoos.

Additionally, be sure to ask the artist about:

  • His or her credentials
  • Where they received their training
  • How the equipment is maintained
  • How old the product is and when it expires
  • A list of ingredients

If the artist is a reputable, they should have no problem answering any of these questions.

Do not assume that an artist is reputable because they are renting space from a reputable salon or tattoo parlor. Many artists set up shop for a few weeks in one location and then move to another shop or town.


In the United States, the FDA puts consumer products through rigorous testing before they can be sold. This process is no different for tattoo color additives and paints. Unfortunately, FDA regulations are not commonly reported to consumers. Therefore, an unsuspecting consumer would not know if an illegal product has found its way onto shelves or if a product would fail FDA testing.

Temporary tattoos can be fun and be a great accessory for clothing or jewelry. Enjoy them, but before you buy, make sure you are dealing with an honest and reputable source, and avoid getting a tattoo made from black henna.

Leave a Comment

Linda Mundorff, MPH, MSN, ND, RN, CNC, CTN has worked in health care for over 25 years as a registered nurse, health educator, associate professor, and a naturopathic doctor. She holds several degrees in health education, public health, nursing, and naturopathy. She is a certified nutritional consultant and a board certified traditional naturopath. Dr. Mundorff is the author of several books, including Memories Of My Sister: Dealing with Sudden Death, Medical Terminology: A Student Workbook. Her latest, Take Control: A Guide to Holistic Living, is an innovative health guide, which helps the reader learn how to regain control of their health by discovering the practical effectiveness of combining alternative and modern medicine.