Tattoos dangers

The Truth About Tattoos: Health Risks, Toxicity and More

A frighteningly growing number of teens and young adults around the world are injecting dangerous chemicals under their skin in the name of art and self-expression. A trend that started growing in America and Europe in the early ’90s, tattooing soon became so popular that 36% of Americans aged 25-29 had at least one body tattoo by 2003.[1]

The numbers have undoubtedly risen in the four years since; tattoos are now well-entrenched in the mainstream. http://www.naturalnews.com/

Even the media regularly glorifies tattoo culture, as evidenced by reality TV shows like The Learning Channel’s Miami Ink and LA Ink, and Inked on A&E, as well as frequent magazine sightings of tattoo-sporting celebrities like Paris Hilton, David Beckham, and Angelina Jolie, and print ads featuring tattooed models and athletes, like Calvin Klein Underwear’s Fredrik Ljungberg (who, by the way, had a severe allergic reaction to his tattoos and had to have a lymph gland removed).[2]

What’s formaldehyde and antifreeze doing in your skin?

Tattooing is an art form that has been used for centuries by tribal societies in religious rites and as a natural part of life. At first banned and then appropriated by Western culture, tattoos have recently developed as a decorative art of self-expression; used by some to celebrate events, memorialize a departed loved one, or as a show of commitment to a life partner. There is one thing for sure: all tattoos have a story. What’s not so clear is exactly what we’re injecting into our skin for art’s sake.

A far cry from their tribal predecessors made with dyes from the natural environment, many of today’s tattoos contain an unknown conglomeration of metallic salts (oxides, sulphides, selenides), organic dyes or plastics suspended in a carrier solution for consistency of application.[3]

In the European Commission’s report on the health risks of tattooing, they note that close to 40% of organic colorants used in permanent tattoos in Europe are not even approved for use on the skin as a cosmetic ingredient and just under 20% of the colorants studied contained a carcinogenic aromatic amine. Many of the chemicals found were originally intended for use in writing and printer inks, as well as automobile paints.[4] These inks are injected deep enough into the skin that often tattoos will not even be destroyed by severe burns.[5]

In America, the FDA regulates some of the ingredients in cosmetics worn on the skin, and vitamins, drugs and food additives ingested into the body, but it does not regulate these toxic inks we put under our skin. Their official stance:

“Because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them.”[6]

The FDA also does not require ingredient disclosure on the inks – they are considered proprietary (trade secrets) – and so tattoo inks may contain any chemical, including those known to be mutagenic (capable of causing mutations), teratogenic (capable of causing birth defects), and carcinogenic (capable of causing cancer), or involved in other biochemical reactions in the body that might take decades to appear.[3]

Surprisingly, the FDA does not list cancer in their list of potential tattoo risks, citing only infection, removal problems, allergic reactions, granulomas, keloid formation, and MRI complications.[6] The job of testing and legislating the use of tattoo pigments in permanent cosmetics is left to the state.

In California, specific ingredients are prohibited and the state will even legally pursue companies who fail to disclose tattoo pigment ingredients to the consumer. They recently brought suit against nine pigment and ink manufacturers for inadequate labeling.[5]

What’s in a tattoo?

Without full disclosure of ingredients, it is impossible to know for sure what is in tattoo ink. Added to this, each color and each brand of ink has completely different ingredients, according to a 2005 study out of Northern Arizona University.[7]

The carrier solution itself might contain harmful substances such as denatured alcohols, methanol, rubbing alcohol, antifreeze, detergents, or formaldehyde and other highly toxic aldehydes.[3]

The oldest pigments came from using ground up minerals and carbon black. According to Wikipedia.org, a wide range of dyes and pigments are now used in tattoos “from inorganic materials like titanium dioxide and iron oxides to carbon black, azo dyes, and acridine, quinoline, phthalocyanine and naphthol derivates, dyes made from ash, and other mixtures.” Currently popular is Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS plastic), used in Intenze, Millenium and other ABS pigmented brands.[5]

The price of ignorance.

Although allergic reactions to permanent tattoos are considered rare given the number of tattoos applied yearly – in the neighborhood of 5 million [9] – they can occur, along with scarring, phototoxic reactions (i.e., reactions from exposure to light, especially sunlight), and other adverse effects. Many people have reported reactions to the intensely colored plastic-based pigments. There are also pigments that glow in the dark or in response to black (ultraviolet) light. Some of these pigments may be safe, but others are toxic and even possibly radioactive.[9]

Plastic-based inks (e.g., glow-in-the-dark ink) have led to polymerization under the skin, where the tattoo pigment particles converged into one solid piece under the skin.[9]

Allergic reactions have occurred with some of the many metals put into tattoo inks, nickel being one of the most common metal allergies.[8] Others have reacted to the mercury in red cinnabar, to cobalt blue, and to cadmium sulfite when used as a yellow pigment. Some inks were found to have high levels of lead, some contained lithium, and the blue inks were full of copper.[7] Allergic reactions may occur infrequently with permanent tattoos, but the long-term health effects are still unknown due to the lack of regulation, testing, and long-term studies.

In contrast to the low incidence of reported allergic reactions to permanent tattoos, however, certain temporary Henna tattoos have been very problematic. Henna tattoos that contain the dark brown dye para-phenylenediamine (PPD) can cause a delayed allergic reaction and subsequent PPD hyper-sensitization that may permanently prohibit one from using sulfa drugs, PABA sunscreens, benzocaine and other anesthetics, and hair dyes. Fragrance sensitization may occur, and in some cases, the reaction will include skin necrosis, scarring, and hypo-pigmentation. Analysis of henna dye used on persons who reported allergic reactions has shown the presence of toxic chemicals from hair and textile dyes, in addition to PPD.

The question of toxicity is multifaceted; there are others factors that may exponentially increase the serious health risks associated with tattooing. When alcohol is used as part of the carrier base in tattoo ink or to disinfect the skin before application of the tattoo, it increases the skin’s permeability, helping to transport more chemicals into the bloodstream. Alcohol also works synergistically with mutagens, teratogens, and carcinogens to make them even more harmful, increasing the chance that they may cause mutation or disease, both at the site of the tattoo and systemically.[3]

Other health risks.

In addition to allergic reactions and the unknown long-term health effects from the metal salts and carrier solutions that make up tattoo inks, there are other health risks involved. Skin infections, psoriasis, dermatitis and other chronic skin conditions, and tumors (both benign, and malignant) have all been associated with tattoos.

Due to the use of needles in tattoo application, there is also the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as tetanus, herpes simplex virus, staph, HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, and even Syphilis. And those with tattoos might not be able to get a life-saving MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test if they need one – some hospitals and testing locations will refuse to do an MRI on people with body tattoos due to the metal particles in the tattoo, which may cause a burning pain during the test.[10]

If you plan on having your tattoo removed, you should be aware that some of the pigments used (especially Yellow #7) are phototoxic and may break down into toxic chemicals in the body when removed with UV light or laser, common techniques used in tattoo removal. The toxic end-products eventually wind up in the kidneys and liver, adding to your total body burden.[5]

Think for yourself.

In an ideal world, the ‘trade secrets’ clause that allows companies to put profit over public health would be disallowed for all products used topically, transdermally, or ingested into our bodies.

However, in the absence of federal regulation to protect the consumer from unqualified tattoo artists, unhygienic tools and application methods, and highly toxic inks, the best advice for the youth of today is abstinence from tattoos. At the very least, one should find out if their state has any regulations on tattoo inks, and always ask to see the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for any pigment or carrier used to see basic health and safety information for the ingredients involved. Skin tests should be performed prior to tattoo application to see if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.

Although certain tattoo ink ingredients may be plant-based or otherwise considered safe and non-toxic, the truth is that no long-term studies have been performed confirming that they are safe to inject as a permanent cosmetic. Bottom line: don’t trust the government, tattoo ink manufacturers, or tattoo artists to give you accurate and complete information on the toxicity of the pigments and dyes being used – at least not just yet.

Sources:

1. The Harris Poll® #58, Harris Interactive, 2003

2. Sam Coates, “How Arsenal footballer was brought down by tattoo,” Times Online, 2005

3. Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., “Tattoo Ink Carrier Chemistry,” About.com

4. Workshop on “Technical/scientific and regulatory issues on the safety of tattoos, body piercing and of regulated practices”, European Commission, 2003

5. Tattoo, Wikipedia

6. Tattoos and Permanent Makeup, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2006

7. Emma Marris, Is tattoo ink safe?, BioEd Online

8. Tattoo Allergies, TattooInfo.net

9. Tattoo Ink, BMEZINE.com Encyclopedia

10. Kassidy Emmerson, The Deadly Dangers of Body Tattoos, Associated Content

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A frighteningly growing number of teens and young adults around the world are injecting dangerous chemicals under their skin in the name of art and self-expression. A trend that started growing in America and Europe in the early ’90s, tattooing soon became so popular.
The numbers have undoubtedly risen years since; tattoos are now well-entrenched in the mainstream.

Even the media regularly glorifies tattoo culture, as evidenced by reality TV shows like The Learning Channel’s Miami Ink and LA Ink, and Inked on A&E, as well as frequent magazine sightings of tattoo-sporting celebrities like Paris Hilton, David Beckham, and Angelina Jolie, and print ads featuring tattooed models and athletes, like Calvin Klein Underwear’s Fredrik Ljungberg (who, by the way, had a severe allergic reaction to his tattoos and had to have a lymph gland removed).

In the European Commission’s report on the health risks of tattooing, they note that close to 40% of organic colorants used in permanent tattoos in Europe are not even approved for use on the skin as a cosmetic ingredient and just under 20% of the colorants studied contained a carcinogenic aromatic amine. Many of the chemicals found were originally intended for use in writing and printer inks, as well as automobile paints.[4] These inks are injected deep enough into the skin that often tattoos will not even be destroyed by severe burns.

Without full disclosure of ingredients, it is impossible to know for sure what is in tattoo ink. Added to this, each color and each brand of ink has completely different ingredients, according to a 2005 study out of Northern Arizona University.
The carrier solution itself might contain harmful substances such as denatured alcohols, methanol, rubbing alcohol, antifreeze, detergents, or formaldehyde and other highly toxic aldehydes.

The price of ignorance.

Tattos can cause allergic reactions and the unknown long-term health effects from the metal salts and carrier solutions that make up tattoo inks, there are other health risks involved. Skin infections, psoriasis, dermatitis and other chronic skin conditions, and tumors (both benign, and malignant) have all been associated with tattoos.When your skin gets older tattoo looks bad.
Due to the use of needles in tattoo application, there is also the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as tetanus, herpes simplex virus, staph, HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, and even Syphilis. And those with tattoos might not be able to get a life-saving MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test if they need one – some hospitals and testing locations will refuse to do an MRI on people with body tattoos due to the metal particles in the tattoo, which may cause a burning pain during the test.

Although allergic reactions to permanent tattoos are considered rare given the number of tattoos applied yearly – in the neighborhood of 5 million [9] – they can occur, along with scarring, phototoxic reactions (i.e., reactions from exposure to light, especially sunlight), and other adverse effects. Many people have reported reactions to the intensely colored plastic-based pigments. There are also pigments that glow in the dark or in response to black (ultraviolet) light. Some of these pigments may be safe, but others are toxic and even possibly radioactive.

If you plan on having your tattoo removed, you should be aware that some of the pigments used (especially Yellow #7) are phototoxic and may break down into toxic chemicals in the body when removed with UV light or laser, common techniques used in tattoo removal. The toxic end-products eventually wind up in the kidneys and liver, adding to your total body burden.

Think for yourself.
In an ideal world, the ‘trade secrets’ clause that allows companies to put profit over public health would be disallowed for all products used topically, transdermally, or ingested into our bodies.

Do you still want or need a tattoo?

======================================================

New research has turned up troubling findings about toxic chemicals in tattoo inks, including carcinogens and hormone disruptors.

Inks, which are injected into the skin with small needles, have caused allergic rashes, chronic skin reactions, infection and inflammation from sun exposure, said Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C. A study published in July suggested that phthalates and other chemicals may be responsible for some of those problems.

That raises questions about more serious, long-term risks such as skin cancer, scientists say.

One of the chemicals found in black tattoo inks, benzo(a)pyrene, is a potent carcinogen that causes skin cancer in animal tests. Dermatologists have published reports in medical journals on rare, perhaps coincidental cases where malignant melanomas are found in tattoos.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration launched new studies to investigate the long-term safety of the inks, including what happens when they break down in the body or interact with light. Research already has shown that tattoo inks migrate into people’s lymph nodes.

For now, it’s unclear what, if any, long-term health risks are posed by tattoo inks.

More people inked

An estimated 45 million people in the United States, including 36 percent of adults in their late 20s, have at least one tattoo, according to estimates by the FDA and a Harris Interactive Poll.

Most customers are concerned with how the tattoo will look years down the road.

“People usually don’t come in worried about health concerns,” said Mario Delgado, owner of Moth and Dagger Tattoo Studio in San Francisco. “People are more concerned about getting a good tattoo.”

In July, German scientists reported that the chemical dibutyl phthalate, a common plasticizer, is found in black tattoo inks. In the study of 14 commercially available inks, they found low levels of the chemical in all of them and determined the substance could be the reason for adverse skin reactions.

With phthalates, which can mimic estrogen or disrupt testosterone, potential effects on fetuses and infants are the major concern. In infant boys, prenatal exposure to dibutyl phthalate has been linked to feminization of the reproductive tract.

But phthalates in tattoo inks may not carry the same risk.

“While this is a potential source of high exposure, it might not last very long and may not present a risk to health,” said Joseph Braun, an environmental epidemiologist at Harvard University.

Metals found as well

Heavy metals such as lead, which can harm the reproductive and nervous systems, also were found in a study of 17 different black inks from five manufacturers.

Colored inks often contain lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, titanium and other heavy metals that could trigger allergies or diseases, scientists say. Some pigments are industrial-grade colors that are “suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint,” according to an FDA fact sheet.

Black tattoo inks, which are usually made of soot, contain products of combustion called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, according to a 2010 study by the German scientists.

The PAHs in the inks include benzo(a)pyrene, which was identified in an Environmental Protection Agency toxicity report as “among the most potent and well-documented skin carcinogens.” It is so potent that it is routinely used in animal tests to grow tumors. It also has been linked to skin cancer in shale oil workers.

“Tattooing with black inks entails an injection of substantial amounts of phenol and PAHs into skin,” wrote the German scientists. They said the PAHs could “stay lifelong in skin” and “may affect skin integrity,” which could lead to skin aging and cancer.

Scientists are debating the possible tattoo-cancer link, based so far on a handful of malignant melanomas found in tattoos and reported in medical literature.

“Even though cases of malignancies such as melanoma, basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and keratoacanthomas have been reported for the past 40 years, it remains unclear what role tattoos play in their pathogenesis,” wrote scientists from France’s University of Montpellier in a 2008 study.

FDA’s role

The FDA has the power to regulate tattoo inks and any added colorings. But the agency has never flexed its regulatory power, citing lack of evidence of safety concerns and other priorities.

In 2003 and 2004, the FDA received its largest cluster of complaints, more than 150, from people on the giving and receiving end of tattoos. Since then, the FDA has begun more research on tattoo inks.

One major question investigated by the FDA is where does the ink go when the tattoo fades?

Preliminary results show that a common pigment in yellow tattoo inks, Pigment Yellow 74, may be broken down by the body’s enzymes, according to the FDA. Sunlight also breaks it down into colorless components of unknown toxicity. Also, when skin cells containing ink are killed by sunlight or laser light, the ink breakdown products could spread throughout the body.

Previous studies have shown tattoo inks move into the lymph nodes, but whether that is a health risk is not known, according to a 2009 FDA consumer update. Lymph nodes are part of the body’s system for filtering out disease-causing organisms.

Because of the chemicals involved, California’s Proposition 65 requires all tattoo shops to warn customers of exposure to carcinogens. The warning is included in the release forms that people must sign before getting tattooed in California.

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Tattoos Linked to Hard-to-Treat Bacterial Infection

Rachael Rettner
MyHealthNewsDaily
Wed, 10 Aug 2011 15:34 CDT
Print
Tattoo

© Dreamstime

A rare but difficult-to-treat bacterial infection that usually strikes people with impaired immune systems is showing up for the first time in healthy individuals getting tattoos, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today.

Two cases of skin infections caused by this bacterium, called Mycobacterium haemophilum, have occurred in individuals receiving tattoos in the Seattle area, the CDC said.

These bacteria are in the same family as those that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. Symptoms of the infection include small bumps at the site of infection, in addition to redness, pain, swelling and discharge, the researchers said.

The infection is not responsive to traditional antibiotic treatments, and even with the right drugs, can take months to heal.

Because of the rarity of the infections, tattoo aficionados shouldn’t be too worried, the researchers say.

But the researchers want to increase awareness of these infections so doctors know to look for them, said study researcher Meagan Kay, a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the public health department in Seattle and King County.

“Clinicians should consider this bacterium as a potential cause of skin infections in persons who have recently received a tattoo,” Kay said.

Mysterious infections

Kay and colleagues were asked to investigate a case of a 44-year-old man who developed a rash, then small bumps on his arm after getting a tattoo there in August 2009. The lesions remained for weeks after treatment with several antibiotics.

It wasn’t until months later that researchers figured out the man was infected with Mycobacterium haemophilum. Doctors then treated him with three different antibiotics simultaneously, but the infection still took about six months to heal.

A second case was also suspected, but not confirmed, at the same tattoo parlor. That patient had similar symptoms to the 44-year-old man.

The tattoo parlor was investigated, and was found to meet Washington State’s safety and sanitation standards.

Tap water was used to dilute tattoo ink, and may have been the source of the bacteria, the CDC said. While using tap water is not against standards, the researchers recommended tattoo artists instead use distilled or sterile water at all times.

Preventing infections

It’s not clear why these two people developed Mycobacterium haemophilum infections even though they had healthy immune systems, but it may be because tattooing breaks the skin, which is normally a barrier to infection, Kay said.

To avoid tattoo infections, consumers should make sure the tattoo parlor they go to has properly trained artists, is clean and uses sterile equipment, Kay said. People who believe their tattoo to be infected should consult with their doctor, she said.

The report is published in the September issue of the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Pass it on: Doctors should consider Mycobacterium haemophilum as a cause of skin infections in people who’ve recently received a tattoo.

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