After I was diagnosed with cancer, Tommie and I made a pact to get celebratory tattoos once I was put into remission. Because I named my first tumor Voldemort, I was planning on getting a Harry Potter lightening bolt tattoo (but not on my forehead). We now know that it’s unlikely that I will ever be cancer free, so that whole tattoo idea has faded away. And it’s a good thing it has!
While interviewing Dr. Tina Alster for an article I’m writing on wrinkle fillers and Botox, we took a detour to discuss her research on the rising concern over cosmetic tattoos. The most frightening issue is that none of the tattoo inks are regulated. Sure, they’re regulated for their original use as, say, ”printer ink or automobile paint,” but they are not FDA approved for injection into the skin.
Adverse reactions to tattoos have been on the rise in recent years, so there is increasing pressure on the FDA to step in. Traditionally, state and local health agencies have been the only ones to regulate tattoo parlors, but they have just focused on sanitation issues and setting age limits. Dr. Alster says much more needs to be done.
If you are considering getting a tattoo, consider these issues:
- You could develop tenderness and itching from an allergic reaction to the ink (not so bad, but keep reading).
- Some pigments, like pigment red 9, pigment red 22, and pigment yellow 74 “decompose into known carcinogens with exposure to light and laser irritation.”
- Lesions like sarcoidosis, B-cell lymphoma, melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have been linked to tattoos.
- MRIs can interact with the ink and cause skin irritation.
- The body absorbs the ink, so granules can migrate into lymph nodes. Beyond the terrifying idea that these toxins are leaving the skin and traveling through the blood system, the ink in lymph nodes can complicate a medical evaluation because they look like metastases on a scan.
I wore a belly button ring in college, so I get the desire to wear creativity on our bodies. Just know the risks. As it turns out, I’m a delicate little flower, and I had an allergic reaction to the ring. (Red and pussy is not the sexiest look.)
Health comes down to risk taking. I was willing to gamble that the parlor would use sterile needles if I went for my lightening bolt tattoo, but I’m not willing to gamble that my body won’t reject the ink or that it won’t cause some other kind of cancer. Hence, I’m no longer interested in getting a tattoo. To someone else, the body art is so meaningful that these possible side effects seem less important, and they will go for it.
I say to each his own, but there currently isn’t even a mandate to post a warning sign at tattoo parlors that the inks are not regulated. The FDA needs to do more.