Tempted to get a tattoo? Today, people from all walks of life have tattoos, which might lead you to believe that tattoos are completely safe.
But there are health risks that can result in the need for medical care. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is particularly concerned about a family of bacteria called nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) that has been found in a recent outbreak of illnesses linked to contaminated tattoo inks.
FDA also warns that tattoo inks, and the pigments used to color them, can become contaminated by other bacteria, mold and fungi. To raise awareness and make diagnoses more accurate, FDA strongly encourages reporting of tattoo-associated complications to its MedWatch program, says Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.
How to Avoid Infection
Tattoo artists can minimize the risk of infection by using inks that have been formulated or processed to ensure they are free from disease-causing bacteria, and avoiding the use of non-sterile water to dilute the inks or wash the skin. Non-sterile water includes tap, bottled, filtered or distilled water.
Consumers should know that the ointments often provided by tattoo parlors are not effective against these infections. NTM infections may look similar to allergic reactions, which means they might be easily misdiagnosed and treated ineffectively.
Once an infection is diagnosed, health care providers will prescribe appropriate antibiotic treatment according to Katz. Such treatment might have uncomfortable side effects, such as nausea or gastrointestinal problems. However, without prompt and proper treatment an infection could spread beyond the tattoo or become complicated by a secondary infection.