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The Dangers of Tattoos

Updated on February 23, 2013
David Beckham's Back Tattoos
David Beckham's Back Tattoos | Source

The Dangers of Tattoos

(From a medical and health perspective)

The tattoo trend started about 20 years ago in America and Europe. Today it has become a worldwide craze. Furthermore, the media glorifies the tattoo culture through such TV programs as Miami Ink, LA Ink, Inked, etc. We have tattoo sporting celebrities like David Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and a host of other tattooed models and athletes.

It is estimated that 20% of all Americans are tattooed. 30% of teens and twenties are tattooed. Tattoos are a fast-growing retail business, and tattoo shops are springing up every day. The word ‘tattoo’ is one of the most searched words on Internet search engines.

Tattooing was originally banned by Western culture. Popular in tribal societies, it was considered a vile heathen practice, having its roots in superstition, pagan worship and magic rituals. Sailors in the past wore tattoos as good luck charms against drowning at sea. Later on, tattoos became signs of rebellion – and gangsters, heavy metal rockers, hells angel bikers, criminals and the social outcast sported skulls, snakes, lewd women and flames. Tattoos were also used as homage to departed ones or as commitment to a partner. Today, not only celebrities sport tattoos, but even Christians has embraced tattoos through the Christian rock music community and Christian tattoo shops.

This article is basically written from a medical point of view. First and foremost, it is to be noted that there is no federal regulation. The FDA stands as a mute spectator to what is going on in the tattoo industry. Shockingly, under the proprietary trade secrets clause, companies need not disclose the ingredients that compose tattoo ink. In other words, no one knows how many dangerous chemicals are injected under the skin in the name of art and self-expression.

Here are some facts:

i. 40% of the organic colorants used in tattoos are not approved as cosmetic ingredients.

ii. 20% of colorants contain a carcinogenic aromatic amine.

iii. Tattoo inks contain mutagenic chemicals (that cause mutations); teratogenic chemicals (that cause birth defects) and carcinogenic chemicals (that cause cancer). Tattoo inks permeate into the blood and cause biochemical reactions in the body.

iv. The carrier solution used in tattoo inks contains harmful substances such as denatured alcohols, methanol, antifreeze, detergents, formaldehyde and toxic aldehydes.

v. Alcohol increases the skin’s permeability, causing more chemicals to be transported into the blood stream.

vi. A wide range of dyes and pigments are used in tattoos, such as ABS plasic. Plastic based inks (which glow in the dark) cause polymerization, where the pigment particles converge into one solid piece under the skin.

vii. Yellow #7 pigment is phototoxic and breaks down in the body when removed with UV light or laser.

viii. Many metals in the tattoo inks, such as nickel and mercury, cause metal allergies.

ix. The FDA lists potential tattoo risks as – infections, allergies, granulomas*, keloid formation**, MRI complications. But does not include the more serious risk of cancer caused by radio-active pigments. The skin infections include psoriasis, dermatitis, tumours (benign and malignant).

(*Granulomas are small knot-like protuberances made up of a mass of tissue, when the body rejects the tattoo as a foreign object and forms nodules around it.)

(**Keloids form usually when the tattoos are removed. The scars grow beyond their natural boundaries and form keloids.)

x. One of the most dangerous facts is regarding the use of needles (unhygienic or otherwise) in tattoo application. Not only does this cause tetanus, herpes simplex virus, staph, hepatitis B & C, syphilis, but there have been cases of HIV/AIDS being transmitted through the use of these needles.

xi. Laser removal of tattoos can be very expensive. It may cost $1000 to remove a tattoo that cost $50. There are five methods to remove tattoos, including using a laser to break up tattoo pigments; surgical removal that involves cutting the tattoo away; sanding the skin with a wire brush to remove the epidermis and dermis layers in a process called dermabrasion; using a salt solution to soak the tattooed skin (salabrasion); and scarification, removing the tattoo with an acid solution to form a scar in its place. But none of these methods are perfect, and evidence of the tattoo remains in the skin throughout life.

xii. Tattoos and piercings which have become a world-wide craze are indicative of a psychology of self-mutilation, defiance (rebellion; anti-establishment attitude), independence (doing things one's own way; extreme 'self-expression'), and 'belonging' ('belonging' as for example in prison or criminal gang cultures).

xiii. A new term has been coined recently - 'tattoo regret'. It is a fact that more than 70% of those who have had tattoos in teenage or the early twenties have regretted them later on.

A casual visit of a customer to a tattoo shop would not really reveal how clean and sterile the environment is. It is to be noted that tattoo shops are not required to follow the same sterilization practices as other places that use needles, such as hospitals and doctors' offices. Unqualified tattoo artists, unhygienic tools, highly toxic inks –can cause not just long-term damage and scarring of the skin, but also irreversible toxic biochemical reactions within the body.

Tattoo regret is eternal regret.

© Pratonix

Cartoon by Baldwin
Cartoon by Baldwin | Source


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    • jlpark profile image

      Jacqui 4 years ago from New Zealand

      You write from a health perspective with...what evidence of your medical or health training? Or merely your bias against tattoos due to your FAITH? Whilst you are completely entitled to your beliefs on tattoos, and to your faith - you cannot implicitly state that it is from a medical perspective.

      Firstly - Legal tattoo parlours in any country have to follow sanitation standards. If you choose to go into a back alley pop-up tattoo store - expect to get something. If you do your research, and go to a reputable studio, with well known artists (and apprentices) - you will be fine.

      Secondly - ALL of these also have to comply with consent standards - in New Zealand - most will not tattoo you if you have been drinking as your judgement is impaired. MOST will insist you have an appointment which could be weeks into the future (the longer usually the better the artist - busy busy!). That way no impulse tattoos.

      Thirdly - As a nurse, I have medical training, and know about sterilisation and infection control. The sterilisers used by REPUTABLE tattooists - if they don't use disposable needles - are similar grade to medical sterilisers.

      What one needs to do is THEIR RESEARCH. If you make rash decisions, then you will reap the consequences. If you research what you are doing re: tattoos and the artist you wish to use - you will be better off.

      If your faith denouces tattoos - thats easy...DONT GET ONE.

      Those of us with tattoos - yup, nurses, doctors, scientists, lawyers, midwives, police officers, judges, etc etc - are not tramps, sluts, or anything of the sort.

      Judge lest ye be judged, Sir....or did you miss that bit?

    • profile image

      laura-lu 5 years ago

      sorry DJ but you cant say everyone with a tattoo has one of them traits, i have a tattoo and i am about to get a second, im 18 and i volunteer in three primary schools teaching choir and go on christian pilgrimages every year to help the elderly make their way around, i am in college and about to go to university to study psychology an become a clinical psychologist, so i believe youre definately wrong in your statement. how narrow minded can you be?

    • profile image

      Rusty 7 years ago

      after reading the article i have only one thing to say .Your a wanker did u get smacked by your mum for drawing on your arm as a kid is that your problem

    • profile image

      Beau 7 years ago

      I am a microbiologist, and I have tattoo's. I can state from my own observations, and from the laws that I know tattooists are required to comply with ( that while the sterile technique used in a tattoo parlour is not quite as rigorous as I personally use in my own laboratory (due to my fastidious nature) it is acceptable for a laboratory space.

    • Pratonix profile image

      Pratonix 7 years ago from Asia

      Souen, God's love is different from human love. God's love is a robust love. God's love is centred on TRUTH. And the TRUTH is tattoos are evil, Lev 19:28. There is overwhelming medical, psychological, historical, social and spiritual evidence regarding the Dangers of Tattoos.

    • profile image

      Souen 7 years ago

      "...Going to raise the hackles of the tramp stamp ratty tatty tattoo-ed!"

      Isn't God supposed to be love?

    • Pratonix profile image

      Pratonix 7 years ago from Asia

      DJ, you've been very bold and truthful. Your comments are going to raise the hackles of the tramp stamp ratty tatty tattoo-ed!

    • profile image

      TiredofNarcissists 7 years ago

      DJ, you've seen tens of thousands of patients with tattoos? Where do you find the time? Not to mention finding the time to do a full medical and psychological work-up on all of them. Very impressive. I put myself through college and established a career; my spouse did the same. Now we have three kids, all who are doing fantastic in school and behaviorally. We own our own home, have no debt, have perfectly clean records. Most of our social circle is the same. Is this a good enough description of an upstanding citizen for you? Pretty basic, I'd say. I have three tattoos. My husband has two. Of my social circle I can think of only one person who doesn't have them.

      Your comment is baseless, biased, and ignorant. These stereotypes are outdated, and no better than racism or religious hate. Even if the people you've come across fill the stereotype, do you really believe your experience applies to the rest of humanity? Even the rest of the United States? Shame on you.

    • profile image

      DJ 7 years ago

      Again, I've seen 10's of thousands of patients with tattoos and for the most part, the author is correct. People who tattoo themselves risk getting diseases (I've seen it a few times) but getting a tattoo is not any more dangerous than unsafe sex. The BIGGEST thing about getting a tattoo is wanting it removed later - tattoo regret. Just like the author stated. I've been asked that by patients thousands of times I bet. Even from criminals and gang members, not just "normal" people. Tattoos definitely have a bad stigma. They are associated with people who have low intelligence, low self esteem, low motivation, drug use, smokers, defiant people, anti-establishment, etc. And I can vouch for one or MORE of those traits in some way in EVERY one with a tattoo. Sad but true. Think about it. Look around. Look at people who are making something of themselves, making their communities better, who are excellent parents, whose children are outstanding young people and for the MOST part, these people will NOT have tattoos. On the other hand, look at everyone in jail or who is in bankruptcy, etc and for the MOST part, I would bet money that MOST of them have tattoos. Now, explain that when only 20% of all US citizens have tattoos but 80%? or more of all criminals have tattoos. Hmmm, maybe there is a connection.

    • greengypsywolf1 profile image

      greengypsywolf1 7 years ago from The darkest corner of my own insanity.

      I really must ask you to cite your sources because the biggest majority of this article seem to be BS.

      Where did you get your info from? What studies are you quoting? What cases are citing?

      This is, without a doubt the biggest hype article I have had the misfortune to read in quite a long time.

      Autoclaves (of the same type used in hosptial settings) are a standard practice, as well as opening a fresh, hermeticly sealed needle for each tattoo, even if it's on a regular customer.

      I have a good 25% of my body covered in tattoo's, I have a multitude of freinds who have that much or more of their bodies covered. Wanna guess how many of them have gotten infections, Hepatitis, or HIV? I bet you don't.

      This is absolutely absurd, and you should really be quite ashamed of yourself for such blatant fear mongering.

      Oh yeah, that old stand by if how the tattooed are either criminals or a self destructive type who gets their jollies from self mutilation is about a decade or two past it expiration date. Maybe if you feel the need to hate on another person for their personal choices on how to decorate thier body you can do it in a fresh way, instead of recycling old BS that was played out long before hubpages even came into existance.

    • profile image

      Cameron 7 years ago

      My statement that “Maybe McDonald’s is ok though because right-wing nut jobs like to eat there?” was not intended to insult right-wingers, just right-wing nut jobs like the author. I myself fall a little on the right in many of my beliefs. I guess the point I was trying bring out here was that there are far worse things out there to be worrying about that are ACTUALLY causing proven harm in society. Why pick tattoos? I would assume the nameless author has some kind of personal disposition, narrow-mindedness, or intolerance on this issue that likely caused by a one-sided penchant preconception.

    • profile image

      Cameron 7 years ago

      1. the article states that it is from a “medical and health perspective” - this is misleading as it is a biased view presenting only select statistics and presents several opinions not grounded in fact.

      2. Many people have tattoos and it is not restricted to “gangsters, heavy metal rockers, hells angel bikers, criminals and the social outcast” sporting “skulls, snakes, lewd women and flames” and I resent the implication here.

      3. The author states “there is no federal regulation” that may well be the case in America (although I doubt it), but in Australia and most other countries, we have very strict laws on the industry.

      4. Are you complaining about organic ingredients not being approved as cosmetic ingredients? Seriously? Vitamins are not approved to treat medical conditions either, yet most people will take a vitamin c for a cold regardless of the fact that it is not approved by the FDA to treat colds.

      5. 20% of colorants contain a carcinogenic aromatic amine – yet there is not a single documented case in the history of the planet where a tattoo has caused cancer. There are however documented cases that link many of the ingredients found in McDonald’s meals to cancer. Maybe McDonald’s is ok though because right-wing nut jobs like to eat there?

      6. The author states that Tattoo inks cause mutations, cause birth defects, cause cancer (well alludes to it in a very ill-informed way anyway) but fails to cite a single case.

      7. Noted fact that “The carrier solution used in tattoo inks contains harmful substances”. These ingredients are common to many household products and most people come into contact with them on a daily basis. Furthermore, traces of these ingredients in the carrier solution have not shown to cause any adverse affects. This is actually getting boring asking for case studies or some kind of formulated proof from this author.

      8. The author states “Alcohol increases the skin’s permeability, causing more chemicals to be transported into the blood stream”. Alcohol reduces the risk of infection prior to breaking the skin.

      9. At first I wondered why the author did not put their name on the article, but now I know.

      10. Plastic based inks that cause polymerization are not commonly used and when they are, they are used for that very purpose.

      11. The Author stated; “Yellow #7 pigment is phototoxic and breaks down in the body when removed with UV light or laser”. So?

      12. “Many metals in the tattoo inks, such as nickel and mercury, cause metal allergies” - Only if you have an allergy and if you do you are not likely to react to a tattoo as these metals are in smaller amounts than you are likely to find in most tap water.

      13. You are 17 times more likely to get just one of the FDA's potential tattoo risks from eating chicken than from a tattoo.

      14. Author stated that “One of the most dangerous facts is regarding the use of needles (unhygienic or otherwise) in tattoo application. Not only does this cause tetanus, herpes simplex virus, staph, hepatitis B & C, syphilis, but there have been cases of HIV/AIDS being transmitted through the use of these needles”. This kind of statement is scaremongering and borderline abusive to professional tattooists. Apart from the very strict regulation in this country, artists take their work very seriously and are highly professional. Not to mention the fact that they have almost double the training of your average hair dresser in Australia, and 4-5 times the level of training of a hairdresser in the states.

      15. “Laser removal of tattoos can be very expensive. It may cost $1000 to remove a tattoo that cost $50.” These figures are highly inflated. Also, this is why any tattoo artist would not tattoo a person who is intoxicated. This is also why it is prudent to prayerfully and carefully think through the decision to get a tattoo.

      16. Once again, I find the limited thinking of the author to be personally offensive, the statement about “Tattoos and piercings (being) indicative of a psychology of self-mutilation, defiance (rebellion; anti-establishment attitude), independence, and 'belonging' ('belonging' as for example in prison or criminal gang cultures)” - Tattoo's for me are an expression of my faith, and I resent the implication that in any way are a statement of defiance, rebellion, self-mutilation, and especially having anything to do with prison and criminal gang cultures (although I would rather be implicated with those cultures than one that allows filth like this article to be devoured without question).

      17. Where are these 70% regret figures from?

      18. Sterilisation practices in Australia are comparable to doctors surgeries and blood banks etcetera.

      Overall, I find this article to be misleading, dishonest, ill-informed, and intentionally deceptive. I feel sorry for the author and any simpleton ready to buy in to it.

    • profile image

      JayJay 7 years ago

      A bit extreme don't you think. Sounds too much like your trying to demonize tattoo's.I have several tat's and only regret one. The bit about unhygienic needles is an old story. Every place i have been to has been very hygienic and sterile,the tattooist and the studio where both very clean and tidy.

      Do your research if your interested in tattoos go and check out a few parlors before committing yourself to idea of a tattoo. Talk to the people who run the shops and if your not happy with the shop or its staff try looking else where. Talk with friends who has tats already see there opinion on it.

    • profile image

      RightWing 7 years ago

      Don't blame us for a weak article, we like tattoos too. Grow up.

    • profile image

      IndividualMe 7 years ago

      Please, do yourselves a huge favor and do your own research on this subject. There are many, many reputible parlors that use only non-toxic inks. Don't buy into this right-winged extremist' half-truths!

    • heart4theword profile image

      heart4theword 7 years ago from hub

      OOO! Antifreeze and Formaldehyde? Let alone the dyes, and sanitation issues...don't think that sounds so good. Thank you for sharing the undisclosed! I think this hub, may make a person think twice?

    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank you for sharing this article. I have no tattoos (I can't bring myself to do that to my skin and never be able to get rid of it) Great hub.