May 10, 2017 — Federal safety officials have updated warnings about the risks of getting a tattoo after receiving hundreds of reports of infections and other adverse events.
The FDA issued a consumer warning to “Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?”
About 30% of people have at least one tattoo, according to a 2015 Harris Poll survey cited by the FDA. The agency received 363 reports of adverse events from 2004 to 2016, which likely vastly under-estimates the actual number of people who experienced problems.
Tattoo infections can occur as a result of unhygienic practices or non-sterile equipment. Infections can also be caused by moldy tattoo ink.
Moldy ink may be a manufacturing problem or the tattoo artist using non-sterile water to dilute the ink. There is no easy way to tell if ink is contaminated, even if the container is sealed and it is marked “sterile.”
Inks and kits sold as “do-it-yourself” to consumers have been associated with infections and allergic reactions. There have been several recalls for contaminated inks in recent years.
Infections can cause a rash, redness, or bumps in the area of the tattoo, as well as a fever:
“More aggressive infections may cause high fever, shaking, chills, and sweats. Treating such infections might require a variety of antibiotics—possibly for months—or even hospitalization and/or surgery.”
The rash may also be an allergic reaction. Because the inks are permanent, the side effects may persist. This can cause disfigurement of the tattoo or “granulomas,” which is scar tissue or small bumps that form around foreign material that the immune system attacks.
There are no FDA-approved pigments for injection into the skin. Studies have found that some inks contain pigments that are also found in car paint, printer toner, or hair dye. No one knows the risks.
Tattoo ink may also contain other ingredients like p-phenylenediamene (PPD) or metals that cause swelling and burning sensations when people undergo a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
There may also be risks from the ink breaking down over time, or after laser treatment to remove a tattoo. Furthermore, tattoo removal may leave scarring and complete removal is not guaranteed.
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