Getting Inked May Have Some Scary, Hidden Dangers

No matter what you're buying or eating or wearing, it can be tricky to find a decent list of the chemicals and compounds that go into your products. That's especially true for tattoos, which don't exactly come with an ingredients label -- a fact that has many consumers, dermatologists, and scientists more than a little worried.

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Tattoo ink is subject to the FDA's regulations, but, by its own admission, the FDA doesn't spend much time or energy actually regulating it. And though the FDA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences set up a phototoxicology research lab that's partially dedicated figuring out how, exactly, tattoos can be dangerous, we're still waiting for results and don't currently know much at all.

Still, many doctors and dermatologists won't recommend tattoos based on the potential risks alone.

Dr. Heidi Prather, a board-certified dermatologist with Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in Austin, Texas, says that the lack of regulation of tattoo inks is worrisome. Getting anywhere near toxic ingredients is dangerous, and with tattoos, you could be injecting toxins into your skin and leaving them there forever.

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"Tattoos inks have been reported to harbor mycobacteria," Prather says. "And that's in addition to the risk of infection after any invasive procedure with bacteria or other pathogens, like pseudomonas."

And that's just bacteria. Allergic reactions to ink ingredients are common, and are usually really difficult to treat.

"Inks often contain metals, which tend to create persistent allergic reactions," Prather explains. Though these probably won't harm you if you're not allergic to them, many people are. And if you are, you'll continue having a reaction until the ink is out of your skin.

And, Prather says, "In the case of allergic response, patients can have an anaphylactic response to laser removal of tattoo ink."

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Even natural henna dyes can be dangerous -- black henna contains PPD, which is allergenic with repeat exposure. (The more traditional red henna is considered safe, though, so go to town with that.)

There's also the worry that tattoos are covering signs of skin cancer, Prather says. 

"Extensive tattoos can cover moles, making monitoring for worrisome changes difficult," Prather explains. "Melanoma has been found within tattoos, which often delays diagnosis."

Basically, we just don't know. There's a ton of research left to be done -- not just about inks and what kinds of chemicals are going in there, but also about how tattoos affect our bodies in the long term. Right now, it looks like the dangers are the same for women whether they're pregnant or not, but that'd be another interesting area of research to dive deeper into in the future.

We'll just have to see, and make a final call when all the information is in.

 

Image via iStock.com/SERGEY ALESHIN

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