Tattoos are an art, a way of self-expression. But if you're not careful, they may also cause a string of health risks. This is why health authorities warn against the safety of getting tattoos, especially when tattoo inks are not heavily regulated by the FDA. Here are some health risks associated with applying tattoos to one's skin.
1. You may be allergic to ink or its materials. In May, NBC News reported that according to a new study conducted in New York City, 6 percent of respondents experienced skin problems more than four months after having tattoos applied to their bodies. Additionally, two-thirds of those who reported that they experienced rashes admitted to having allergies. Another study showed that red ink was linked to more rashes than other colors.
2. You're at risk for infections. The application of tattoos involves piercing the skin with a needle to inject colored ink below the skin's surface, so you may be at risk for infections, especially if the parlor you're getting a tattoo at is not clean. The FDA warns that dirty needles may pass infections such as hepatitis and HIV.
Dr. Marie Leger, a dermatologist at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, also said that ink can also be contaminated by bacteria, which can pose a threat to your health. In 2012, an outbreak of skin infections spread in upstate New York, where a batch of grey ink which was contaminated with mycobacteria that caused Mycobacterium chelonae, was used. This type of bacteria is a relative of the mycobacteria that also causes tuberculosis and leprosy.
3. You're more prone to itching and redness from sun exposure. LiveScience reports that according to a Danish study conducted in 2014, researchers found that 42 percent of tattooed sunbathers had adverse reactions, mostly due to sun exposure. Respondents reported swelling, itching and redness.
Additionally, when yellow ink is exposed to the sun for prolonged periods of time, the cadmium in the ink creates a reaction that can cause itching, redness and raised skin.
Not to mention that darker color tattoo ink will absorb more sun than natural skin tones and consequently, there is a greater risk of skin cancer.
4. You may encounter difficulties getting MRI's. The Huffington Post reports that those who sport tattoos may have problems getting magnetic resonance imaging exams, especially those with more black ink on their skin, because the ink contains iron oxide. In 2011, a case report showed that a professional football player's black tattoo was "burned" while he was getting a MRI, and this resulted from electric currents forming in the iron in the tattoo ink.
5. You may be at risk for nerve damage from carcinogenic nanoparticles found in ink. Health Impact News reports that according to a 2011 study published in The British Journal of Dermatology, nanoparticles can be found in tattoo inks, and black ink contains the smallest particles. The study also showed that some nanoparticles may be carcinogenic, or toxic enough to cause brain and nerve damage.
"Black tattoo inks are usually based on soot, are not regulated and may contain hazardous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Part of PAHs possibly stay lifelong in skin, absorb UV radiation and generate singlet oxygen, which may affect skin integrity," the study authors wrote. "Tattooing with black inks entails an injection of substantial amounts of phenol and PAHs into skin. Most of these PAHs are carcinogenic and may additionally generate deleterious singlet oxygen inside the dermis when skin is exposed to UVA (e.g. solar radiation)."
Paddy Deighan J.D. Ph.D