Once considered taboo, tattoos are now a common fixture in mainstream society. Statistics state that 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo, and every year Americans spend approximately $1,650,500,000 on tattoos! With the prevalence of tattoos so high, it is surprising that we have not yet done a more in-depth study on the long-term effects of getting inked, leaving much still unknown.
A new report from the European Chemicals Agency titled ‘Safety of Tattoos and Permanent Make-up: Final Report’ discusses the potential impact on the body of tattoos and permanent make-up. Calling for more research in order to prove or disprove their findings, the report outlines a potential connection between tattoos and an increase in the risk of cancer.
The European Chemicals Agency advised, “Many reports show significant concerns for public health stemming from the composition of inks used for tattooing. The most severe concerns are allergies caused by the substances in the inks and possible carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductively toxic effects.”
In the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the chemicals that can be found in ink and cosmetic products, analyzing these chemicals in an attempt to ensure the safety of tattooed Americans everywhere. This, however, is not the case in Europe where tattoo ink is not regulated at all. While FDA regulation is the first step towards better understanding the impacts of tattooing, they are still in the process of gathering more information on the color pigments used in tattoo ink. The lack of information and research currently available in this area has resulted in no strong regulations or restrictions being issued at this time, pending further study.
The concern with tattoo inks stems from its ability to travel from your skin into your bloodstream, allowing it to then travel throughout the body including the brain or lymph nodes. Cancer prevention specialist Dr. Samuel Epstein claims, “The evidence which we’ve accumulated so far is largely restricted to the fact that they [nanoparticles] get into your bloodstream and reach organs throughout your body. And as far as the brain is concerned, we have actual evidence of entry into the brain and producing toxic effects – lesions, small lesions, toxic effects in the brain.”
While the report outlines their findings, linking tattoo ink with an increased risk of cancer and reproductive issues, the European Chemicals Agency also discovered that not all colors of ink carry the same risk. They suggest that red ink may be found to be the most toxic of those studied, as red inks are often found to contain mercury sulfide and dermatitis, both of which are responsible for swelling and soreness in your skin.
The World Health Organization also found some concerning information pertaining to the risks of tattoo ink, however, their data zeroed in on the use of black inks. They found that the black inks that are most often used may be responsible for a heightened risk of cancer as well as causing DNA damage within the body.
On top of the concern regarding the safety of the ingredients within the ink, there is also a serious risk in regulating the quality and safety of the inks being produced and used as they can be contaminated even if the container itself is sealed, or the label states that the product is sterile! Adverse reactions or infections following a tattoo should always be taken seriously, and treated by a medical professional. Signs of an aggressive infection include chills, sweats, high fever and shaking, as well as a rash, redness or bumps in the area of the tattoo itself.
While researchers continue to study the impact of tattoos and tattoo ink more closely, organizations like the European Chemicals Agency are pushing for this information to be a top priority. Regardless of the potential cost to conduct the necessary studies, they are calling for comprehensive research on all of the ingredients contained in tattoo inks, advising that we need this information urgently as tattoos continue to gain popularity. We may have a large scale problem on our hands, but until the information has been collected we can’t be sure.