When safety standards are followed, tattoos are usually trouble-free. But tattoos can pose health risks that many people might not consider.
Unsterilized tools or contaminated ink can lead to infection, scarring, blood-borne diseases and other, less-obvious issues.
Contaminated inks were the cause of an outbreak of serious infections in four states in late 2011 and early 2012. Last month, a California company, White and Blue Lion Inc., recalled inks in in-home tattoo kits after testing confirmed bacterial contamination in unopened bottles.
Ingredients in tattoo ink vary, but they can contain metals, powders or other organic compounds in a liquid base. Problems can range from allergic reactions to scarring and the formation of bumpy knots called granulomas, more common in people with darker skin. The long-term effects of ink are still unknown.
When you get a tattoo, you bleed. Anything in contact with the tattoo — bacteria, viruses — can get into the wound and your entire body.
MRI patients should notify their radiologist that they have a decorative or permanent tattoo so that the appropriate precautions can be taken.
Tattoos can also prevent the early detection of skin cancer by camouflaging changes in asymmetry, borders, color and diameter. The ink from the tattoo can mask changes in the mole.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates tattoo ink but considers it a cosmetic and intervenes only when problems arise. The FDA has not actually approved any tattoo ink, and there is no specific requirement that explicitly says tattoo inks must be sterile.
The easiest — and most important — way to avoid becoming a tattoo horror story is to research the tattoo parlor and review your personal health history ahead of time.