Note: this article contains graphic content.

While on vacation at the beach at Oceanfront Virginia Beach, mom Emily Knauer let her five-year-old son get a fake tattoo.


According to WTKR, the Virginia family was gearing up to leave when her son wanted to take a souvenir home. Having always wanted to get tattoos just his dad, Knauer agreed to let Peyton get a temporary tattoo:

“We’ve always told him tattoos are for much later, but he’s always wanted to be like Dad. So we thought this was a good opportunity to show him this was temporary,” said Knauer.

The mother and son popped into a beachfront store on the boardwalk that offered henna tattoos. For $30, Peyton could have a tribal tattoo just like the one on dad’s arm.

Knauer herself had gotten henna tattoos before so she believed this was a fine option. She stood by as the employee applied a black ink with a pen:


Days later, the results were not what they were expecting. The skin on Peyton’s arm was itchy, red, and blistering.


His mother told WTTG she watched as the ink disappeared but the marks disfiguring the skin remained:

“The ink started going away and the tattoo wasn’t going away,” said Emily Knauer, Peyton’s mother. “It was getting more and more red. It almost looked infected.”

Knauer took Peyton to the doctors where she explained what happened. When she mentioned that the employee had applied the henna with black ink from a pen she was stopped short:

“It’s black ink, they put it on like a pen – [the doctor] goes that absolutely wasn’t henna.” Emily recalled. “It was more of this PPD and I had never heard of that. The first time I’d actually heard about that was when I started noticing this raised skin. I went right on to Google and it’s everywhere.”

P-phenylenediamine, aka PPD, is primarily used as a dye. According to the National Institutes of Health Chemistry Database, PPD is classified as an allergen and short-term exposure to acute levels of the compound can cause:

  • severe dermatitis
  • eye irritation and tearing
  • asthma
  • gastritis
  • renal failure
  • vertigo
  • tremors
  • convulsions
  • coma

PPD is toxic through exposure to the skin, inhalation, and ingestion. It is used for the production of aramid (heat resistant) fiber, antioxidants, as a laboratory reagent, in photographic developing, and as a dye for hair and furs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings about the safety of PPD and its known allergic reactions.

The FDA points out that henna, which derives from a plant source, has a reddish-brown or orange-brown tint, therefore products advertised as “black henna” or “blue henna” contain other ingredients:

Even brown shades of products marketed as henna may contain other ingredients intended to make them darker or make the stain last longer on the skin.

PPD is often found in coal-tar hair dye, the additive used in henna to make it black. By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics that are applied directly to the skin.

The FDA notes that PPD-containing hair dyes are the reason it’s advised that persons coloring their hair perform a patch test to ensure they won’t have an allergic reaction.

According to the FDA, the agency has received reports of “serious and long lasting” adverse reactions to “black henna” such as: “redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring.”

Knauer is not the only parent to discover their child has a dangerous allergy to PPD.

The Sun reports a similar allergic reaction to PPD as occurring to a little boy vacationing with his family in Bulgaria. Alexandra Luckett’s son suffered a severe allergic reaction a black henna tattoo, as well. While being treated, doctors warned the British mom that if her son is exposed to PPD again it could be fatal as the compound is known to stop breathing.

Luckett told The Sun:

“It’s not infected — the doctor said he was lucky. The PPD can cause the anaphylactic shock.”

Another British parent recently shared pictures of his daughter from her hospital bed writhing in pain after she was admitted for her allergic to black henna while on vacation abroad.

According to the Metro UK the seven-year-old’s reaction to the dye was so severe blisters formed over the entirety of the “temporary” tattoo design. She had to be admitted to the burn unit and must wear a pressure bandage for six months to minimize scarring.

As for Knauer and her son, despite doctors visits and treatments her son still isn’t completely healed. Knauer is absolutely sick over the situation. As she told WTKR: “I was horrified. I can’t even explain the guilt and just the how did we have this happen?” said Knauer.

Leave a comment

We are excited to announce Dearly has joined forces with Mama’s Uncut. Helping Mom’s across the United States answer questions on life’s big challenges.