Getting permanently inked? Know the health risks of tattoos

Decided the design of your permanent tattoo? You should know the health risks of tattoos before getting inked.
Woman with a tattoo thinking
Know the health risks associated with tattoos. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 13 Mar 2024, 03:15 pm IST
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Permanent tattoos are often an extension of personal expression. It can be to express their love for their family, a quotable quote they believe in or a symbol close to their heart. But before you choose to get a tattoo, make sure you know the health risks involved in getting inked. It is not just the hygiene bit you should be concerned about. Tattoos have been linked to cancer, skin irritation, stomach cramps and more. Read on to know how tattoos can affect your health.

What are the tattoo health risks?

A study published in the journal Analytical Chemistry in February 2024 revealer potential health risks linked with tattoos. Nine major tattoo ink brands in the U.S were examined for this study. The researchers found that out of the 54 inks that were studied, 45 of them had undisclosed additives or pigments that could pose health risks. Polyethylene glycol, one of the additives, may cause stomach cramps, flatulence, diarrhea and swollen abdomen. The other potentially dangerous ingredient found in the ink was the chemical 2-phenoxyethanol. High doses of it can lead to skin irritation, kidney and nerve damage.

Side view of a woman with a tattoo
Tattoos can lead to skin infections. Image courtesy: Freepik

Here are some more health risks:

1. Infections

While getting a tattoo made, needles and sharp instruments are used to introduce the pigment into the dermal layer. So, you can end up with infections like pyoderma and bacterial infections, says dermatologist Dr Raina N. Nahar. If hygiene practices are not followed, you can introduce life threatening infections like HIV.

2. Fluid accumulation

Seroma or fluid accumulation may happen after a tattoo. It is a clear fluid that gets collected under the skin. It usually drains out by itself or needs to be done by a medical expert.

3. Allergic reaction

Some people may be allergic to the metal like mercury and lead or the colour pigment present in the dye. So, there may be allergic reactions, says the expert.

4. Keloid scar

Some experience a thick raised scar because of the trauma to the skin. If you are prone to developing keloids, you should be more careful, especially if you are getting a tattoo made on a large area.

5. Irritation during an MRI

Tattoos can cause skin irritation and burning during a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This can happen because the pigment has iron ferrous oxide that can make it uncomfortable during an MRI.

You must follow safety guidelines if you wish to get a tattoo. You need to shower well and keep your skin clean. Also, if there is any medical condition or infections, you should disclosed them prior to getting a tattoo done.

Woman flaunting her tattoo
Red ink has been linked to cancer. Image courtesy: Freepik

Which tattoo colour to avoid?

Red ink should be avoided because they have high levels of mercury and iron oxide, says Dr Nahar. It can result in severe skin reactions. Reds may also be harmful because it may be carcinogenic.

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A study was done on mice, and it was found that the combination of ultraviolet radiation and red tattoos may be linked with increased risk of skin cancer due to potential carcinogens in tattoo inks. According to the study published in the Experimental Dermatology in 2017, when mice with red tattoos were exposed to UVR, they showed faster tumor onset.

When to see a doctor?

You should reach out to a doctor in case of redness, tattoo reactions and allergies. If there is itching, rash, or fluid accumulation, check with a dermatologist.

Tattoo aftercare

Tattoo aftercare should not be ignored at any cost.

  • Avoid swimming for at least two weeks
  • Try to stay away from direct sun exposure
  • Clean the area where tattoo is made with a mild cleanser
  • Apply an antibiotic cream and a moisturiser in the area at least two times a day for a week or 10 days

These tips will help in preventing infections and taking better care of your tattoo.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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