Thursday, September 9, 2010

Henna Mess

I spent the week recovering from the flu and a severe allergic reaction to the henna tattoos I got in Boracay. In one week, my fun and unique tattoos at the back of my hand and my upper back turned from black to itchy red and it felt like a horror movie. From the moment I had them, I had been reluctant and careful to wash them (the more visible one at the back of my hand especially) with soap for fear that the memories from the trip and the excitement I experienced will simply fade away like that. And because I look at it every day so happily, I had noticed the tiny red bumps that started forming that Wednesday afternoon right away. At first I thought it might be a symptom of dengue for I had the flu already going on since Monday and I was in a very bad shape. Surprisingly though, the red bumps appeared only in the outlines of my henna tattoos. I went online and found out that this type of allergy from henna tattoos was common, especially from small shops and in my case, sidewalk offers in third-world beach destinations. I was horrified to find out that it could scar forever. I helped myself to a tablet of Celestamine I kept for emergencies and rushed to the E.R. that night just to be sure. The doctor confirmed that it was contact dermatitis and prescribed anti-histamines for 5 days. I wondered how long the tattoos will stay there. Before I had the allergic reaction, I had wanted to wash off any red ballpoint pen residue used for my back to draw the tattoo so I washed it with a deep action cleanser I use for my face, soap and hot water all the time. I also accidentally scratched the one at my back on the first day so washing it all off did not matter anymore since the design was ruined anyway. After the E.R. incident, I tried to wash and rinse the area where the all the tattoos are (including the black of my hand) but I could see that little specs of black ink are still there at close range. Together with the red bumps.

The torture went on for that 5 days until now. It is also so dangerously itchy and I found myself time and time again, even after distractions, continuously scratching the red bumps. The bumps fully outline the design of my tattoos now especially at my upper back and they look like burn marks at my back. Tying my hands together did not help either. Distracting yourself is the key - doing other stuff, asking yourself if you want to have scars forever and taking cold baths. I am guessing those hot baths and rinsing did helped my skin in some way absorb the chemicals from the henna tattoos faster by opening up the pores more. I wish my body would recover from the stress I had put it through and for the physical scars to heal in time too. The experience will stay with me though as a very good learning to treat your body well and to remember that when you want to have fun in the long run. And it is the experiences that matter not the tokens that will only dig a hole in your pocket. The tattoo artists, as I would say, were only trying to make a living and they are very good at what they do. According to some, these people do not get penalized and had never been prosecuted because by the time the allergy appears (around 1 week), the tourists are already home or at some other place. Maybe they don't know themselves. I have wondered all this time why they, exposed to the henna as seen in the stains of their palms and hands, probably did not have the same experience as I had. It would not be wise to earn a living so openly about a substance you know would cause great harm or pain to other people, and in this case tourists who sustain their everyday living, and even pose so happily in the picture with me. Maybe my skin is just sensitive from my other allergies and glorious city living. Better not risk it too much next time and just spread the word to be careful when having fun.

Update: I recovered from this. I actually forgot when but as of 2013, no marks/scars whatsoever left.


  1. Hi Mel! Sorry to hear about you allergy. Actually, in my almost 2 years stay in Boracay I only heard few people who had this experience. Yong isang friend ko allergic din to henna but after a week nawala din yon even the marks. Tama ka maybe sensitive lang talaga skin mo :) And you're right dapat careful talaga tayo sa katawan natin. We should think first before applying things on our skin kasi malay natin if we are allergic to it or not.

    At san ka? isa ka sa selected few na allergic dun kasi kutis porcelana ka hehehe... kidding :D

  2. Hi Audrey. It was a learning experience talaga. The remnants of the allergy are gone now but it took more than two months to completely disappear. Come to think of it I just noticed it now=) Distracting yourself really works. Indirectly because of that, I decided to take care of myself more and be healthier in the process. If you notice on the lower right of this blog, I put a Chocolate Counter. I'm allergic to cocoa but I found the determination to be healthier just late last year. I am planning to do that continuously plus yes, be more careful about applying things on my skin. Having friends who listen and talking about your experience really helps you have a new perspective in life. The rest is up to you.

    I hope we can travel again soon Audrey! Thank you for your words I will put it to heart=)

  3. i want to drive this message up to the govt officials to ban the black henna...we are lucky that we just got the scar but what if it was the worst case scenario?

    i use ice to stop the itchiness btw...

  4. hi! im currently suffering with an itchy henna tattoo just like yours. i got it from puerto galera. is it necessary to see a doctor? did you put any cream to lessen the itchyness? T.T

    1. definitely go see a doctor. and do not scratch.

    2. i didn't put any cream coz my skin is also sensitive to stuff, just took the meds the doc gave me.


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