Tattoo health risks

Tattoo health risks include allergies, infection, scarring and granulomas.

Tattoo history

Tattoos seem to have originated in the polynesian societies. Today they are popular with young adults. According to NBC news, A third of those under age 30 have a tattoo (34 percent). One in five in this age group has three or more (19 percent).” Despite being popular though, there are still people who get tattoos and then regret them. If you find yourself in a similar boat then you can check out what Tattoo removal costs are here.

Tattoo Health Risk and Regulation

tattoo health risksWho regulates tattoos?

The FDA states, “While state and local authorities oversee the practice of tattooing, ink and ink colorings (pigments) used in tattoos are subject to FDA regulation as cosmetics and color additives. However, because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them.”

Tattoo health risks

No one is sure about the long term effects of tattoo ink.

tattoo ink has been found in surrounding lymph nodes but it is unclear whether this poses any health threats.

There have been reports of,


Anytime there is violation of the skin there is a risk of infection. Tattoos penetrate the skin so there is a risk of infection.

Needles and equipment should be sterile, if they are not this further increases the risk of infection. If the equipment used to create your tattoo is contaminated with infected blood, you can contract various bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis B and  C.

The skin should be prepped with a disinfectant to decrease the risk of infection.


allergic reactions can occur with different tattoo inks.


scarring such as keloids can occur after tattoo placement. This is especially true  if you are prone to  poor scarring.


Lumps called granuloma. Granulomas occur when your body reacts to a foreign substance.

MRI risks

An MRI is an imaging study that uses magnets. Some tattoo inks have heavy metals that interact with the MRI machine and causes swelling.

Are tattoos FDA approved?

The FDA states,

  • “FDA has not approved any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This applies to all tattoo pigments, including those used for ultraviolet (UV) and glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint.
  • The use of henna in temporary tattoos has not been approved by FDA. Henna is approved only for use as a hair dye.

Health risks of tattoo ingredients

What are the ingredients of tattoo ink. It is difficult to say what the ingredients are as they are part of the company’s trade secrets. Here are a few ingredients that have been found in tattoo pigment. Some of these ingredients are known to have health risks.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals have been found such as “lead, antimony, beryllium, chromium, cobalt nickel and arsenic”-reference Scientific American


Phthalates have been found in tattoo ink which can act as endocrine disruptors. Reference NIH


Polyhydrocarbons have been found in tattoo ink. There is concern that polyhydrocarbons can affect different organ systems and may be carcinogenic. Reference CDC

Health Risks of tattoos and decreased sweating

Tattooed skin sweats less. “Tattooed skin generated less sweat and a higher Na (sodium) concentration than non tattooed skin when stimulated by pilocarpine iontophoresis.” 

tattoo health risk and skin cancer
Time reported on a case where melanoma was seeded, “the man likely had an existing melanoma that his tattoo artist hit with his red ink needle. The artist may have then “seeded” other portions of the man’s skin with malignant cells”

Post care of a tattoo to decrease the risk of


  • Remove the bandage after 24 hours and clean the area with a gentle soap
  • Bacitracin can be placed over the tattoo.
  • The skin has been damaged, it is important to avoid the sun.
  • You may notice some scabbing, the scabs should not be picked.
  • If you notice redness that is increasing and the area is painful to touch you should seek medical attention.

Health risks of tattoos and permanent make-up

Permanent makeup is also a form of tattooing. Permanent ink is used to mimic the look of eyeliner, lip liner or  eyebrow pencil. There can be color changes with permanent make-up, the ink fades and turns different colors, “Black brown pigments will serve the eyebrow client much better than a straight black because straight black may fade to blue or gray tone overtime.  The most commonly requested color correction for an eyebrow is the one that has faded to an orange, gray or blue tone.  Rarely will you see green (however not impossible) because of the warmth factors of the blood flow in the forehead area and occasionally you will see a pink or violet residual eyebrow that requires correction.” Source The Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professional

tattoos health risks with procedures

Is it safe to perform a procedure through a tattoo?

There is a tattoo health risk when performing procedures through tattooed skin. There is concern about introducing inked skin into the spinal space. An article published in American Association of  Nurse Anesthetists noted, “Channeling and transfer of bacteria, cells, and potentially pigments can occur with needle puncture of the dermis.” Long term affects performing procedures through inked skin is unclear but it is recommended to avoid procedures in tattooed skin when possible.

Transfer of tattooed skin is a concern for different procedures. For example, an epidural injection is given in the same location as a lower back tattoo is placed. You would not want to risk transfer of bacteria and potentially harmful pigments.

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