A three-year-old girl has been left with horrific chemical burns and permanent scars covering her arm – thanks to a black henna tattoo she got on holiday.
Freja Ellis was on a family break in Antalya, Turkey when her mum Marlana, 32, treated her to get the design at a local shop.
But shortly after arriving back in the UK, Freja complained the cat pattern – which stretched from her wrist to her elbow – was itchy.
The design erupted in a series of painful blisters, which then became infected – leaving Freja with disfiguring scars.
“My little girl has been scarred for life after getting what I thought was a harmless black henna tattoo,” Marlana said.
“She has been covered in blisters and in so much pain. It’s been heartbreaking.
“We were entirely unaware of the dangers and want to make sure other parents know what can happen so this doesn’t affect other children.”
Nurse Marlana said she had a great holiday with her young daughter and her mum, Julie Ellis, 56, and that Freja had been begging for a henna tattoo after seeing other children at the hotel with them.
“Freja was desperate for a henna tattoo as she’d seen older kids running around with them,” she said.
“I tried to put her off getting one as much as I could as I really didn’t want her to get one, but she’d been so well behaved that on the day before we left I decided to treat her.
“We went to a nearby barber shop as they were doing henna tattoos.
“Freja flicked through the book of designs and chose a cute picture of a cat sitting down.
“The shop seemed really clean and tidy and the man who did the tattoo even wiped Freja’s arm with an antiseptic wipe beforehand so I wasn’t too worried.
“It took 10 minutes to complete and then we had to wait 10 minutes for it to dry – she was totally made up with it and it wasn’t until we got home that we realised there was something wrong.”
Freja began complained of itching and burning sensation just days later.
Single mum-of-one Marlana from Herne Bay, Kent, said: “We’d been home for about three days when Freja said: ‘Mummy, my arm, it’s warm and it’s itching me. It hurts.’
“I had a look, but there was nothing visible to the naked eye so I gave her some Calpol as she had a bit of a temperature and decided I’d give it until the next day to see if she’d improved.
“But when Freja woke up the next morning, she was in tears and a nasty blister had started to appear.
“She was constantly itching it and had very red, raw blisters full of fluid on her arm.”
Marlana rushed her daughter straight to the local minor injuries unit, the Queen Victoria, in Herne Bay, Kent.
She said: “We saw the duty doctor and I showed him a picture of the tattoo when it had been done.
“Straight away he identified it as black henna. I didn’t realise it was different to any other type of henna.
“He explained it contains chemicals which aren’t meant to be used and told me that it’d burnt her skin.
“I was shocked when he diagnosed it as a chemical burn.
“He dressed it with a wet dressing to cool it and gave her antihistamines for the itching.”
A chemical called para-phenylenediamine, or PPD, is added to henna to make the tattoos darker and increase their lifespan.
While PPD is present in many products, such as sun cream and hair dye, it is usually used in very small doses.
The addition of PPD into henna is now recognised as a public health issue, as this allergenic chemical often causes hypersensitivity reactions in children.
Three days after the initial diagnosis, Marlana took Freja back to the GP to have her wound re-dressed as fluid was seeping through the bandages.
Freja returned a week later to be checked over and doctors discovered the wound was infected.
“Freja was given a course of antibiotics for 10 days,” Marlana explained.
“After she’d finished her antibiotics it was then redressed again and we were told the infection was clearing up.
“Now they’ve just taken off her dressings to try and get it to scab over and heal as much as possible.”
Now, Marlana wants to warn others of the danger of black henna tattoos.
“I just don’t want any other families to go through what we have,” she said.
“Freja’s tattoo will most definitely scar as the burn was quite deep – hopefully it will fade in time – but it will definitely leave a mark.
“I’d had brown henna tattoos done as a child and they were absolutely fine. The doctor said they sometimes use black henna abroad because it’s cheaper for them to purchase.
“I want to make people aware because so many children have them done on holiday.
“Freja’s going to be scarred for life – she’ll forever have a cat on her arm.”