Are Temporary Tattoos Safe? What Consumers Need to Know

Are decal (press-on) temporary tattoos safe? For most children (and adults!) the answer is yes. This type of temporary tattoo goes on painlessly, generally come off easily and is available in vivid designs that are popular with children. If decal temporary tattoos are legally sold in the United States, their color additives have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as cosmetics. This means the FDA has determined they are safe for “direct dermal contact”. The FDA has received some accounts of minor skin irritation, including redness and swelling, from this type of temporary tattoo but the agency has found these to be “child specific” and not significant enough to support any warnings to the public. Unapproved pigments, however, can provoke allergic reactions in anyone. Understand the types of temporary tattoos available to consumers and know what to look for when determining whether a temporary tattoo is safe.

Types of Temporary Tattoos: Know Them for Safety Reasons

Temporary tattoos are offered in several varieties. Decals (press-on) are the most common and the most easily applied. Airbrush-style tattoos are generally applied by a tattoo artist. Henna tattoos are painted on the skin.

Decal-Type (Press-On) Temporary Tattoos

The most popular type of temporary tattoo comes as a decal (press-on). The tattoo is an image printed on water-permeable paper. The paper is placed ink side down and applying moisture transfers the image to the skin. The FDA requires that decal-type tattoos use only pigments that have been approved for use in cosmetics; this means they are non-toxic and non-allergenic. They are easily removed with rubbing alcohol or baby oil.

However, not all decal tattoos conform to FDA regulations. The agency has issued import alerts for certain temporary tattoos made in China and Taiwan that include non-approved ingredients or which do not declare their ingredients on the product packaging. When choosing temporary tattoos the FDA advises that you look for such a label. Do not buy decal-type temporary tattoos that give no indication of the ingredients used to manufacture them.

Airbrush Temporary Tattoos

Airbrush temporary tattoos have become more popular even if they do require more of an investment, can be more difficult to achieve the look of a real tattoo, and may not last as long as press-on temporary tattoos. They are often sprayed on by an artist using a stencil with alcohol-based FDA approved cosmetic inks. The types of airbrush paints used for creating art or decorating clothing should never be used for tattooing, as they can be toxic and allergenic. Ask the tattoo artist what kind of ink is used and whether it meets FDA approval. Airbrush temporary tattoos are also easily removed with rubbing alcohol or baby oil.

Henna Temporary Tattoos

Another alternative is henna-based tattoos, which generally contain no additives. Henna is a plant-derived substance which is painted on the skin, staining it a reddish-orange to brown color. The semi-permanent nature of henna, the lack of the realistic colors which decal temporary tattoos have, and the time-consuming application process makes it a relatively poor option for children. If you do choose henna temporary tattoos ensure that they are pure henna. Dermatological publications report that allergic reactions to natural henna are very rare and the product is generally considered safe for skin application. Serious problems can occur from the use of henna with certain additives. The FDA and medical journals report that “black henna” temporary tattoos are especially dangerous.

“Black Henna” or “Pre-Mixed Henna” Temporary Tattoos

The FDA has warned consumers to avoid any temporary tattoos labeled as “black henna” or “pre-mixed henna,” as these can contain potentially harmful ingredients including silver nitrate, carmine, pyrogallol, disperse orange dye and chromium. “Black henna” gets its color from paraphenylenediamine (PPD) a textile dye approved by the FDA for human use only in hair coloring. In Canada the use of PPD on the skin is banned. Research has linked these and other ingredients to a range of health problems including allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory reactions, and late-onset allergic reactions to related clothing and hairdressing dyes. They can cause these reactions long after application. Neither black henna nor pre-mixed henna are approved for cosmetic use by the FDA.

Tattoo Kit Temporary Tattoos (Inkjet or Laser Printed Temporary Tattoos)

There are a variety of “temporary tattoo kits” in the marketplace for producing custom temporary tattoos in quantities as low as one. These kits generally include temporary tattoo paper, temporary tattoo adhesive and application sponges. The paper is printed on with an inkjet printer or laser printer.

Though the paper and adhesives are safe, they must be used in dye based inkjet printers which most people do not have. The inks which are generated by your inkjet color printer at home are probably not approved by the FDA for “direct dermal contact”. Can you purchase such ink from your local store, printer manufacturer or online? This will be very difficult.

Of lesser concern is the fact that the image quality of the temporary tattoos produced by these temporary tattoo kits cannot compare to the types of printing presses and quality control used to manufacture temporary tattoos such as those made by Tattoo Manufacturing and other major manufacturers in the United States and elsewhere.

Websites that produce color custom temporary tattoos in very small quantities use inkjet printers. The company producing these may not be using safe, dye based ink in the inkjet printer – which is the only way to produce very small quantities of custom temporary tattoos. Carefully check the reverse of any tattoo you purchase, the packaging these arrive in or any correspondence from the retailer for the list of ingredients that have been used to produce the temporary tattoos you are about to apply to your skin and wear for days. It is critical that you ensure the inks used in producing these low quantity custom temporary tattoos are not potentially toxic to your family, others and you.

Micro-Injection Temporary Tattoos

Also avoid micro-injection machines, used by some professional temporary tattoo artists, which may be present at a corporate event or a festival. Micro-injection based temporary tattoos do not hurt when applied but they do puncture the skin. These are generally not used in the United States and are more common in European and other countries. The United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive recently advised that improperly cleaned application equipment could result in the spread of infectious diseases including HIV and hepatitis. As a result, several types of micro-injection machines with internal parts that could carry contamination from one individual to another have been banned in that country.

What are Tattoo Manufacturing’s Temporary Tattoo Ingredients?

The decal-type temporary tattoos that Tattoo Manufacturing produces contain the following ingredients:  Acrylates Copolymer, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum), Linseed Oil (Linum Usitatissimum), Soybean Oil (Glycine Soja), Polyethylene Terephthalate, Petroleum Distillates, Cerium Carboxylate, Manganese 2-Ethylhexanoate. They may contain: Black 2 (Cl 77266), Blue 1 (Cl 42090), Yellow 5 (CI19140), Yellow 6 (CI 15985), Red 7 (Cl 15850:1) and Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891).

Polyethylene terephthalate may be present in temporary tattoo adhesive or the glitter used in glitter temporary tattoos. The term “phthalates,” short for “orthophthalates,” refers to a class of additives used in some plastic products, specifically products made with a particular type of plastic—polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl)—to make the material soft and flexible. Vinyl shower curtains, cable, wire, and flooring are examples of flexible PVC products that may contain phthalates. Plastic beverage bottles sold in the United States are made from a type of plastic known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Although polyethylene terephthalate (the plastic) and phthalate (the additive) may have similar names, the substances are chemically dissimilar. PET is not considered an orthophthalate, nor does PET require the use of phthalates or other softening additives.

The laminate used to cover and protect Tattoo Manufacturing temporary tattoos contains no phthalates and has been rigorously tested for other harmful elements. Testing documentation is available upon request from Tattoo Manufacturing.

All Tattoo Manufacturing temporary tattoos are manufactured in the United States. Make sure that any temporary tattoos you purchase clearly list their ingredients on the packaging per FDA requirements. Every Tattoo Manufacturing product package and individual temporary tattoo contains this information. The reverse side of every individual tattoo has a link to a website where any concerns about safety can be reported by the consumer with the product number. We have manufactured temporary tattoos since 1989.

So, Does the FDA Approve Any Temporary Tattoos?

No. The FDA does not “approve” any temporary tattoos. The FDA approves the color additives used in making temporary tattoo products. You will often see “FDA Approved” on websites which is a misunderstanding by those who are selling temporary tattoos. Therefore, purchasing these products from a reputable manufacturer that uses FDA approved color additives and has met or exceeded the safety testing requirements that many customers require for retail is prudent. Tattoo Manufacturing exceeds these safety standards; it is vital to our customers and is generally a requirement to export to many of the countries to which we ship our products throughout the year.

You can visit the FDA’s page about temporary tattoos to learn more about their oversight of these products.

What is the Best Option for Temporary Tattoos? Are Temporary Tattoos Safe for Kids? Should Parents Allow Kids to Wear Temporary Tattoos?

Though Tattoo Manufacturing makes only decal (press-on) temporary tattoos we do so because we believe that this is the best temporary tattoo option for children and adults. They offer safety and deliver a high-quality and realistic effect. Tattoo Manufacturing’s temporary tattoos exceed U.S., Canadian & European Union safety standards. No tattoo – temporary or permanent – is completely safe. Knowing what to look for and what to ask is the best way to protect your health and also the quality of the body art you get.

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