Now, I’m not saying Stieg Larsson named his bestselling novel after me, but I sported a dragon tattoo long before Lisbeth ever did.
When you’re 18 years old, getting a tattoo seems like the best idea ever. However, I was a bit wary of getting a permanent one – what if it came out wrong, or I didn’t like it anymore 10 years from now? So when I spotted a henna tattoo stand on the streets of Patong in Phuket, I jumped at the chance to get a tattoo that would only last three months. It was the perfect compromise, I thought. This way I’d get the tattoo I’d always wanted and my mother wouldn’t freak out too much. And it doesn’t involve needles.
I’ve been thinking about that long-forgotten tattoo quite a bit again this week. This weekend I tried colouring my hair again. The last time I went in search of vibrant, multi-faceted colour in exotic shades of chocolate mocha, my head swelled up so much I ended up looking like someone with Down’s syndrome. I learned my lesson and was smarter this time, I only had a small test patch done to see if the chemicals that cause this allergic reaction have left my system yet. They haven’t. I now have a burning red patch of extreme itchiness on the side of my head, which after four days seems to be spreading instead of abating. I’ll probably have to go and visit the doctor again.
You see, what they don’t tell you in Thailand is that they use something called “black henna” to ink the tattoos with. The upside of this is that it lasts much longer than natural henna does. The downside is that it contains a synthetic coal tar dye called para-phenylenediamine (PPD), which is extremely dangerous and to which I am now sensitized for the rest of my life. This means I can never again try to colour my hair, use hairspray or certain brands of sun lotion or makeup without having a severe allergic reaction.
I was all the rage when I went clubbing in the three months that I had that tattoo. But if I knew then what I know now, I would never have gotten it. I will have to suffer the consequences of it for the rest of my life now and one day, when I’m old and grey, I’ll think back on that ill-fated decision with nothing but dismay.