While tattoos can have a significant meaning for many who decide to get “inked”, that tattoo of a butterfly or creative doodle may present a long-term risk that could result in the need to see a skin doctor in Salem. A new study has raised concerns that the ink used in tattoos may pose a health threat – even years later.
The report questions the safety of tattoo inks used throughout Europe, many of which are imported from the U.S. The inks have been found to contain dangerous chemicals, including carcinogens.
The report, published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, also found the presence of heavy metals such as nickel, lead, and arsenic, bacteria, preservatives, and other potentially harmful substances in the inks.
Based on the findings of this report, the commission is calling for a thorough review of tattoo inks in use throughout Europe, and it highlights the need for improved regulation of the inks.
Following the release of the report, the EC requested the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) look further into the safety of tattoo inks.
“Tattoo inks and permanent make up (PMU) may contain hazardous substances – for example, substances that cause cancer, genetic mutations, toxic effects on reproduction, allergies, or other adverse effect on health,” stated the ECHA in a released statement.
The concerns over tattoo ink come at a time when the number of people getting tattoos continues to rise. Approximately 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have a tattoo, according to a Harris Poll. Just four years ago, that number was 1 in 5.
It’s not just in Europe that tattoo ink has come under scrutiny. The Food and Drug Administration has also recently raised concerns regarding tattoo ink.
In August of 2015, the FDA announced the voluntary recall of A Thousand Virgins ink, which was contaminated with bacteria. Prior to that, White and Blue Lion recalled tattoo equipment and inks from parlours in 2014 due to a contamination that could have caused sepsis, a potentially deadly complication of infections. Other recalls have also occurred in recent years, both in the U.S. and abroad.
The FDA also raised other concerns regarding the safety of tattoo inks that included:
- Allergic reactions
- Inflammation and itchiness when exposed to intense sunlight
- Granulomas, or tiny bumps or knots that develop around areas where the body senses foreign material, such as pigments in tattoo ink
- The spread of tattoo ink to the lymphatic system in the body. It’s unknown whether this could cause significant health consequences
Perhaps most troubling is the FDA’s admission of knowing little about inks currently used in tattoos today. While tattoo inks are classified as cosmetics and subject to regulatory authority, the FDA says they have placed little importance on regulating these types of products due to more pressing public health concerns and the “previous lack of evidence of safety concerns.”
While the FDA promises to perform additional research on the ingredients used in tattoo inks and to thoroughly test color additives in the future, many health experts believe more needs to be done.
Critics of the FDA’s current policies point to how little regulation currently exists over the tattoo industry and how consumer safety remains in jeopardy. Currently, no standards are in place to even ensure the bottles that contain tattoo ink are sterile prior to being filled. The European study found that between 5 to 10 percent of the bottles used to transport and sell tattoo ink were contaminated with bacteria.
Others point to new pigments used in tattoo ink that never get thoroughly tested due to being “organic” despite the much higher risk of complications that these types of pigments can cause, including severe allergic reactions.
Studies have found that inks can cause systemic reactions when patients have an allergy to whatever was used in the ink. Unfortunately, no way of testing whether an individual is allergic to tattoo dye exists because the allergic reaction may not occur until years later.
If you have a tattoo that’s become unexpectedly swollen, itchy, or irritated, you should schedule an appointment with your skin doctor in Salem to have the area examined. Even if your tattoo is year old, the potential still exists that an allergic reaction is occurring that needs medical attention.