By Dr. Stephen Moleski
Tattoos are a thing. People get them all the time. But are they healthy? If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo or may already have one, this article is worth reading. The FDA is seeing reports of people developing infections from contaminated inks, and even reacting to the inks themselves. There have been various recalls both in the US and in Europe on contaminated inks. Before you take the dive and get your favorite symbol embedded in your skin, there are a few things you should know about tattoo inks, and some good precautions to take to avoid adverse reactions.
Reactions can occur in various ways, and may manifest years down the road. Some more common ones are skin reactions to the inks themselves, with some colors being more offensive than others. These reactions include eczematous reactions either in the tattoo itself, or throughout the body. An eczematous reaction causes redness, swelling, and itching. Granulomatous reactions cause stiff, raised patches on the skin. These can occur in isolated spots throughout a tattoo, or can occupy an entire color. Phototoxic swelling is associated with certain colors and occurs when the tattoo is exposed to sunlight. Some reactions may even require that the tattoo be removed (which is not an inexpensive, pain-free, or guaranteed process). MRI scans can cause burning, stinging, or even redness in the tattooed area (this should be temporary).
Some individuals react to the inks because they are often derived from metals. I recommend that you know what you’re putting in your body – whether that’s food, supplements, medications, skin creams (yes, these get inside your body), or injections. If you’re considering getting a tattoo, here is some preliminary information about ink ingredients and reactions:
Make sure that the parlor you want to use is reputable. You can even check with the health department to see if there have been any claims in the past against them. Here are some questions worth asking: Do they make it a habit to use Universal Precautions as performed in a physician’s office? Are multi-use instruments sterilized by autoclave? Are all single-use items disposed of after each client? Does the artist wear gloves and sterilize surfaces with a viricidal/germicidal agent between clients? From an aesthetic point of view, have you checked the artist’s portfolio for sharp lines and smooth edges in the designs?
They say “a diamond is forever,” but a tattoo is for a lifetime, so make sure you carefully consider the benefits and risks before you decide to get inked.
*Dr. Stephen Moleski, D.C., is Clinic Director at Infinity Health in Tallahassee. He has been using an alternative healthcare approach for people suffering with chronic conditions for over 37 years. For more information, visit infinityhealth.us