The detrimental side effects of tattoos are known, but are often being ignored. Many simply assume that tattooing is safe because of its popularity. Others simply fail to do their research before being injected with dies, paints and plastics. Many feel that because tattoo parlors are regulated, then the ink should be to, but that’s simply not true. The potential of infection with life changing infections is also present. The biggest health risk is due to heavy metal poisoning due to tattoo ink. There are things everyone should know before they are tattooed. I will endeavor to notify you of the major risks.
The risks associated with tattooing can be described as skin related diseases, end organ disease (liver, kidney, brain) and heavy metal poisoning. There are ways to avoid these effects of tattooing and I will share those with you. But first, let’s look at some statistics.
• Americans invest a whopping 1.655 Billion dollars on tattoos yearly.
• Americans that have at least one tattoo totals 45 Million people.
• The percentage of individuals who regret getting a tattoo is 17%.
• The percentage of Americans getting a tattoo removed is 11%.
Why are People Getting Tattoos?
These statistics are staggering numbers to me. It’s surprising that this many people want to risk their health to skin art. Individuals are motivated to get tattoos for many different reasons which range from sporting art on their skin, remembering a loved one or to look sexy or harmful. The motivation is unimportant for today’s topic, but I just wanted to give you a little background.
The Dangers of Tattoo Ink Carriers
What are the dangers of tattoo ink carriers? Carriers are used to maintain the ink, paint or plastic evenly dispersed during program and inhibits the growth of pathogens (bacteria/viruses). Please understand that these ingredients aren’t regulated for use in tattooing from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in most states.
• Ethyl Alcohol – rubbing alcohol is for use externally and should not be injected into the skin. It can cause skin drying, irritation and can negatively affect nerves.
• Glycerin – it is the sugar alcohol glycerol and may cause increased urination and diarrhea.
• Propylene Glycol – is the primary ingredient in antifreeze which may be damaging to your liver and kidneys.
The Dangers of Tattoo Ink
This was just the carriers. What is in each color of ink? The epidermis is the outer layer of skin that is made up of dead skin cells and acts as a whole body bandage. It protects us from bacteria and viruses. The dermis is the skin beneath the epidermis. Things injected into the dermis can be carried away by the blood to all areas of the body. That is why we get infections once we have a cut or scrape of our skin. The protective skin is damaged.
What’s in the ink? Most inks contain acrylic resin (plastic molecules), but they also contain other components. They are listed below by color as per Helmenstine (2017) and my own research.
• Black ink – Iron oxide (rust), charcoal or carbon – this is probably the least dangerous ink. The amount of Iron oxide should be inadequate to cause iron toxicity. Ask the tattoo artist to use purified water for a carrier.
Copper can contribute or lead to heavy metal poisoning. Aluminum has been proven to attribute to Alzheimer’s disease and gastrointestinal ailments.
• Brown ink – Iron oxide and iron ochre clay – this is probably as secure as black ink and for the exact reasons. Lead chromate comes from lead that’s poisonous even in low doses. Cu phthalocyanine is an unregulated compound of aluminum and can lead to skin irritation and respiratory distress.
• Orange ink – Disazodiarylide and/or disazopyrazolone, and cadmium sulfate create orange ink. The first two are considered safe, but the cadmium sulfate is deemed toxic and potentially cancer causing.
• Purple – Manganese violet, quinacridone and dioxazine and the first of them is deemed safe. It’s considered by many to be the most toxic colour of tattoo ink. Cinnabar is derived from mercury sulfate and is devastating to the nervous system. Cadmium sulfate comes from lead and is toxic. Yellow derived from the spice turmeric or curcuma yellow is considered safe. The problem with yellow is the volume that has to be used to provide a vibrant yellow color, so local irritation of the skin frequently occurs.
• White – Titanium dioxide, lead white, barium sulfate and zinc oxide (the stuff you smear on your nose at the shore ). Titanium dioxide has caused cancer in laboratory animals. Lead white is regarded as a cancer causing agent in humans. Barium comes from the metallic barium and is used in barium swallows for gastrointestinal tests, but when injected can lead to skin irritation.
• Glow in the dark ink – made up of compounds which are toxic and in some cases radioactive. This is unregulated in most states.
Some of these compounds can be considered secure, but testing still needs to be done. Some of these compounds are toxic and can cause heavy metal poisoning as the aluminum, lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic and aluminum leach into your blood stream. Aluminum inks can also hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of these inks trigger cancer and have proven mutagenic properties (cause mutations and birth defects) per Genser (2007). The FDA should be regulating these inks, but in most states they aren’t. Most states have begun regulating tattoo parlors though and at least that’s a start.
Regulation of tattoo parlors has greatly decreased the rate of severe infection. Use of disposable needles has made the fantastic effects. Before, in unregulated tattoo parlors, the risk for getting hepatitis B & C, HIV, tetanus, herpes, staph and syphilis were a true threat. Regulation and disposable one-use needles have eliminated this danger (so long as the regulations are followed).
One other key concern with tattoo art is the fact that lifesaving MRI scans can’t be achieved in certain instances. This is because the compounds in the ink cause intense burning pain for the patient.
You will find safe tattoo inks out there that are willing to divulge their tattoo formulas. There are many more that are harmful tattoo inks which are unregulated. Many manufacturers refuse to disclose the formula as secret proprietary information. The carriers used to evenly disperse ink may also potentially be unsafe. Both the inks or carriers aren’t regulated by the FDA and regulation of tattoo art is the responsibility of each individual condition.
Tattoos can be hazardous or safe based upon your preparation for the tattoo. Speak with the tattoo artist. Ask them what carrier solution they use. Ask them with the composition of their ink. Choose your colors by which colours are least toxic. Make sure that the tattoo artist’s store has an active Health Department certification. If you believe you must find a tattoo, please do your research and make an educated choice. Personally, I recommend that you don’t get a tattoo. There are just too many dangers for minor discomforts and lingering side effects such as cancer, scaring, granulomas, infection, toxicity and infections, per Mishra (2013). I don’t think it’s worth the risk, but it is your body. Just please study-up and make an informed choice.