tattoos

Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?

Some color inks are harder to remove than others. Many repeat visits every several weeks may be required to remove a tattoo, and it may never be entirely gone.

As the popularity of tattoos continues to grow, so does the concern about potential risks. Some risks, such as the spread of infections through the use of unsterilized needles, have long been known. But what isn’t clear is the safety of tattoo inks.

Permanent tattoos are made by using needles to inject colored ink below the skin’s surface. Permanent make-up is considered a permanent tattoo that mimics the results of cosmetic products such as an eyebrow pencil, lip liner, eyeliner, or blush.

While state and local authorities oversee the practice of tattooing, ink and ink colorings (pigments) used in tattoos are subject to FDA regulation as cosmetics and color additives. However, 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.

FDA has received reports of bad reactions to tattoo inks right after tattooing or even years later. Some people report itchy or inflamed skin around their tattoos in the summer when they’ve been out in the sun. Recent reports associated with permanent make-up inks have prompted FDA to study tattoo ink safety.

What Are the Risks?
* Infection – Dirty needles can pass infections, like hepatitis and HIV, from one person to another.

* Allergies – Allergies to various ink pigments in temporary tattoos have been reported and can cause problems.

* Scarring – Unwanted scar tissue may form when getting or removing a tattoo.

* Granulomas – These small knots or bumps may form around material that the body perceives as foreign, such  as particles of tattoo pigment.

* MRI complications – People may have swelling or burning in the tattoo when they have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This happens rarely and does not last long.

Permanence:

* Consider tattoos permanent. Removal is time-consuming, costly, and doesn’t always work. The most common method of tattoo removal is by laser treatment, which delivers short flashes of light at very high intensities to the skin to break down the tattoo ink. FDA allows several types of lasers to be marketed for tattoo removal. Some color inks are harder to remove than others. Many repeat visits every several weeks may be required to remove a tattoo, and it may never be entirely gone.

* Do not buy or order online do-it-yourself tattoo removal products. These acid-based products are not FDA-approved and can cause bad skin reactions.

* Consult your health care provider,not a tattoo parlor if you want a tattoo removed. The American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery can help you find a doctor experienced in tattoo removal.

Tips for Consumers:

* FDA has not approved any tattoo inks for injection into the skin, and many ink pigments used are industrial strength colors suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint.

* The use of henna in temporary tattoos has not been approved by FDA. Henna is approved only for use as a hair dye. Similar to other inks, the use of ultraviolet (UV) ink for glow-in-the-dark tattoos also has not been approved by FDA.

For more information on Tattoos, visit  FDA Consumer Health Information

Read a great article about Tattoos in the Globe and Mail.

Photo: FDA Consumer Health Information