Prevention Wellness

Shocking Tattoo Truths: Hidden Dangers Cause Serious Organ Damage

Before deciding to get a tattoo, most individuals anticipate some level of discomfort during the process and temporary soreness as the area heals afterward. However, recent research from Binghamton University in New York suggests that, beyond these expected concerns, unlisted ingredients in tattoo ink could pose health risks. Published in Analytical Chemistry on Feb. 22, the study, led by John Swierk, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry at Binghamton University, examined 54 inks from nine common U.S. brands. Alarmingly, around 83 percent of these inks contained unlisted additives and pigments, according to the findings.

The study identified poly(ethylene glycol) as one of the more troubling additives present in over half of the inks. Repeated exposure to this additive can cause organ damage. Furthermore, 15 of the 54 inks included other concerning substances such as the potential allergen propylene glycol, an antibiotic used for treating urinary tract infections, and 2-phenoxyethanol, which can pose health risks for nursing infants.

The research did not determine whether these unlisted ingredients were intentionally added or if manufacturers received contaminated materials or incorrect labels. The hope is that these findings will encourage manufacturers to reevaluate their processes, leading to improved labeling and manufacturing practices in the tattoo industry. Swierk emphasized the importance of addressing these deficiencies and empowering both tattoo artists and clients.

Tattooing carries inherent risks due to the breaking of the skin, including allergic reactions and potential skin infections resulting from contaminated ink or equipment. The safety implications of tattoos are still an ongoing area of research, with red pigment being particularly problematic. While state and local authorities oversee tattooing practices, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only recently gained jurisdiction over inks and pigments through the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act (MoCRA) passed in 2022.

The study, the first to explicitly examine inks sold in the United States comprehensively, has the potential to influence discussions around MoCRA. The research focused on substances with higher concentrations, specifically 2,000 parts per million (ppm) or more. In Europe, where regulations are more stringent, substances are assessed at lower concentrations, around 2 ppm. Consequently, there might be even more substances in U.S. ink that researchers couldn’t identify due to the higher threshold. The study aims to empower tattoo artists and clients by highlighting deficiencies in manufacturing and labeling. Selina Medina, director of research at the Alliance of Professional Tattooists Association (APT), advises artists to be aware of potential mislabeling and familiarize themselves with FDA regulations and guidelines.

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