Dangers of tattoos

Dr Maxwell Adeyemi
Dr Maxwell Adeyemi

Dr Maxwell Adeyemi

Tattoos have become a fashionable item among the young and the old, males and females across the globe, however little attention is paid to the fact that having a tattoo can carry significant health consequences.

The number of people getting tattoos has markedly increased starting more than 20 years ago. Roughly 38 per cent of people ages 18-29 now have at least one tattoo.

Most are unaware of the risks, from infection to exposure to heavy metals, to being unable to detect an early skin cancer. The inks used in tattoos contain pigments that are often derived from heavy metals. There is concern that these toxins could raise the risk of cancer, DNA damage, inflammation, oxidative stress, and weakening immune function.

Tattoos remain popular, but they are not without consequential health risks.

Toxic ink in tattoos

The moment a tattoo artist gets to work, risks arise. People can have allergic reactions to skin dyes or develop a skin infection from the wound.

Tattoo ink could be contaminated with microorganisms, which can cause infections and scarring. The long-term effects are potentially more serious. To make designs, a tattoo artist injects ink into the dermis, the second layer of skin.

Some of the pigments used may be derived from toxic heavy metals, including mercury, lead, nickel, and cadmium. Some of these have been classified as human carcinogens. Other pigments are similar to clothing and leather dyes called azo pigments. Many of these have been shown to be carcinogenic or genotoxic, causing damages to DNA These substances can eventually enter the bloodstream.

Spreading throughout the body

There are two main ways the potentially toxic ink from tattoos can be carried throughout the body:

The incisions made by the tattoo needle cause the immune system to send cells called macrophages to the area to help close the wound and destroy foreign invaders. These macrophages can transport larger ink particles to the lymph nodes, glands that filter harmful substances.

Tiny ink particles called nanoparticles can penetrate through the skin layers and enter the bloodstream. Carbon black, the most common ink used in tattoos, is most often associated with higher levels of nanoparticles.

An analysis found potentially toxic dyes and metals in the lymph nodes of deceased individuals who had tattoos, further suggesting the notion that toxic dyes used in tattoos affect the body negatively.

The lymph nodes are a vital part of the immune system. A build-up of toxic particles there may weaken immunity, hurting the body’s ability to ward off infections and illnesses of all kinds.

Potential risk of cancer

Metal nanoparticles have the potential to cause DNA damage. A study of breast cancer cells in animal models showed that exposure to these nanoparticles led to accelerated tumor growth and a greatly increased ability for cancer to metastasize or spread. There has also been reported cases of tattoo-associated skin cancer in humans.

Increased inflammation

It has been determined in preclinical studies that ink nanoparticles have the ability to cause chronic inflammation. Inflammation has been associated with increased risk for type II diabetes, heart disease, strokes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and many other illnesses.

The presence of tattoo ink nanoparticles in the skin, lymphatic system, and liver could potentially contribute to increased oxidative stress, production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and cell death in all these areas.

Nanoparticle in the body has been associated with many potential health problems in addition to cancer, including: Alzheimer’s and parkinson’s disease, asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema, high blood pressure and blood clots, heart disease, diseases of the kidneys and liver, crohn’s disease (a chronic inflammatory bowel disease), and autoimmune disorders.

Exposure to toxins has also been associated with an increase in senescent cells and shortening of telomeres. Both of these effects are associated with a shortened lifespan and increased disease risk.

Tattoos also raise the risk of allergic reactions, classic pigments and their degradation products used in permanent tattoos are possible triggers of these allergic reactions and hypersensitivity problems.

Tattoos may also interfere with your sweating function as sweat output is reduced by about fifty per cent in people with tattoos, Usually sodium is reabsorbed by the body during sweating but the heavy metals seems to block this process of evaporation.

Tattoos can also cause problems when having medical procedures done, most especially when magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is needed for any health reasons. Electromagnetic reactions due to ferromagnetic compounds found in ink tattoos especially iron oxide can cause significant distortion in field of images. Some severe burns have also been documented as a result of this phenomenon when persons with tattoos undertake MRI scans.

Tattoo removal

Removing a tattoo is usually done by laser. It involves breaking up ink pigments into a smaller size, so they can more easily migrate away from the skin.

It has been suggested that in the short term, this process could increase the amount of metal nano-particles in the bloodstream, lymph nodes, and liver. Tattoo removal also does further damage to the skin.

The harmful impact of a tattoo may be permanent, though. Each time one is applied and then removed, damage to the skin increases, as does exposure to potential toxins.

Little conclusive research has been done into the health effects of tattoos. But some of the inks tattoo artists use are derived from toxic heavy metals and dyes.

These substances have been found to damage DNA and to be carcinogenic.

Tiny nanoparticles from the ink can enter the bloodstream and spread to the lymphatic system and the liver.

They may increase the risk of some cancers and contribute to dangerous chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and weakening of immune function.

While you or someone you know may be considering getting a tattoo, this is not a decision that should be made lightly, given the potential health risks.

Contact Dr Maxwell on 363-1807 or 757-5411.


"Dangers of tattoos"

More in this section