Toxic Chemicals in Tattoo Inks Linked to Chronic Health Problems

Tattoos are more popular than ever before – assumably to communicate aΒ rebellious nature to society -, and it is estimated that over 200 million people today are tattooed. But there are much better ways to showcase our uniqueness.

Tattoo ink can be a major contributor to chronic illness, largely due to the toxic chemicals, and even nano-particles, they contain, and there are very real risks involved in embedding these potentially toxic chemicals under our skin. And you really don’t need a tattoo to show that you’re different!

There are a number of links between tattoos and especially autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, and while many doctors may recognise this in their patients, there is little public awareness of the connection.

The biggest problem is that tattooing is unregulated, resulting in a wide-range of products being used, with little awareness by the consumer and tattoo artist.

Different colours of ink carry their own, different risks, depending on ingredients. We also still don’t know how tattoo inks react and break down in the body, or how light and magnetism react with them.

β€œTattoo inks are solutions comprised of a carrier and a colorant. The carrier is the fluid that is used to transport the colorant to the application location. It may contain glycerin, water, isopropyl alcohol and witch hazel.

Tattoo colourants are typically pigments β€” intensely coloured compounds that can reflect light in the visible region of the light spectrum β€” as opposed to dyes, which require a physical or chemical interaction to be anchored into place. In other words, dyes must react with the surface of the skin to develop their colour and stay in place. Conversely, pigments provide colour without needing a chemical reaction, and are held in place by intermolecular or physical forces.

Historically, pigments used in tattoo inks were derived from mineral or geological sources to produce certain colours and hues. For example, carbon (carbon black) and iron oxide were used to produce a black ink. Cinnabar, a mercury sulfide compound, was used to produce red hues. Cadmium compounds, such as β€œcadmium red (CdSe)” or β€œcadmium yellow (CdS or CdZnS),” were used to produce shades of red, orange, and yellow.

For the last 20 years, ink manufacturers have moved away from primarily mineral-based pigments to organic ones. Over 80% of the colourants used today are carbon-based, and approximately 60% of these organic pigments are azo pigments. About 30% of the pigments and dyes are approved for cosmetic use, while a number of others were originally developed for industrial applications, like paints or textiles.

Tattoo inks also include a number of additives, such as surfactants, binding agents, fillers, and preservatives. Many of these additives are employed to keep the pigments in a uniform suspension to avoid microorganism growth in the product after opening.” (Know More.)

Researchers state, β€œTattoo inks are typically composed of negligibly soluble or insoluble pigments, dispersants in which the pigments are suspended and other additives for preservation or to alter the viscosity of the ink”. Although some contemporary inks can contain organic pigments, coloured ink conventionally contains metals. Because other industrial applications of tattoo inks include paint and printing, they can harbor up to 10% impurities. Further, studies show that the β€œvast majority of tested tattoo inks contained significant amounts of NPs [nanoparticles],” which are associated with a litany of ill health effects. Know More

Regarding colored inks, Le Vere comments on a pubmed study which states that, β€œthe majority of tattoo ink is industrial-grade color intended for use as printer ink or automobile paint.”

Colored pigments, on the one hand, can decompose following light exposure into dangerous aromatic amines which are subsequently disseminated throughout the body and accumulate in lymphatic system, interfacing directly with components of the immune system . In a recent study, the levels of genotoxicity (DNA damage) and oxidative stress (inflammatory) pathways induced by red and yellow tattoo ink were particularly troublesome, as they generated the greatest response . Another study by Falconi and colleagues (2009) found that red tattoo ink significantly reduced viability of fibroblast cells, which are responsible for production of the extracellular matrix that provides the structural framework for tissues .

When exposed to natural or ultraviolet light, azo pigments contained within red and yellow inks have been demonstrated to emit hazardous compounds, and they also have been shown to contain the probable human carcinogen 3,3-dichlorobenzidine as an intermediary in their production .” (Know More.)

Black inks contain an entirely different set of issues based on their most likely ingredients.

β€œBlack inks… predominately consist of soot products, are also problematic. Carbon black in black ink is derived from the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons, which accounts for its polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) content. PAHs represent ubiquitous pollutants derived from the burning of organic materials such as wood, petrol, oil, and coal, which elicit well-defined carcinogenic (cancer-causing), mutagenic (DNA-altering), and toxic effects.

One toxic ingredient found in black tattoo ink, hexachloro-1,3-butadiene (HCBD), is a byproduct of manufacturing processes for chlorinated solvents, and has a history of use as a fumigant or pesticide. It has been shown to perpetuate skin, kidney, and liver damage in rodent studies. 9-fluorenone, acquired from coal tar, has likewise been found in black tattoo ink and may cause phototoxic reactions, or chemically induced skin irritation following sunlight exposure. (Know More.)

Le Vere’s full analysis can be found at Green Med Info, but the general health warning is that tattoo inks are provided by a sector of the cosmetics industry which is unregulated and, therefore, standards and quality vary widely. Toxic ingredients are quite common, and depending on what type of inks the consumer uses in a tattoo may have long-ranging effects on their health, and this is not often considered when the decision to get tattooed is made.

If you already have a tattoo, I highly recommend following a proper detoxification protocol.

And should you have any tattoo regrets, there are laser treatments with different wavelengths to remove different colours. However, although laser technology has greatly improved in the recent years, the process still takes multiple treatments and can be quite painful.

But that’s how we learn and grow πŸ™‚

This content was inspired by an article that can be found here.

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