Temporary Tattoos: Make sure your skin is safe

Temporary tattoos can be dangerous

Halloween’s one of my favorite days of the year. I may not plan for months about the perfect costume to wear, and have to give in to my son’s requests for the usual cop or fireman costumes, but I certainly appreciate the creativity of others as I hand out candy (full-size bars) from my front porch.

So, when I read this article about a temporary Halloween tattoo causing severe burns on a 7-year-old, it caught the attention of yours truly – a mom to two young ones who will likely want one of these tattoos within a year or two. Heck, even I could be up for it, if the design and mood matched my fancy.

But, as someone who learned the hard way that my skin is super sensitive (a one-time $125 facial that promised softness, glow and a million other miracles left my skin insanely itchy and my wallet painfully lighter), I am also now ultra-careful about what I apply on my skin, especially on the face.

In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received many reports of serious and long-lasting reactions from temporary tattoo users. Conditions have included redness, blisters, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight and even permanent scarring, according to the FDA website.

Interestingly, reactions may occur immediately or even up to two or three weeks after the tattoo has been applied.

Betty Davis, MD, a dermatologist at Banner Health Center in Sun City West, Arizona, says the word “temporary” may make tattoos seem harmless, but the risk of a negative reaction exists.

She explains there are two different conditions that can cause it: an allergic contact dermatitis or an irritant dermatitis.

An allergic reaction could be from the adhesive or the dye use in the tattoo and is a hypersensitivity reaction, while an irritant could be caused by a simple irritation of a chemical or the make-up of the tattoo itself, she explains.

“I used to put stickers all over my face, and I’d react to them to the point where I knew I had to stop,” says Dr. Davis, by way of an example of an allergic reaction.

She adds that if the reaction is that your skin turns itchy and red, it’s more than likely an allergic reaction to the product. Usually, the fix for it is to apply hydrocortisone, available over-the-counter. If anyone has glaucoma, they should not apply hydrocortisone in the eye, she warns. (Of course, it’s always best to contact a dermatologist if you have an unusual reaction and it doesn’t subside soon).

On the other hand, if it’s an irritant, just moisturize the area and get rid of the irritant by not repeating the pattern of what may have caused it in the first place. So, for instance, if you are washing your hands too many times and they get too dry and itchy, that can be what’s known as irritant dermatitis.

“With an allergy, if I have contact with it again, it will immediately get red or itchy,” explains Dr. Davis. “With an irritant dermatitis, it could be a slower reaction and constant exposure that causes it.”

So, always putting on fake eyelashes or washing hands too many times, over time, may lead to a reaction.

As for the issue of temporary tattoos, I asked Dr. Davis if there is an age limit, for instance, on their use. Not really, she says.

“An allergy is an allergy is an allergy, so if your skin is sensitive and you develop a rash, then avoid it, no matter the age,” Dr. Davis says.

She recommends testing a new product on the wrist or on the neck below your ears, where the skin is a little more sensitive.

That doesn’t mean you may not still react to the area around the face, especially around the eyes, which was the case with that seven-year-old.

“Eyelid skin is sensitive and thin, which is why it reacts,” Dr. Davis says, noting it could be the adhesive or the dye in the tattoo, which could have caused the severe reaction.

Normally, one doesn’t look at ingredients on a temporary tattoo, even if they are listed.

She suggests it’s best to avoid a tattoo around the eye or on the eyelid.

If the skin does react, take off the tattoo, wash the area and apply hydrocortisone two to four times a day. If the area does not get better in two to three days, she suggests going to a doctor, or, if it worsens, to see a doctor sooner.

I am certainly not risking such a reaction on my face at least. I have no desire to go to an Emergency room for the sake of Halloween-cool vanity. So, for now, if I ever get tempted, you may see me sport one on my thicker-skinned leg.

Oh, and on a related note, if you are the braver one and would like to ink a permanent one, do read this before you go under the needle.

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