How Safe Is Your Ink?
“Think before you ink” is more than a catchy tag line at Delete. From spectacular artwork to amateur tattoos, we like to think we have seen it all and only truly hate the tattoo that makes you sick. With millions of people, or roughly 23% of Americans, having at least one tattoo (PEW Research Center, 2010), there are a number of questions on how tattoo ink impacts health. Many patients at Delete – Tattoo Removal & Laser Salon have multiple tattoos, plan to add to their tattoos, and have also reported sensitivity to their ink upon receiving a tattoo in the past. Check out the Delete’s video from “Good Evening Arizona” How Safe Is Your Ink?
Since our skin is the biggest organ and the body’s first line of defense against toxic substances, it will absorb anything that we put on it (like lotion), or in it (like tattoo ink). Even though tattoo ink settles into the skin and stays there permanently, it can fade by being absorbed by the body or by being exposed to sunlight. The ink that the body slowly absorbs over time is taken into the blood stream and picked up by white blood cells to detoxify through the liver. In fact, Laser Tattoo Removal counts on this natural mechanism for the tattoo removal process.
According to Dr. Mundt, “Tattoo ink is a foreign substance to anyone’s body. I have seen patients have very distinct allergic reactions to red, yellow and some purple inks (where red ink may be mixed in). The worst case being where one removal session gave the patient an infection. I could no longer treat this patient due to this danger and referred her to a plastic surgeon to have it excised (cut out). This particular patient, like many I see with reactions to their ink will report that part of their tattoo took longer to heal when they got it or is irritated by the sun or it is incredibly itchy most of the time. I also see that when I break down some red and yellow inks with my laser that the body creates lymphograulomas (a hardened sore, sometimes infected, most times not) that can take months to go away. I also have seen patients come to me where the red ink has scarred so badly on a patient that it may never be the same, even post-treatments. I am always very careful with patients who have these colors as breaking them up with a laser just irritates the area and can cause the patient to have a negative response.”
Sensitivity to tattoo ink is caused by ingredients commonly found in it. And while the FDA could regulate specific ingredients found in tattoo ink, action to protect consumers will only be taken if and when sufficient safety issues related to the inks are reported. “Our hope is to get a better understanding of the body’s response to tattoos and their impact on human health, and to identify products at greatest risk,” says Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., Director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2009. Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?).
Currently, the FDA reports tattoo risks as scarring from the tattoo artist, general allergic reactions from the ingredients found in the ink, dirty needle infection from a blood borne pathogen, such as HIV or hepatitis, small bumps or granulomas formed by the body’s response to ink particles, or swelling/burning associated with an MRI. There has not been sufficient information on the risks of being tattooed with the ingredients of tattoo ink. This has led to the unregulated use of a number of toxic ink ingredients. Lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, titanium and other heavy metals may be found in tattoo inks. In fact, our “White Hot Trend Alert ? Rethinking White Ink Tattoos” blog post, highlights the danger of titanium dioxide found in white ink. These ingredients can lead to different health conditions, such as heavy metal toxicity, chronic fatigue syndrome, brain fog, memory loss, early aging, and autoimmune disorders such as lupus, celiac, and hypo/hyper active thyroid. Some black ink has been reported to have polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); there is a possibility that PAHs is linked to some skin cancers. Since the FDA does not regulate the ink industry, it is close to impossible to predict what the possible side effects and outcomes are from receiving a tattoo with toxic ink.
Luckily, a number of the possible toxic substances found in ink have a very short half-life, meaning they do not stay in the body for a long time. Staying healthy before and after getting a tattoo, and also during the tattoo removal process, is crucial. If you are healthy, the body is well-equipped with detoxification pathways that can handle many of the ingredients in tattoo ink. However, if you are sensitive to new substances introduced to the body, or have a compromised immune system or unhealthy life style, then be cautious and educated about what substances are used in the tattoo ink.
It is important that if you do, or even if you do not have a tattoo, you take an active role in your health. This means drinking plenty of water, exercising, and eating lots of vegetables. Helping your body detoxify, keeping the circulation moving and fortifying the liver as it flushes out any and all toxins can protect you from chronic disease. It is also a good idea to consult a physician or nurse at Delete about what supplements you can be taking to support the liver and maintain a healthy life-style. The Pure Encapsulations? Liver Detox, Fish Oil and Multi T-D supplements found at Delete help in the tattoo removal process. We also recommend B-12 Boosts and Nutrient Infusions that will give your body extra nutrients to help the detoxification pathways function at their best.
If you don’t have a tattoo but are thinking of getting one, talk with your tattoo artist about the ingredients found in the ink they are using. Do your research and be as informed as possible. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is a valuable tool. If you have any questions about an ink ingredient, our medical team is here to help before, during and after your tattoo. Take an active role in your health. We predict that tattoo ink will be regulated in the future, but for now it is “Buyer beware.”
Below are some helpful links. Do your research and stay healthy Deleters!
Mayo Clinic – Tattoos: Understand risks and precautions