Owen Richardson had the temporary inkings done the night before flying home a family holiday in Salou, Spain, last August.
But within a week, the black pigment flaked off revealing painful-looking chemical burns that triggered an allergic reaction and caused welts to erupt all over his body.
Doctors said the burns were caused by Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) – a chemical commonly found in black henna pastes and dark hair dyes – and feared he may need skin grafts.
Distraught mum Leanne Richardson, from Consett, County Durham, said: “We knew nothing about the dangers of black henna tattoos, when I finally Googled it my blood ran cold.
“It broke my heart at the time knowing I allowed my son to be harmed in this way – it still does looking at the pictures even now and is an experience that will haunt me for the rest of my life."
The 31-year-old had taken her son on holiday along with husband Chris Richardson, 31, her other son Miles, now four, and parents Lynne and Stuart Owen.
They visited a beach-front stall and paid €30 (£25) for three henna tattoos, including a dragon outline and a paw print on his right arm plus a tribal design across his chest.
Teaching assistant Leanne said: “The dragon took up most of his upper right arm and because it was so detailed it took around 40 minutes to complete.
“He also had a paw print on his lower right arm and a tribal design on his chest.
“Owen was thrilled with them and was beaming – he couldn’t wait to show them off.”
When the henna had flaked off two days later, she noticed the chemical burn and took him to the pharmacy for over-the-counter treatment.
But less than a week later, the burns started to weep and look infected so Leanne rang 111 and was advised to go to A&E.
She said: “That’s when alarm bells started to ring. It wasn’t nice at all, it was very traumatic.”
'STEER CLEAR' Expert advice on 'black henna' tattoos
British Skin Foundation spokesperson, Lisa Bickerstaffe, said: “The public often don’t realise that so-called ‘black henna’ is not true henna – it has been chemically altered with paraphenylenediamine (PPD) to leave a black colour on the skin.
“PPD is usually found in hair dye but it is illegal in the EU for skin contact products such as temporary tattoos.
“What might seem like a bit of fun on holiday can cause blistering, a severe allergic reaction, scarring and a lifelong sensitivity to hair dye.
“The British Skin Foundation would strongly advise parents and tourists to think twice before risking their skin for a piece of body art.
“Whilst Owen’s skin has sadly already been damaged by ‘black henna,’ hopefully his story will highlight the dangers to others."
Dr Emma Meredith, a pharmacist and Director General of the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA),
said: “I would urge parents to say no to so-called ‘black henna’ temporary tattoos, however tempting and fun they may seem.
“It is important to remember that natural henna is orange brown, and there is no such thing as black henna.
“Having a ‘black henna’ temporary tattoo could result in a very nasty reaction or burn and becoming allergic to other products, including hair dyes.
“Steer clear of ‘black henna’ temporary tattoos.”
Medics at University Hospital of North Durham dressed his blistered skin with huge bandages and he was prescribed a steroid cream, a course of antibiotics and allergy tablets.
Leanne said: “I was expecting them to be quite judgemental but they weren’t at all, the staff were lovely.
“They told us about PPD in black henna and dressed all his burns, he was covered in bandages like a little mummy.”
The family thought their nightmare was over, but the following morning things got even worse and Owen, now eight, woke up with a "horrendous" rash all over his body.
He had to be rushed back to hospital where he was admitted to the burns unit and surgeons conceded that in the "worst case scenario" Owen would need skin grafts.
Owen was discharged and a nurse visited once a week for five weeks to tend to his burns.
Leanne said that although the burns never caused Owen any pain, he was left feeling self-conscious and kept his scars covered up with long-sleeved tops.
She said: “Owen was fine health-wise but he wouldn’t take his t-shirt off even when it was hot, he was very self-conscious.
“I had to tell his teacher about it and bought him a long-sleeved PE top. He was really affected it, but he’s ok now.
“Now when I dye my hair he knows he can’t come near me in case it triggers another reaction. In worst case scenarios people can go into anaphylactic shock.”
Leanne is now urging parents not to allow their children to have black henna tattoos done so that others don’t go through what Owen has.
Leanne said: “Not everyone has a reaction to it but don’t take that chance, it’s really not worth that risk.”
Owen said: “I wanted to get the black henna tattoos because it made me feel grown up, I was excited about getting them done.
“If anyone wants to get one done I would say definitely say no to having one, not after what I went through.”
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