As he sat and awaited the verdict from the doctor, it’s hard to imagine what was running through the mind of teenager James Colley. But the reality of his grim situation was likely far worse than he ever could have predicted. In fact, his cheap facial tattoo was about to cost him dearly.
Colley is 18 years old and hails from Cardiff, Wales. He’s currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in war and society at Swansea University. And in the summer of 2017 he took a vacation with his friends – a vacation, moreover, that wound up going terribly wrong.
Specifically, the teen had gone for a week of fun in the sun with his friends in Laganas. Located on the Greek island of Zakynthos, it’s a popular tourist destination with teenagers and young adults alike, thanks to the various nightclubs that populate the village.
It was around halfway through this week-long getaway, however, that things took a turn for the worse for Colley. And it all began with one bad choice. While walking down the main street in Laganas, the teenager made the fateful decision to get a temporary henna tattoo.
This wasn’t just any henna tattoo, though – this was to be a tattoo on his face, much like that of former boxer Mike Tyson’s. Of course, Colley wouldn’t have been the first person to find inspiration from Tyson for his body art.
Indeed, in 2015 Tyson told Steiner Sports that his facial tattoo, which he got in 2003, has led to more than a million people following suit. That may not be an reliable number, but some of them may have been inspired by Ed Helms’ character in the movie The Hangover 2, who got similar face ink to Tyson’s while under the influence of alcohol.
Colley, however, was apparently completely sound of mind when he decided to get his done. “We were walking down the strip and I saw a henna stall so I just did it,” he told WalesOnline in July 2017. “The place looked okay. I see myself as quite a switched-on lad and you just think, ‘Lots of people have done it, so it should be just fine.’”
There’s no denying that plenty of people have had temporary henna tattoos done. Indeed, they’re exceedingly popular among tourists in the same situation that Colley found himself in. But in this case, the results would be absolutely disastrous.
And it wasn’t long after Colley had the tattoo done that his friends started to become concerned about it. In particular, they pointed out that it had become red and inflamed. So the following day, the teenager headed for the nearest hospital to make sure that he hadn’t caused any lasting damage to his face.
Unfortunately, though, the news wasn’t good. In fact, the doctor informed Colley that there was only one way to treat the type of fake henna tattoo that he’d had done. And it wasn’t going to be pretty: it would have to be bleached off.
Unsurprisingly, the procedure wasn’t exactly painless for Colley. Indeed, he apparently found the ordeal “excruciating.” But no matter how horrible that experience had been, the worst was yet to come – as he was about to find out.
That’s because, even though the black ink of the tattoo had been removed from Colley’s face, it hadn’t left his skin unblemished underneath. Instead, there was now a huge, red scar in the shape of the tattoo. And, he was informed, it may not go away any time soon.
In fact, the doctor told Colley that she’d seen another unfortunate victim of a henna tattoo whose scar had still not disappeared after three years. And she warned that Colley’s own unsightly mishap could stick around for up to five years.
Still, that didn’t stop him posting the aftermath to Twitter, where his tweet soon went viral. Indeed, it’s since racked up nearly 15,000 retweets and over 45,000 likes, with plenty of people weighing in with their own comments and similar experiences.
Harry Morris, for instance, posted a photo of his own black henna tattoos gone wrong, captioned, “I know the feeling.” James Willis, meanwhile, wrote, “Would have a heart attack if I found out I was stuck with a Mike Tyson face tattoo for three years.” One user saw the positive side, though, writing, “It actually looks even cooler than the henna tattoo. Enjoy it.”
Having such an extreme scar on his face could prove costly for Colley. After all, potential employers may not look on it too kindly, thanks to its origin. It’s little wonder, then, that he’s concerned about how it may affect future job interviews.
Still, if his scar does fade after a few years, then Colley may be able to count himself lucky. After all, it could have been much worse. Back in 2015, for instance, a teenager was left with permanent scars from a black henna tattoo on her leg. That was due to a chemical it contained – paraphenylenediamine, a dye that can be dangerous in large amounts.
The dangers of black henna aren’t exactly an unknown phenomenon, however. Indeed, the British Skin Foundation even drew attention to the problem in 2015 with a campaign intended to highlight the growing number of bad reactions to the tattoos.
Foundation spokesperson Dr. Anjali Mahto told Metro in July 2017, “Black henna is well known to cause skin reactions and should be treated with caution, particularly in children. Year after year, we see ever more severe reactions to black henna tattoos.”
Mahto also pointed out that some reactions can even be life-threatening. Colley can take a little comfort, then, in knowing that the only consequences of his tattoo are aesthetic ones. But we don’t think he’ll be rushing to get another black henna tattoo any time soon…