A 7 years old girl was left with horrifying chemical burns and scars after getting a black henna tattoo on a holiday in Egypt. Madison Gulliver was on holiday when her father Martin allowed her to get temporary tattoo on her arm at a 4 star hotel. She soon complained of it being itchy and it then erupted in painful blisters. The primary school pupil had to have blisters cut away in a specialist burns unit, which left her with scars up her arm.

The NHS warns these ‘black henna’ tattoos can contain high levels of toxic chemical dye, which is normally illegal to use on skin. Paste contains an ingredient called paraphenylenediamine (PPD). Mr Gulliver 50 years old a Royal Mail manager from the Isle of Wight, told ‘She is potentially scarred for life after getting a black henna tattoo. The tattoo was done in the hotel’s salon and they claim it’s not the henna and that it’s my daughters skin. She has blisters from her finger to her elbow and is in so much pain. We were entirely unaware of the dangers and I think they should warn of this in the brochures. I think it’s partly my fault because I didn’t know about it, but also the fault of the salon because they are using dangerous chemicals on children. We would have thought that the travel agents would have had concerns about this. We want to get the message out to other people.’


Mr Gulliver said family had been having a great holiday until the beginning of the second week when his wife Sylvia 43 years old had to be rushed to hospital with a gall bladder infection. She recovered but family spent 2 days with her in hospital. As a treat to their 2 children for being so well behaved, Mr Gulliver decided to pay for both of them to get a black henna tattoo. Their son Sebastian 9 years old instantly complained of itching so pattern was quickly scrubbed from his arm.

Shortly after returning home on July 25 the skin under Madison’s tattoo started to bubble. ‘We noticed there was a small patch on the top of the tattoo that was raised but we couldn’t see any redness. The next morning the whole tattoo was starting to get itchy, so we washed it off which revealed a rash in the outline of the tattoo. It started to blister so we started looking on the internet about black henna tattoos and that’s when we realised all the worrying things’ he said. Doctors gave family steroid cream to treat the area but when blisters started to form on Madison’s fingers, young girl was quickly rushed to A&E.

After 5 visits to St Mary’s Hospital where they were given different creams and ointments, she was finally referred to burns’ specialists Salisbury District Hospital. He told ‘We started to panic. They had never seen it before, and each time we went in they were trying different things but it was getting worse and worse.’ Doctors carried out a test on liquid seeping from blisters on Madison’s arms and were shocked to discover a high PH level, indicating a chemical burn. ‘They decided to treat the skin by removing the blisters, so they could access the burned skin underneath. They thought they would be able to soak the blisters and rub them off, but that wasn’t possible as they were so thick, so they had to cut them off’ Martin added. Madison has now been referred to a scar management unit and has to wear a pressure bandage for at least 6 months to minimise the scars covering her arm.


The hotel in Hurghada apologised and told it no longer offered the tattoos. In an email to the family, Heike Moursy, guest relation manager of Fort Arabesque Resort, Spa & Villas, told ‘On behalf of the owner from the Beauty Center we apologize again what is happened with your daughter. We don’t want to have such horrible reactions to anybody in the future again. Therefore our General Manager Mr. Max Shoukry have spoken with the owner of the beauty center to stop the offer of any henna tattoo. We know, this does not help your daughter but we wish her to get well soon.’

Dr Chris Flower, director general of Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, told everyone should be suspicious of black ‘tattoos’. He told ‘PPD is safely and legally used in permanent hair dyes where clear instructions are given, and where the maximum level is controlled by law. But black henna often contains PPD at high levels, to give a dark colour quickly. When applied to the skin in the form of a black henna temporary tattoo, PPD can cause chemical burns and lead to allergic reactions.’

He continued ‘Real henna is never black, but is orange-brown. Any very dark temporary tattoo should be treated with caution.’ Lisa Bickerstaffe, at British Skin Foundation, told ‘Check the colour if a product is described as ‘henna’. Henna is an orange-red colour, so if you are offered a temporary tattoo with ‘black henna’, it isn’t actually true henna. If in doubt, stay away.’


Earlier this week 7 year old Theo Luckett suffered a potentially fatal allergic reaction to a henna tattoo he got from a market stall while on holiday in Bulgaria. Apart from pain and possible scarring in reaction to a black henna tattoo, there is a real risk of becoming sensitised to PPD. This means that if you come into contact with PPD again in future, even years later, you can have a very serious allergic reaction. This happened to British woman Julie McCabe, who died in 2012 after suffering a bad allergic reaction to a hair dye that she had used before. Inquest into her death heard that 5 years earlier she had had a black henna tattoo abroad. Since then, she had used her regular hair dye several times and experienced some reactions, such as itching and rashes. Tragically, last time she used hair dye, she had a very serious anaphylactic reaction and died.

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