Is Tattooing Your Skin Safe ?

There is no such thing as a safe tattoo. There are a reasonable number of studies and case reports as to the adverse health effects of tattoos

Tattoos are one of the most popular and prevalent forms of body art now a days. The practice of tattooing is done since centuries old and is central to some cultures.
The early evidence of the practice has even been found in over 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummies and in 5,000-year “Iceman” corpses preserved in ice.

The practice of tattooing seems to have now become mainstream in now generation. Young adults and teens worldwide are having dangerous compounds and chemicals injected under their skin for the sake of body art or to cover medical conditions they tattoo vitiligo (a skin condition where there is loss of skin melanin pigment)

By 2003 it was projected that 36% of 25- to 29-year old in the world had at least one tattoo. That makes tattooing a pretty big business.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA), has not offered any guidelines or regulations for how tattoo parlors should operate in the market.

Their position has been: “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.” Therefore, if an establishment claims that their tattoo business or tattoo inks are approved or certified by the FDA, it is simply not true.

What Makes Tattooing dangerous?

Central to the issue is the ink that is used and no one is sure what is in the inks. Manufacturers are not bound to divulge the ingredients of their pigments, and mixtures may be considered trade secrets.

Many Professional tattoo ink pigments are made from plants, plastics, iron oxides, or metal salts etc. Homemade inks are made from dirt, soot, plants, pen ink, blood or an unknown array of other possible ingredients.

The ink that’s injected into the skin during a tattoo unleashes the body’s immune system to attack as the ink is the foreign invader.

That’s where lymph nodes,kidney bean-shaped glands scattered throughout the body containing disease-fighting lymphocytes and white blood cells come into the picture.

The lymph nodes actually get tinted with the pigments in a tattoo soon after a tattooing session, which is normal: Your body is just reacting to a foreign element in your system and wants to get rid of it.

The team of scientists wanted to figure out how lymph nodes react to tattoo ink. So they did a study, compared the tattooed skin of four donor corpses with the non-tatted skin of two other cadavers using x-ray fluorescence. The x-ray was meant to study how ink traveled from tattoos to neighboring lymph nodes, and what remnants, if any, remained.

The research team found that the tattooed bodies had higher levels of titanium dioxide, a major ingredient in tattoo pigments, in their skin and lymph nodes. That makes sense. But what they also found were infinitesimally tinier particles of titanium dioxide measuring in the nanometers — that’s about a billionth of a meter — deep within the lymph nodes.
That’s potentially worrisome. Titanium dioxide is a common chemical used in paints, cosmetics, sunscreen, and even foods. White pigmentation in commercial products is common, and titanium dioxide is a mainstay in this arena. In small doses, it’s not been shown to affect humans

Common Ingredients Of Tattoo Inks by Color:

Red: mercury, cadmium, iron, ferrocyanide, ferricyanide, naptha derived chemicals
Orange: cadmium, azo chemicals
Yellow: lead, cadmium, zinc, ferrocyanide, ferricyanide, azo chemicals
Green: lead, chromium, aluminum, copper, ferrocyanide, ferricyanide, azo chemicals
Blue: cobalt, copper, ferrocyanide, ferricyanide
Violet: aluminum, azo chemicals
Brown: iron, azo chemicals
Black: nickel, iron, carbon as soot or ash, black henna
White: lead, zinc, titanium, barium

Pigment Carriers

The Pigments are dissolved in a solvent to help “carry” the color from the needle to the skin. Carriers make ink application easier and help keep the ink mixed with the pigment and evenly distributed.
Typical carriers are some form of alcohol or aldehyde. Alcohol-based carriers increase the permeability of the skin, increasing absorption into the bloodstream. which results in more chemicals being absorbed into the bloodstream. Alcohol carriers are also known to amplify the carcinogenic effects of these tattoo inks.

Common Carriers

  • Water
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Methanol
    Rubbing alcohol
  • Propylene glycol
  • Glycerine
  • Formaldehyde
  • Other aldehydes

What Are The Ill Effects of Tattoo Ink Colors

The most side effects and adverse reactions are most common with red inks. Reactions are also prevalent with yellow inks.

Here are a few reasons you may avoid getting a tattoo:


Since tattooing needs usage of needles Your skin will naturally swell up after the pierces your skin , but that piercing means that the little holes in your skin are exposed to the air around you.

There is a very high risk of infection when proper precautions are not taken and even those who do apply the proper ointment and dressings can still get an infection.

The most common signs of infection include:

  • Spotty rash: sometimes red, sometimes white
  • Extreme redness 5 days after getting the tattoo
  • Extreme itching (healthy scabs will itch a little, apply more vaseline!)
  • Feels hot to the touch
  • Swelling 5 days after getting the tattoo
  • Oozing scabs (healthy scabbing is normal, oozing scabs are
  • not)
  • Blistering
  • Excessive oozing, pus, especially associated with pimple-like bumps
  • Foul odor
  • Red streaking on the skin around the tattoo (also known as blood poisoning)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (a sign your body is trying to fight infection)
  • Fever and tiredness

Allergic reactions

We already know that the chemicals that are used in the ink are dangerously harmful. we have no idea what’s in the ink used for your tattoo, much less how your body will react to it.

If you have sensitive skin or something in the ink causes your body to react negatively, you may find that your skin breaks out in a rash around the site of the tattoo. It can happen even years after the tattoo is done.

some sources suggest that most of the reactions are to the latex rather than the tattoo inks and recommend that clients ask tattoo artists to use non-latex gloves.


Granulomas are the skin condition where there are formation of little bumps of skin, as the skin cells mix with the pigment cells of the tattoo and clump together. They can be colorful-looking moles and can cause problems in your later years.


This is quite similar to granulomas, and they are caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue as your skin heals from the tattoo. These raised areas can be unsightly, and they may increase your risk of melanoma (skin cancer) as you age.

MRI Problems

When you go in for an MRI, the machine uses magnetism to take images of your body. This magnetism may cause the tattoo to swell up or burn, or the tattoo can interfere with the quality of the image taken. If there is any metal in the ink, you may even find that your tattoo fades with every MRI taken.


As with everything where a needle pierces your skin, there is always the risk that you will contract bloodborne diseases

If the needles are not clean or being used before to others who are diseased then you can get number of contagious diseases such as Hepatitis B and C or tetanus.
Infections such as HIV and hepatitis related to reused needles.(source) (source)


A 2006 study by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer showed that heavier doses in rats caused fatal lung cancers.

German clinicians report a case in JAMA Dermatology where a man wanted to have multicolored tattoos removed from his arms and chest.

Doctors noticed a suspicious-looking mole inside a tattoo on his right arm, which they recommended having removed before starting laser therapy but the man refused to have it excised and began laser therapy.

Forty-seven surgeries and seven years later, the mole had to be removed and was diagnosed as stage 2 melanoma (Type of skin cancer).

Tattoo ink may hide changes to moles, making it difficult to evaluate. The ink can also move into underlying tissues and resemble the spread of metastatic melanoma.

The laser removal therapy is problematic if you have moles because the lasers break up the pigment of the tattoo.Lasers break up pigment inside the tattoo. But it can also break up pigment inside a suspicious mole, making assessment of the mole difficult.

Effects Sweating

Tattoos may interfere with how your skin sweats – compared with non-inked skin, and showed that the tattooed skin releases about 50% less sweat.

We also found the sodium in sweat was more concentrated when released from tattooed skin in a research.

Our skin usually reabsorbs sodium and electrolytes released during perspiration, but he says tattoos may partially block this reabsorption.
It won’t really matter if you have a single small tattoo but if you have a large tattoo – particularly on your back, arms or other areas with many sweat glands – your body may struggle to cool itself down and hold onto nutrients.

Tattoo Removal

Tattoo removal is a costly and also a risky procedure. There are various procedures that can be used to remove the tattoo like

  • Dermabrasion (scraping of tattooed skin),
  • Acid treatment using tri-chloro-acetic acid (TCA),
  • Salabrasion using salt to remove the pigments and
  • Surgical excision were performed.

Now with the advancement in technology, laser removal of tattoos using Q-switched lasers are adopted.

But the tattoo removal may still be associated with marked amount of scarring and risk of infection and other complications.(source) (source)

Safety precautions for tattoos

These are various health hazards of having a tattoo done but still you want to get yourself tattooed that there are few things that you should follow.

  • The people with diabetes are traditionally discouraged from getting a tattoo is that higher blood sugars levels impair your body’s ability to heal properly, and can easily lead to an infection.
  • Get a tattoo from a licensed, reputable facility. Tattoo regulations and requirements vary by state, so check with your local department of health for the latest safety laws.
  • Needles and razors should not be reused. Make sure you observe your artist remove needles from a new, sealed package
  • Check to make sure your artist uses a fresh pair of gloves and washes their hands before starting the procedure.
    Work surfaces, chairs, and non-disposable equipment must be properly cleaned and sterilized between customers. Choose another facility if there’s evidence of poor sanitation.
  • The area of skin being tattooed should be swabbed with a disinfectant, such as rubbing alcohol, prior to tattooing.
    Fresh tattoos should be covered with sterile gauze or a bandage. Follow the artist’s instructions for caring for newly tattooed skin.

Caring for a tattoo

  • Keep new tattoos bandaged for 24 hours. Apply antibiotic ointment to your skin after removing the bandage.
  • Gently clean the tattoo with plain soap and water, and then pat dry.
  • Use a mild moisturizer on newly tattooed skin throughout the day.
  • Avoid direct sun exposure for the first few weeks.
    It’ll take up to two weeks for your skin to heal. You can reduce the risk of infection by not touching the tattoo until it heals.
  • Wash hands with warm water and antibacterial soap before touching or cleaning piercings.(source)

What can I do to lessen my exposure to toxins in tattoo inks?

Now there are many tattoo ink brands that are willing and able to tell you what is in their products. And they are made with safer ingredients.

A new ink called Freedom 2 Ink has recently earned FDA approval and may make tattoos less permanent. The ink is micro-encapsulated so that when laser energy hits the pigment, it is destroyed quickly.

Another way to stay safer is about the choosing of your artists wisely. Do your research and see what artists are conscious about their inks and willing to talk to you about it.

The best non toxic carriers to look for in ink ingredients are vegetable glycerin, witch hazel, water, or ethanol.
You can also avoid certain ingredients in ink pigments that are seen to be “riskier” than others.

Red pigment often causes the most skin reactions and is considered the most dangerous because it contains cadmium, mercury or iron oxide. Choose a red ink with naphthol instead.
Choose Carbazole or Dioxazine for this pigment, try to avoid manganese violet.
Choose Arylide or Tumeric based pigments.
Blue and Green:
Copper pthalocyanine pigments are the safest choice for both of these. Specifically Monoazo for green and sodium based for blue.
Just watch out for iron oxide.
Avoid animal based inks that are often referred to as “India Inks.” It is better to use black ink derived from logwood and magnetite crystals.

What the healthy healing process of a tattoo should look like

The normal healing process can be divided into stages like

  • Stage One (Days 1-6):

Oozing, swelling, and redness that gets better gradually over each day. Scabbing begins to form over the area.

  • Stage Two (Days 7-14):

Itching and flaking begin, and this continues until all layers of dead skin and scabbing have fallen off.

  • Stage Three (Days 15-30):

Tattoo looks fully healed but may look slightly cloudy for a few weeks. Deeper layers of skin are still repairing, so continue to look after your tattoo.



There is no such thing as a safe tattoo. There are a reasonable number of studies and case reports as to the adverse health effects of tattoos. It is better to avoid getting tattooed than to face health hazards

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Self life hacks

Doctor by profession and blogger by passion

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