Mum's warning after boy's horrific reaction to Bali henna tattoo: 'Don't risk it'

An Aussie mum has issued a warning to other travellers heading to Bali over a popular activity that has now left her son scarred.

Jessie Kingscote, from Perth, was on a family trip to Bali on August 3 when her kids wanted to get henna tattoos from a market stall.

Her four-year-old son, Riley, chose a tribal design with a skull in the middle, while seven-year-old Ella opted for a rose.

For the first 10 days, “everything seemed fine”, Ms Kingscote told Yahoo News Australia.

Four-year-old Riley gets a henna tattoo from a Bali market stall.
Jessie Kingscote's son, Riley, had a black henna tattoo done in Bali. Source: Jessie Kingscote

“We noticed a slight redness we thought was just standard irritation. Then it started to worsen quite quickly, almost blistering but not quite,” she said.

“We kept a close eye on it and applied antiseptic twice a day. I still really didn't think much of it and thought the body would heal itself.”

But things soon spiralled out of control.

After returning to Perth, the kids tested positive to Covid and the family was stuck in isolation, during which time the reaction on Riley’s skin would seem to improve then get worse again.

When isolation was over, Ms Kingscote took her son to multiple doctor's appointments and despite creams and antibiotics, the rash continued to “ramp up” and soon covered his whole body.

“He woke one morning with a rash all over,” she said.

“Quite like the one from the tattoo – just everywhere. We have resorted to the hospital as I was starting to panic that he had something terrible going through his blood stream still.”

Riley's torso is covered in a red rash, while the outline of the henna tattoo is now a raised, red scabby rash.
After his arm started showing signs of blistering, a rash spread over his entire body. Source: Jessie Kingscote

On Thursday, the concerned mum took Riley to hospital where he was prescribed steroids for three days and booked in to see an emergency dermatologist.

Thankfully Riley's sister Ella didn’t experience any reaction to her henna tattoo.

Black henna, unlike natural henna, contains paraphenylenediamine (PPD) – a chemical that as many as one in five people may suffer an allergic reaction to when applied to the skin.

“PPD is a toxic substance often used in black hair dye which causes the colour of the dye to be nearly black, much darker than natural henna,” the Government of Western Australia Department of Health website says.

The website also says PPD can cause more than just blisters and scarring, but also sensitisation dermatitis, throat irritation, bronchial asthma, nausea, sore throats and light headedness.

‘Don’t risk it’: Mum warns fellow travellers

Ms Kingscote shared the warning on the popular ‘Bali Bogans’ Facebook page where she admitted she had seen a henna warning years ago, but had completely forgotten about it.

“This photo was taken 15 days ago, 2 weeks after application and has since gotten worse,” she wrote on the post.

Jessie Kingscote and her partner and children smile for a photo in Bali.
Ms Kingscote and her family had gone to Bali for a holiday, but the kids ended up with Covid and her son with a bad reaction to the henna at the end of the trip. Source: Jessie Kingscote

“I'm an idiot I know! Before y’all start coming at me lol. But I actually saw a warning about this like 6 years ago and even as I was watching my son get it done it totally slipped my mind.

“So just a refresh for anyone who may already know or not. Don't risk it.”

The post was inundated with sympathetic comments from other travellers who had experienced similar reactions from black henna.

“Don’t stress Jessie, this happened to my son years ago and it gradually disappeared, it will be all good,” one woman assured her.

“This happened to me years ago when I tried henna for the first time. Never again will I do that as it did scar me for years,” a man commented.

The SmartTraveller website warns visitors to avoid the black henna tattoos.

“The dye often causes serious skin reactions,” the advice reads.

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