A recent study at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has raised a red flag in the tattoo industry and left many wondering just how safe it really is to get inked.
The study found that some tattoo ink, largely imported from the United States, contained heavy metals, bacteria, and harmful chemicals.
With as many as 1 in 3 people partaking in permanent paint jobs on their bodies, the dangers of tainted tattoo ink have reached monumental proportions.
The report found that tattoo ink might contain heavy metals like lead, nickel, or even arsenic. They also found organic compounds and bacteria in up to 10% the inks tested. The ink was also found to contain preservatives and other harmful chemicals.
After the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre published the initial report, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) was brought in to help with additional tattoo ink testing. They found that tattoo inks may contain a variety of chemicals, including some known for causing cancer, genetic mutations, and other medical problems.
Even the FDA is largely in the dark about tattoo ink. Their current strategy is to treat tattoo ink like any other cosmetic product. They only investigate reported problems and do not proactively test for potentially harmful substances at the factory. A bottle of tattoo ink has no guarantee of being sterilized before it is filled.
The FDA conducted a voluntary recall of tattoo ink from manufacturer A Thousand Virgins last August in the United States. The ink was found to contain bacteria that could lead to infections and other complications. Before that, White and Blue Lion recalled their inks and equipment over a sepsis contamination scare. There have also been other recalls in the past few years in both the United States and Europe that very few people know about.
The permanent makeup industry is just as vulnerable to this threat. The permanent makeup industry uses the same equipment and ink that faces almost no regulation in the tattoo industry. Even squeaky clean, upscale salons specializing in permanent makeup could potentially use ink that is laden with harmful chemicals and bacteria.
Getting a deadly bacterial infection isn’t the only risk associated with getting inked. An allergic reaction, itchiness, inflammation, or even small knots forming on the skin are all too common. Even if your reaction to the ink isn’t life threatening it can certainly be painful and irritating.
There are a few things you can do to mitigate potential problems associated with tainted tattoo ink. The first thing you can do is avoid unlabeled tattoo ink and determine the manufacturer of the ink just in case of problems. The second most important thing is going with a licensed artist who practices proper sanitary precautions. Lastly, check your newly inked tattoo carefully and contact a doctor if you notice a rash or other skin reactions.
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