FDA Warns About Tattoo Ink Infection RisksMay 6, 2016 — The FDA is warning about the risk of serious infections from non-sterile tattoo inks and needles, as well as bad reactions to ingredients in the ink.

In past decades, experts warned about unhygienic shops and non-sterile needles. Now, they are warning about infections from contaminated inks.

In the last few years, several infection outbreaks and recalls have been linked to tattoo inks that were contaminated with bacteria or mold. Using non-sterile water to dilute the ink is usually the problem, but not always.

There is no way to tell if ink is safe, even if the container is sealed. The ink can be contaminated at any point during the manufacturing process. The agency warns:

“Tattoo risks include scarring, allergic reactions, and infections from non-sterile needles and contaminated ink.”

The most common symptoms of a skin reaction include rash, redness, or bumps in the tattoo. In severe cases, victims develop a high-grade fever, shaking, chills, and sweats. They may need intravenous antibiotics, hospitalization, or surgery. Because ink is permanent, reactions may persist.

Another problem is toxic chemicals in tattoo ink, such as heavy metals, degradants, pH stabilizers, microbicides, and coating agents. There are case reports published in scientific literature of tattoo inks that contain everything from printer toner to car paint, according to the FDA.

Black dye in henna tattoos can also cause severe skin reactions. In a case report published by the British Medical Journal, doctors said a 10 year-old boy developed a painful allergic reaction from a temporary black henna tattoo.

The child was given intravenous antibiotics and topical treatments to bring down the swelling and inflammation. Unlike brown or red henna, black henna often contains a a dye called paraphenylenediamine (PPD). Serious skin reactions can cause permanent scarring.

In 2013, the FDA issued a Safety Warning about the risk of getting black henna tattoos, “especially during foreign travel, as this can make the tracing of the vendor and any subsequent public health management challenging.”

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