Most Commonly Asked Questions About Tattoo Safety

A Harris Poll from 2015 confirmed something we already knew, which is that tattoos are more popular than ever, with roughly 29% of people surveyed saying that they have at least 1 tattoo. With this popularity comes an increase in infections caused by contaminated ink or from a reaction to the ink. This is according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Reports of adverse reactions to tattoos have been flowing into the FDA, with a total of 363 coming between 2004 and 2016.

What is More Concerning? Unsafe Practices or the Tattoo Ink

You should probably be concerned about both. Unsafe practices include the use of equipment that has been improperly sterilized, with infections often coming from mold or bacteria on said instruments. Some tattoo shops also use non-sterile water to dilute the pigments, but that is one of many potential offenses.

There is no easy way to tell if an ink is safe to use. Contamination may still occur even when the container is sealed and marked as sterile.

What is Used to Make Tattoo Ink?

Research has revealed that pigments used in car paint or printer toner sometimes show up in tattoo ink. No pigments used for injection into the skin have been approved by the FDA.Consumers and healthcare providers are who commonly reports adverse reactions to the FDA, but they may also hear from state authorities who regulate tattoo shops.

What Reactions can be Expected after Getting a Tattoo?

Redness or a rash may be present in the area where you were tattooed, and you may also experience a fever.

If the infection is more severe, you may experience chills, shakes, sweats, and a very high fever. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection, and may take months of treatment. You may also find yourself in a hospital for surgery. All of this may be a sign of an allergy to the inks, and as they are permanently in your body, the reaction may continue unabated.

Is There the Potential for Scar Tissue after a Tattoo?

There is a definite chance of scar tissue forming, or perhaps small bumps or knots known as granulomas. The latter is a sign that your body views the ink as being a foreign object. People prone to keloids (scarring beyond normal boundaries) may also develop a reaction.

Can Tattoos make MRI’s Uncomfortable?

People who have had a tattoo sometimes complain about a swelling or a burning sensation when they have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), although these cases are rare and the symptoms short-lived. Make you MRI tech aware of your tattoos before the procedure.

Are DIY Tattoos and Ink Kits Safe?

DIY kits are perhaps the most unsafe way for consumers to get a tattoo. Allergic reactions and infections are common, simply because consumers may not be aware of all the things they need to do to avoid contamination.

Could There be Potential Long-Term Problems?

The FDA and other agencies are still researching the long-term effects that may come from pigments, contaminated inks, and other sources. The FDA has received reports of people experiencing issued shortly after being tattooed, as well as some from consumers who did not experience issues until years later. Tattoos that contain phenylenediamine (PPD) may lead to you becoming allergic to other products.

There are also potential issues involved with the removal of tattoos, as very little is known about the consequences of breaking down pigments via laser treatments. What is known is that permanent scarring can occur after the removal of a tattoo.

What’s the Next Step if you Get an Infection after being Tattooed?

The first thing you need to do is talk to your doctor.

Secondly, let your tattoo artist know about the infection, as it may be a sign that their ink is contaminated. Ask them to tell you the color, brand, and batch number of the ink, as getting to the source of the infection may help with treatment options.

The Permanent Removal of Tattoos is Not That Easy

Getting a tattoo should be considered a lifetime commitment, as getting tattoo removed after the fact is a long process that will likely leave you permanently scarred.


 

 

Seven Important Questions to Consider When Getting a Tattoo

1. Has the FDA studied Tattoo Inks?

The FDA has limited information about tattoo inks. However, the FDA is examining tattoo inks and pigments to see if they contain heavy metals, contaminants, degradants, toxic chemicals like coating agents, microbicides and pH stabilizers, and other substances that may not be tolerable in the human body. For example, some reports claim tattoo ink has pigments that can be found in car paint and printer toner.

 2. Should I be concerned about a tattoo from a non-sterile needle or the actual ink?

Actually you should be concerned about both of them. It’s no surprised that people can get infections from non-sterile needles, but some people get infections from the ink itself because of contamination from invading mold and bacteria when the ink was made or while the ink was in the tattoo shop. When the ink itself is the culprit, it’s often due to using non-sterile water to dilute the ink (but it’s sometimes due to other reasons).

You can’t tell if ink is safe just by smelling it or looking at it. If the ink was improperly made from the manufacturer, it can be sealed or wrapped up and still be contaminated. So, you can’t just rely on a product label claiming it’s sterile when the ink could have gotten contaminated at any point in the making of it.

 3. What reactions are common (and not so common) after getting a tattoo?

Some people have a fever after getting a tattoo, and some people may get some type of rash that looks like red patches or bumps. If you have anything more serious than that, you may have to get an antibiotic treatment for the infection, or it may require hospitalization or surgery.  A more serious infection will entail shaking, chills, sweats and a high fever. Your doctor will determine if your infection is serious enough to require more extensive medical attention.

4. How should I handle getting a reaction or infection from my tattoo?

As stated in the answer to question three, it is recommended you contact your doctor (or another health care provider) to determine the severity of your reaction.

Also, make sure you let the tattoo artist know about your reaction to the ink. That way, the tattoo artist can remove the contaminated ink and prevent using it again. Also, you may be able to get detailed information about the ink that may shed light on how to treat the reaction to it.

5.  Is it safe to use those do-it-yourself tattoo inks and kits?

Unless you are a licensed tattoo artist, you might not have the right training to apply your own tattoo, which may leave you open to a high risk of contamination and infections. Also, there have been a lot of reports of allergic reactions to the inks and kits commonly found online.

6. Are there any long-term effects of having a tattoo?

The FDA and many other organizations are doing continuing research on the effects of tattoo art. However, many unanswered questions about tattoos are still not being addressed with the ongoing research. For example, most research going on today does not consider the long-term effects of the ingredients (including the contaminants) found in tattoo ink.

Another issue when considering the effect of tattoo pigments concerns what happens when the tattoo is removed via laser treatment. To date, research has shown that there is some scaring that occurs after tattoo removal, but other effects are yet to be verified.

7. What’s the bottom line?

Always consider the previously stated information before getting a tattoo. It does not matter about how advanced technology is because it still hurts and causes scarring to get a tattoo removed should you change your mind about keeping it.

Tips for a Safer Spring Break

It’s the season when you take a timeout from school and your absence is actually excused. But if you’re traveling for spring break, you’ve got to stay safe.

The Office of Women’s Health (OWH) at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking new steps to ensure that young women have access to timely wellness information. OWH has launched a new web page with information about health issues to help you stay safe on vacation and beyond. The page is the latest in its ongoing College Women’s Campaign, a collaboration with more than 160 schools across the country to disseminate OWH health publications at college health centers and other campus locations.

“We know college women face a lot of pressures, and we want to make sure they take time to care for their health while they’re in school and on break,” explains Marsha Henderson, FDA’s assistant commissioner for women’s health.

The campaign spans a variety of topics, and here are five themes for spring break. So follow these tips, and enjoy your trip.

Be Safe in the Sun

You may be tempted to “pre-tan” and then tan some more once you arrive. But don’t. Any increase in skin pigment (called “melanin”) is a sign of damage. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause wrinkles and dark spots among other problems—and tanning puts you at higher risk for skin cancer. But the beach can still be a high point of your trip.

  • Protective clothing. Wear a hat and protective clothing, and stay in the shade.
  • Sunscreens. Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, and choose an SPF of 15 or higher. You need at least one ounce of sunscreen lotion (the size of a golf ball) to cover your body. Reapply at least every 2 hours, or every 40 to 80 minutes when swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the product label. And limit the time your skin is exposed to the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Tanning beds. The lamps in the beds emit ultraviolet radiation that can be more intense and harmful than the sun. FDA recommends carefully reading the instructions and warnings before using these beds, and tanning pills and accelerators are not approved by the agency.
  • Spray tans and bronzers. Know that spray-on tanning or bronzing products are not UV protective.

Use Medications Wisely

Prepare for your trip by asking your health care professional any questions, including those about side effects and interactions, before you go. Then follow his or her directions. Don’t skip doses, don’t share medication, and don’t take more than the suggested dose. Also check expiration dates in advance and keep your medicine with you when traveling. (If you’re flying, you don’t want to land in Cancun and have your prescriptions land in Cleveland.) Finally, keep a detailed list of what you’re taking. Ideally your travels will be smooth. But if you need to seek medical care this list will be helpful.

Be Careful With Contact Lenses

They’re convenient but can expose you to serious conditions such as eye infections and corneal ulcers—something you don’t want to deal with on vacation. To avoid problems, first make sure your contacts are prescribed by an eye care professional. Skip colored or decorative lenses sold in beauty supply stores and at the boardwalk, since they can damage your eyes. Second, wash your hands before touching lenses, and use sterile solution. Never expose your lenses to saliva or non-sterile water, including that from the tap, bottle or ocean. Non-sterile water can put you at risk for an eye infection. So remove your contacts before swimming or getting in the hot tub and follow your eye care professional’s other care and removal instructions. If your vision changes, your eyes get red, you have lots of tears, or your eyes hurt or feel itchy, take out your lenses and seek medical attention.

Think Twice About Getting Tattoos or Henna

Whether you’re considering a non-permanent (e.g., henna) or a permanent addition (including makeup), think before you ink. Tattoos can cause allergic reactions and put you at risk for infections like HIV or hepatitis from unclean tools, practices or products. FDA has not approved any inks for injecting into your skin and does not regulate tattoo parlors. FDA also hasn’t approved henna or hair dye for skin use, and some people have reported serious problems after using henna, including allergic reactions such as rashes and scarring.

Stay Hydrated and Remember Tips for Healthy Eating

Time flies when you’re having fun, but take a few moments to sip H2O throughout the day. “When you’re traveling, it’s easy to become dehydrated because sometimes you don’t have access to water,” explains Shirley R. Blakely, Ph.D., R.D., a senior nutrition advisor with FDA. So when you spend a late afternoon at the beach (remember sun safety!) bring water and drink even before you feel thirsty, she advises. Also beware of ice or tap water in places where water isn’t safe to drink. If you don’t have access to safe water, Blakely recommends drinking an internationally known brand of a sugar- and caffeine-free carbonated beverage. Finally, Blakely says, “When traveling, you may find yourself overindulging.” For healthy eating, Blakely recommends following the dietary guidelines by making half your plate fruits and vegetables, and half your grains whole, to get enough fiber and other essential nutrients. “And if you’re faced with a smorgasbord, build your plate with fruits, vegetables and whole grains first, then add the protein source.”

Temporary Tattoos

Summer vacation is on the way.  Time to pack your swim suit, hit the beach, and perhaps indulge in a little harmless fun.  How about getting a temporary tattoo to mark the occasion? What’s the harm? Just because a tattoo is temporary, however, doesn’t mean it’s risk free. Some consumers report reactions that may be severe and long outlast the temporary tattoos themselves. The risk varies, depending on what’s in the ink.

Temporary Tattoos: Are They Safe?

Unlike permanent tattoos, which are injected into the skin, temporary tattoos marketed as “henna” are applied to the skin’s surface.

However, “just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn’t mean that it is risk free,” says Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA‘s Office of Cosmetics and Colors. Some consumers report reactions that may be severe and long outlast the temporary tattoos themselves.

MedWatch, FDA’s safety information and adverse event (bad side effects) reporting program, has received reports of serious and long-lasting reactions that consumers had not bargained for after getting temporary tattoos. Reported problems include redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring.

Some reactions have led people to seek medical care, including visits to hospital emergency rooms. Reactions may occur immediately after a person gets a temporary tattoo, or even up to two or three weeks later.

You may be familiar with henna, a reddish-brown coloring made from a flowering plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia. Since the Bronze Age, people have used dried henna, ground into a paste, to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather, silk and wool. This decoration—sometimes also known as mehndi—is still used today around the world to decorate the skin in cultural festivals and celebrations.

However, today so-called “black henna” is often used in place of traditional henna. Inks marketed as black henna may be a mix of henna with other ingredients, or may really be hair dye alone. The reason for adding other ingredients is to create a tattoo that is darker and longer lasting, but use of black henna is potentially harmful.

That’s because the extra ingredient used to blacken henna is often a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people. Sometimes, the artist may use a PPD-containing hair dye alone. Either way, there’s no telling who will be affected. By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin.

You may see “black henna” used in places such as temporary tattoo kiosks at beaches, boardwalks, and other holiday destinations, as well as in some ethnic or specialty shops. While states have jurisdiction over professional practices such as tattooing and cosmetology, that oversight differs from state to state. Some states have laws and regulations for temporary tattooing, while others don’t. So, depending on where you are, it’s possible no one is checking to make sure the artist is following safe practices or even knows what may be harmful to consumers.

A number of consumers have learned the risks the hard way, reporting significant bad reactions shortly after the application of black henna temporary tattoos.

  • The parents of a 5-year-old girl reported that she developed severe reddening on her forearm about two weeks after receiving a black henna temporary tattoo. “What we thought would be a little harmless fun ended up becoming more like a nightmare for us,” the father says. “My hope is that by telling people about our experience, I can help prevent this from happening to some other unsuspecting kids and parents.”
  • The mother of a 17-year-old girl agrees. “At first I was a little upset she got the tattoo without telling me,” she says. “But when it became red and itchy and later began to blister and the blisters filled with fluid, I was beside myself.” She explains that as a nurse, she’s used to seeing all manner of injuries, “but when it’s your own child, it’s pretty scary,” she says.
  • And another mother, whose teenager had no reaction to red henna tattoos, describes the skin on her daughter’s back as looking “the way a burn victim looks, all blistered and raw” after a black henna tattoo was applied there. She says that according to her daughter’s doctor, the teenager will have scarring for life.

Natural Tattoo Removal

Laser tattoo removal is very painful, more painful than getting a tattoo. People who go this route often say it feels like hot oil is being sprayed on the area. Tattoo removal does not have to be painful and many tattoo removers on the market can help get rid of tattoos in a pain-free way. Additionally, tattoo removal creams are far more cost efficient than laser tattoo removal which can cost thousands of dollars.

When looking for a tattoo removal cream, there are some key features to consider. First and foremost, it is important to know if it is safe to use. Tattoo removers should use ingredients that are safe and effective and lacking in side effects or adverse reactions. Another aspect of high quality tattoo removal creams is the use of Chromabright. Chromabright is an ingredient that has been proven to make tattoos fade away, it is also a very versatile ingredient in that it can be used risk-free on all skin types.

Removing Tattoos

That tattoo on your arm of a former flame—the one that seemed like a great idea years ago—is kind of embarrassing today. And your spouse is not too crazy about it either.

You may not know that FDA considers the inks used in tattoos to be cosmetics, and the agency takes action to protect consumers when safety issues arise related to the inks.

At the other end of the tattoo process, FDA also regulates laser devices used to remove tattoos.

FDA has cleared for marketing several types of lasers as light-based, prescription devices for tattoo lightening or removal. A Massachusetts company recently received FDA clearance to market its laser workstation for the removal of tattoos and benign skin lesions.

According to a poll conducted in January 2012 by pollster Harris Interactive, 1 in 8 (14%) of the 21% of American adults who have tattoos regret getting one. And the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) reports that in 2011, its doctors performed nearly 100,000 tattoo removal procedures, up from the 86,000 performed in 2010.

Unfortunately, removing a tattoo is not as simple as changing your mind.

Artists create tattoos by using an electrically powered machine that moves a needle up and down to inject ink into the skin, penetrating the epidermis, or outer layer, and depositing a drop of ink into the dermis, the second layer. The cells of the dermis are more stable compared with those of the epidermis, so the ink will mostly stay in place for a person’s lifetime. Tattoos are meant to be permanent.

An effective and safe way to remove tattoos is through laser surgery, performed by a dermatologist who specializes in tattoo removal, says FDA’s Mehmet Kosoglu, Ph.D., who reviews applications for marketing clearances of laser-devices.

With laser removal, pulses of high-intensity laser energy pass through the epidermis and are selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The laser breaks the pigment into smaller particles, which may be metabolized or excreted by the body, or transported to and stored in lymph nodes or other tissues, Kosoglu explains.

The type of laser used to remove a tattoo depends on the tattoo’s pigment colors, he adds. Because every color of ink absorbs different wavelengths of light, multi-colored tattoos may require the use of multiple lasers. Lighter colors such as green, red, and yellow are the hardest colors to remove, while blue and black are the easiest.