vitamins and minerals

Tattoos – Your Health Is at Risk


The harmful side effects of tattoos are known, but are often overlooked. Many simply assume that the tattoo is safe due to its popularity. Others simply fail to do their research before being injected with dies, plastics and paints. Many think that since tattoo parlors are regulated, the ink should be, but that’s simply not true. The potential for infection with life-changing infections is also present. The greatest health risk is due to heavy metal poisoning from tattoo ink. There are things everyone should know before getting a tattoo. I will endeavor to inform you of the major risks.

Risks associated with tattooing can be described as skin related diseases, target organ diseases (liver, kidneys, brain) and heavy metal poisoning. There are ways to avoid these tattoo effects and I will share them with you. But first, let’s look at some statistics.

According to Statistic Brain (2016),
• Americans spend $1.655 billion on tattoos each year.
• Americans who have at least one tattoo total 45 million people.
• The percentage of people who regret getting a tattoo is 17%.
• The percentage of Americans who have a tattoo removed is 11%.

Why do people get tattoos?

These statistics are staggering numbers to me. It’s surprising that so many people want to risk their health for skin art. People are motivated to get tattoos for a variety of reasons ranging from wearing art on their skin, remembering a loved one, or to look sexy or dangerous. Motivation isn’t important to today’s topic, but I just wanted to give you some context.

The dangers of tattoo ink carriers

What are the dangers of wearing tattoo ink? Carriers are used to keep ink, plastic or paint evenly distributed during application and inhibit the growth of pathogens (bacteria/viruses). Please understand that these ingredients are not regulated for use in tattooing by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in most states.
• Ethyl alcohol – rubbing alcohol is for external use and should not be injected into the skin. It can cause skin dryness, irritation and can negatively affect the nerves.
• Glycerin – this is the sugar alcohol glycerol and can cause increased urination and diarrhea.
• Listerine – is an alcohol-based concoction of menthol, methyl salicylate, thymol (from thyme oil) and eucalyptol (a liquid derived from eucalyptus oil). It can cause skin irritation and localized allergic reactions.
• Propylene glycol – is the main ingredient in antifreeze that can damage your liver and kidneys.

The dangers of tattoo ink

It was just the carriers. What’s in each ink color? Many of these inks contain ingredients that you shouldn’t even apply to the skin, let alone inject into the lower layer of the skin. The epidermis is the outer layer of the skin which is made up of dead skin cells and acts as a bandage for the whole body. It protects us from bacteria and viruses. The dermis is the living skin below the epidermis. Things injected into the dermis can be carried away by the bloodstream to all parts of the body. This is why we catch infections when we have a cut or scrape on the skin. The protective epidermis is damaged.

What’s in the ink? Most inks contain acrylic resin (plastic molecules), but they also contain other ingredients. They are listed below by color according to Helmenstine (2017) and my own research.

• Black ink – Iron oxide (rust), charcoal or carbon – this is probably the least dangerous ink. The amount of iron oxide must be insufficient to cause iron toxicity. Ask the tattoo artist to use purified water as a carrier.
• Blue ink – Copper, carbonite (azurite), sodium aluminum silicate (lapus lazuli), calcium copper silicate (Egyptian blue), cobalt and aluminum oxides and chromium oxides. Copper can cause or contribute to heavy metal poisoning. Aluminum has been proven to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and gastrointestinal disorders.
• Brown ink – Iron oxide and iron ocher clay – this is probably as safe as black ink and for the same reasons.
• Green ink – Chromium oxide and malachite, lead chromate and the synthetic compound Cu phthalocyanine are used and only the first two are considered moderately safe. Lead chromate is derived from lead which is toxic even in low doses. Cu phthalocyanine is an unregulated copper compound and can cause skin and respiratory tract irritation.
• Orange ink – Disazodiarylide and/or disazopyrazolone and cadmium sulfate form orange ink. The first two are considered safe, but cadmium sulfate is considered toxic and possibly carcinogenic.
• Violet – Manganese Violet, Quinacridone and Dioxazine and the first of these is considered safe. Quinacridone is an FDA-approved food coloring, but has caused localized skin reactions.
• Red – Cinnabar, cadmium red, iron oxide and the pigment naphthol-AS are the various components of red ink. It is considered by most to be the most toxic color in tattoo ink. Cinnabar is derived from mercury sulfate and is devastating to the nervous system. Cadmium red is a known carcinogen. Naphthol-AS pigment is used in red paints.
• Yellow – Cadmium Sulfate, Ochre, Turmeric Yellow, Chrome Yellow and some are safe and some are not. Cadmium sulfate is derived from lead and is toxic. The yolk derived from the spice turmeric or yellow turmeric is considered safe. The problem with yellow is the volume that must be used to provide a vibrant yellow color, so local skin irritation often occurs.
• White – Titanium dioxide, lead white, barium sulphate and zinc oxide (what you smear on your nose at the beach). Titanium dioxide has caused cancer in laboratory animals. Lead white is considered a human carcinogen. Barium is derived from metallic barium and is used in barium swallows for gastrointestinal testing, but when injected can cause skin irritation.
• Phosphorescent ink – made up of toxic and, in some cases, radioactive compounds. Again, this is unregulated in most states.

Some of these compounds may be considered safe, but testing still needs to be done. Some of these compounds are toxic and can cause heavy metal poisoning when copper, lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and aluminum enter your bloodstream. Aluminum-based inks can also hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of these inks cause cancer and have known mutagenic properties (cause mutations and birth defects) according to Genser (2007). The FDA should regulate these inks, but in most states they are not. Most states have started to regulate tattoo parlors though and at least that’s a start.

The regulation of tattoo parlors has significantly reduced the rate of serious infection. The use of disposable needles has had a big impact. In the past, in unregulated tattoo parlors, the risk of contracting hepatitis B and C, HIV, tetanus, herpes, staphylococcus and syphilis was a real threat. Regulations and single-use disposable needles have eliminated this risk (provided the regulations are followed).

Another major concern with tattoo art is the fact that life-saving MRI scans cannot be performed in some cases. Indeed, the metals contained in the ink cause intense burning pain for the patient. This has prompted many radiology departments to refuse to perform MRI scans on tattooed patients, according to Grenser (2007). This could lead to misdiagnosis or the inability to diagnose.

There are safe tattoo inks that are ready to disclose their tattoo formulas. There are many more that are dangerous tattoo inks that are unregulated. Many manufacturers refuse to release the formula as secret proprietary information. Media used to evenly distribute ink can also be potentially dangerous. Inks or carriers are not regulated by the FDA and regulation of tattoo art is the responsibility of each state.


Tattoo at your own risk. Tattoos can be safe or dangerous depending on your preparation for tattooing. Talk to the tattoo artist. Ask them what carrier solution they use. Ask them what their ink is made of. Choose your colors by which colors are least toxic. Make sure the tattoo artist’s shop has a valid certificate from the Ministry of Health. Ask them for their hygiene score from the Ministry of Health. If you think you should get a tattoo, do your research and make an informed decision. Personally, I don’t recommend getting a tattoo. There is simply too much risk of minor irritations and lingering side effects like cancer, scarring, granulomas, infection, toxicity and infections, according to Mishra (2013). I don’t think it’s worth the risk, but it’s your body. Please just study and make an informed decision.

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