Melbourne mum's worst nightmare comes true on Bali holiday

EXCLUSIVE: Mum’s worst nightmare comes true after allowing her sons to get temporary tattoos as a holiday treat while in Bali: ‘When we came back to Australia the horror began’

  • Elena Kovalenko’s two boys got the black henna tattoo as a holiday treat in Bali 
  • After five days Luke, 8, and Adrian, 6, developed ‘itching and burning’ red welts
  • Doctors advised Luke and Adrian’s chemical burns may cause permanent scars
  • Ms Kovalenko is warning other parent’s of the dangerous of ‘black henna’ tattoos 

A horrified mother who let her two sons get temporary tattoos in Bali has warned other travelling parents after the ink left her boys with chemical burns.

Elena Kovalenko and her husband Phillip Saenko, along with their two boys Luke, 8, and Adrian, 6, arrived in Bali on a family holiday on July 27.

The family were staying at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Nusa Dua when they paid $30 at a nearby night market for their boys to have temporary henna tattoos on the third night of their trip.

Ms Kovalenko said she regrettably dismissed the boy’s (pictured) irritation from henna tattoos for sunburn as her attention was focused on her husband, Phillip Saenko (pictured), who was injured and hospitalised in Bali while on their family vacation

Ms Kovalenko’s sons Luke, 8, and Adrian, 6, suffered chemical burns to their skin after getting temporary henna tattoos while in Nusa Dua, Bali (pictured, Luke’s arm (left) and Adrian’s leg (right)

The Melbourne mother-of-two said every time her family is on a holiday, her boys get temporary tattoos, but this was the first time they had had one in Bali.

‘They (Luke and Adrian) have done it before in Russia, Thailand and the Gold Coast, so we didn’t think twice and agreed,’ Ms Kovalenko told Daily Mail Australia.

‘Luke and Adrian chose their tattoo designs and sat down ready for their tattoos.’

Ms Kovalenko said she was surprised by the temporary tattoo application as the Balinese vendor took 30 minutes to draw it on rather than a 20-second’ spray and stencil’.

As the night progressed, Luke and Adrian complained about a burning sensation, but Ms Kovalenko admitted she regrettably dismissed it as sunburn as the family was in the sun all day.

‘I didn’t pay attention to the kids’ tattoos because at the same time, my husband was injured and hospitalised while we were in Bali,’ Ms Kovalenko said.

Ms Kovalenko said she ‘didn’t think twice’ when her two sons asked for a temporary tattoo as they have previously gotten inked in Thailand, Gold Coast and Russia (pictured, Luke and Adrian at an animal safari in Bali) 

Ms Kovalenko was horrified when the tattoo began to fade five days later, revealing painful ‘itching and burning’ red welts on Luke’s arm and Adrian’s leg where the tattoo had been.

‘When we came back (to Australia) the horror began,’ Ms Kovalenko said.

‘The dye came off, and it looked like a chemical burn.

‘The kids were crying that it was itching and burning, so we went to the pharmacy, and we were given a cream that we applied on their sores straight away.’

The distraught mother took her boys to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne the following day after the burns appeared to be getting worse.

Doctors prescribed steroid cream to Adrian and Luke but advised the damage caused by the tattoos could be permanent.

‘If it was just one child, I would think it’s some kind of allergy, but because it’s two kids with two different skin types, I’m just shocked,’ Ms Kovalenko said.

‘My kids don’t have any allergies, but they will have horrible scar forever!’

Ms Kovalenko said she wanted to share her experience to warn parents and children considering temporary tattoos and called for ‘black henna’ to be banned.

‘We all know not to drink tap water in Thailand or Bali, and we know about robbery facts in the countries too,’ Ms Kovalenko said.

‘The media screams about foot and mouth disease, but I never heard anything about it (black henna).

‘It’s a dangerous thing. It might even be life-threatening. People should be aware of it, and it should be banned.’

Ms Kovalenko shared a picture of Adrian’s burn to ‘Australian Bali info for traveling’ Facebook group on Monday and has received over 150 comments – most of which are other travellers detailing similar bad experiences. 

‘My sons temp tattoo lasted for 6 years with a lot of different creams and medical visits, never again,’ one user wrote. 

‘The same thing happened to my son and he still has the scar and that was 20 years ago,’ another user commented. 

‘This happened to my daughter. She now has a lifelong allergy to PPD (black dye), cannot colour her hair or eyebrows – Be very careful,’ a third user chimed.  

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises travellers to avoid temporary black henna tattoos while in Indonesia, stating that they ‘often contain a dye which can cause serious skin reactions’. 

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises travellers in Indonesia to avoid temporary black henna tattoos as they can cause ‘serious skin reactions’ (stock image,  Temple Street in Nusa Dua, Bali)

Henna has been used by different cultures for centuries and is usually brown or orange-brown in colour and is a paste made from grinding dried henna leaves. 

Traditional henna is considered safe to use in temporary tattoos and causes few allergic reactions. 

However travellers are warned to avoid ‘black henna’ as it typically contains para-phenylenediamine or PPD – a black ink found in hair dye.  

PPD can cause serious adverse reactions including redness, itching, burning, swelling, blisters and scarring which appear seven to ten days after the ink is applied to the skin.

Bali tattoo warning: Tourists are being left with horrific scars after getting henna done by dodgy vendors using cheap dye 


Australians risk horrific burns and permanent scarring by getting dodgy $10 black henna tattoos on holiday in Bali.

Tourists to the holiday island and other Asian destinations often get temporary tattoos on their trip, even for children as young as five. 

Doctors are warning tourists to avoid getting black henna tattoos on school holidays or risk horrific burns and permanent scarring

A woman got a tattoo on a Bali beach in October and it resulted in this red scar (left) and a mother was shocked when her son went to Bali with his grandmother and got an anchor-shaped tattoo that blistered

However, many artists use a black dye laced with paraphenylenediamine (PPD) which can cause cause allergic reactions, blisters, open sores, and scarring. 

Numerous operators offer the cheap tattoos for as little as $10 and black hair dye with the same PPD concentrations cost $1.50 in shops.

Nine News took samples from the dye used by five Kuta Beach artists and found four contained PPD in tests by the Indonesia’s National Agency of Drug and Food Control.

All four were more than 12 per cent PPD and doctors warn just one per cent

Each of the positive tests had a concentration of more than 12 per cent and doctors say even one per cent can be harmful to the skin.

The NADFC is trying to persuade henna artists to stop using dye that contains PPD.

PPD is banned for use on skin in Australia, but other victims even said they were hurt by tattoos. Doctors said the first thing to do was to immediately run the area under cool water to treat the chemical burn

Dr Ryan Harvey from House Call Doctors said patients suffered extreme allergic reactions that caused chemical burns to the skin.

‘Unlike here in Australia, there may not be any regulation of what goes into the dye, and children in particular can have extreme reactions that can cause blistering, open sores and a chemical burn,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘While many parents think getting a temporary henna tattoo is harmless holiday fun, it can lead to permanent scarring.’

PPD is banned for use on skin in Australia, but other victims even said they were hurt by tattoos at festivals and even a community fair held at a primary school.

Dr Harvey said the first thing to do was to immediately running the area under cool water to treat the chemical burn.

‘If it is an allergic reaction, the patient may need antihistamine, a topical steroid cream or a steroid tablet to treat the burn,’ he said.

‘It depends on the extent of the burn but if it covers a large percentage of the body, particularly in children, they may need to be observed in hospital so they don’t go into shock.

‘Keep up your fluid intake and stay hydrated because all the fluid in your body will rush to the burn site.’

Dr Harvey said natural henna never contains PPD, it is entirely made of plant-based ingredients, including eucalyptus.

‘The clear difference is real henna is never black, but rather an orange colour with a red or brown tint to it,’ he said.

‘Any very dark temporary tattoo should be treated with caution. Black henna tattoos are readily available in many countries, therefore it is important to be extra vigilant as many tattoo places will not inform tourists that black henna is being used.’

Tom Birkin said he was burned after getting a Mike Tyson-style black henna tattoo on his face and it took eight months to heal.

‘Don’t get them done, it was a big mistake and I was in hospital seven days,’ he said.

Tom Birkin said he was in hospital for a week after getting a Mike Tyson-style black henna tattoo on his face and it took eight months to heal

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