Black tattoo ink may carry long-term health risks

Published by adviser, Author: Catie Clark - Assistant News Editor, Date: September 21, 2012
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A recent study on tattoo ink discovered that black ink could cause long-term health problems.

The study examined black ink, which is common in nearly every tattoo.

Black tattoo inks use soot and iron oxide as a base, and they are not regulated by the FDA, so they may contain hazardous chemicals that potentially can stay in the skin for a lifetime, absorb UV radiation and may affect skin integrity, researchers say.

Kristina Chiprean, Director of the McLaughlin Health Center, said most students at SRU take very good care of their tattoos.

“We’ve seen people with allergic reactions to tattoos, and we often call the tattoo artist to find the best solution to treating the infection while attempting to save the aesthetics of the tattoo,” Chiprean said. “But by and large, students take good care of their tattoos.”

Chiprean said that, presently, she doesn’t think that scientists can tell how tattoo inks will affect human bodies.

“Because tattoos weren’t as popular 30 years ago as they are today, it isn’t as easy to monitor the effects,” Chiprean said. “Watching people who are 20 now over the next 50 years, that’s when we’re really going to figure out the long term effects of tattoo ink.”

According to Chiprean, when the Health Center does see a patient with an infected tattoo, it’s not because of the ink.

“Often times a tattoo gets infected because bacteria moves through the holes in the skin, not from an allergic reaction to the ink,” Chiprean said. “What people don’t realize is that skin is our largest organ, and by putting holes in it we open ourselves up to invasive bacteria.”

Chiprean compared tattooed skin to camping.

“Its like staying in a tent, and taking an ice pick and putting holes in that tent,” Chiprean said. “More likely than not, something is going to get in through those holes.”

According to the study in Experimental Dermatology, a scholarly journal, tattooing can require injections of substantial amounts of black ink, meaning large amounts of chemicals shot into and under the skin.

Many of these chemicals — such as benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogen found to cause skin cancer in animal tests — are toxic, so some advocates have called for further scrutiny and oversight of tattoo inks.

The study also suggests that the substances in black tattoo inks — materials known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — migrate into subjects’ lymph nodes, which aid an individual’s body in filtering out disease-causing organisms.

The FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research is investigating tattoo inks and whether their movement in the body has health consequences.

Tattoo pigments are subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation, but the agency’s website says that, “because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, the FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them.”

The unregulated inks are a primary concern for tattoo artists and consumers alike.

Despite the many health risks associated with tattoos, students at SRU are ultimately concerned with their professional marketability after graduation, and how a tattoo might affect that.

Renee Coyne, Assistant Director of Career Services, said that the advice she gives students is always circumstantial.

“It depends on the content and location of the tattoo,” Coyne said. “If the tattoo includes profane or graphic images, it may be difficult for employers and clients to overlook.”

Coyne said that many companies have strict policies regarding tattoos and piercings.

“Geico Insurance Company, Disney, the U.S. Postal Service and Starwood Hotels are examples of companies who have written policies restricting employees from having visible tattoos,” Coyne said.

Coyne suggested that students should cover up their tattoos for job fairs, interviews, and other meetings with potential employers.

“A tattoo may not get you fired from a position, but it can keep you from getting hired,” Coyne said.

John Rindy, Director of Career Services, said that he tells students to think beyond their first professional position.

“For example, if a young lady is aspiring to move up in a company, moving to the executive level might mean corporate mixers and cocktail events and things like spaghetti straps or strapless dresses,” Rindy said.  “So, a student has to consider their future aspirations as well before adding a tattoo in a place like shoulders and such.  Also, if you attend the company picnic and want to wear shorts – adding a tattoo to the leg might raise some eyebrows.”

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