Tattoo Ink Health Problems
Among the concerns with tattoo ink health problems are both the short term and long-term effects. Problems identified include their content (heavy metals that could cause disease), other contents that we don’t know that cause concern, the dangers of infections, the invasion of ink to our lymph nodes, and ink effects on future diagnostic needs.
Some doctors worry about the long-term effects tattoo inks can have on how your body fights infections, how doctors interpret lab tests, and other health concerns.
Certain tattoo inks can be poisonous to us if we are exposed to enough, a 2012 Danish Environmental Protection Agency found. In fact, one in five tattoo inks contained chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer. A majority of the inks tested did not comply with international health safety standards for ink composition, an Australian government-sponsored study found. Cancer-causing substances were identified in 83 percent of black inks (the most popular color for tattoos).
The European Society of Tattoo and Pigment Research was established in 2013 with a mission of educating the public about the “fundamental facts about tattooing”. They found barium, copper, mercury and other unsafe substances in tattoo inks. Their research also found a glaring mismatch between the listed ink container contents and its actual chemical composition found on testing. Essentially the label did not list everything that was in the ink.
Another study done in Arizona found that out of “85 unopened tattoo and PMU inks purchased from 13 different companies” 42 were contaminated with microorganisms. Almost HALF of the inks were contaminated (not sterile). Combine that with insufficiently cleaned instruments or poorly prepped skin and your risk for infection can be significant.
Some of the itching and soreness that many feel for months after a specific tattoo, but not after others, may be the body fighting off low grade infections from contaminated inks.
More recently, the Food and Drug Administration has become more involved with tattoo inks, stating “Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint.” Like the studies started overseas, the agency is now examining the chemical composition of inks and pigments and how they break down in the body, as well their their short- and long-term safety.
Tattoo ink health problems can be plentiful so it is always best to do adequate research . . . and choose a reputable establishment and tattoo artist.