Tattoos continue to be more popular every day and so does the potential risks involved. One of the main risks is the spread of infections through the use of unsterilized needles, but even the safety of tattoo inks is unclear.
Needles to inject colored ink below the skin’s surface are used to make permanent tattoos. This “make-up” is considered a permanent tattoo that mimics the results of cosmetic products such as eyebrow pencil, lip liner, eyeliner or blush.
The practice of tattooing is overseen by state and local authorities. Ink and ink colorings used are subject to FDA regulation as cosmetics and color additives. FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns.
Reports of bad reactions to tattoo inks directly after tattooing, or even years later, has been reported to FDA. Some of the issues reported have been itchy or inflamed skin around their tattoos when they’ve been exposed to the sun. Because of reports concerning tattoos, the FDA has been prompted to study this ink and it’s safety.
Some of the risks are:
- Infection. Dirty needles can pass infections like hepatitis and HIV from one person to another.
- Allergies. Various ink pigments in both permanent and temporary tattoos have been reported and can cause allergy problems.
- Scarring. When getting or removing a tattoo, unwanted scar tissue may form.
- Granulomas. Small knots or bumps may form around material that the body perceives as foreign, such as particles of tattoo pigment.
- MRI complications. When some people have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they may have swelling or burning in the tattoo. This happens rarely and does not last long.
Research chemist Paul Howard, Ph.D., and his team from FDA’s Arkansas-based National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) are investigating tattoo inks to find out the chemical composition of the inks and how they break down (metabolize) in the body and the short-term and long-term safety of pigment used in tattoo inks. They are also researching how the body responds to the interaction of light with the inks.
Other possibilities are our body cells may digest and destroy the ink, just as they rid the body of bacteria and other foreign matter as a defense against infection. Sunlight may cause the ink to break down so it is less visible. Skin cells containing the ink may be killed by sunlight or laser light and ink breakdown products may disperse through the body. Researchers also show that some pigment migrates from the tattoo site to the body’s lymph nodes.
Things to remember are that FDA has not approved any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin and FDA has not approved the use of henna in temporary tattoos either.
Let’s think twice (or maybe 3 times) before submitting to the fad of tattooing our bodies. Once it’s done it’s time-consuming, costly and doesn’t always work to remove a tattoo. Stay healthy and choose wisely!
–Dr Fredda Branyon