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How Safe Are Tattoos?

Are Tattoos Making You Sick?

Let’s face it, tattoos are hot stuff these days. With over 45 million Americans sporting at least one tattoo, many upscale fashionable tattoo parlours and TV shows like LA Ink, these highly personal works of art are here to stay. But how safe are tattoos, really?

How Safe Are Tattoos?

Or should I say, ‘how toxic are tattoos?’.

I’m talking beyond the usual risks of skin irritations and infections here.

Firstly, it is important to look at what the word ‘toxic’ means. Ultimately, it means anything that is not natural and that affects your body adversely.

Let’s face it, we know (or you should know), that our food and water is contaminated, plastics (including plastics for our food and water bottles) are full of BPA (a hormonal disruptor), body care products are full of harmful chemicals and more…

And when something is toxic, at the end of the day, what toxic really means is… ‘poison’. #Fact

Tattoo Lovers Beware – You’re Not Gonna Like This…

Now I know for a fact that many of you reading this article aren’t gonna like it.  As ‘defenders of the tattoo’ I am sure you are going to have fun with this article!

(When I first posted this on a fibromyalgia/CFS Facebook page the number of people who went apeshit and said ‘this is a bunch of BS, I’m fine and I am covered in tattoos…hello?  You are on a fibromyalgia/CFS Facebook page, so I’m guessing you probably have one if not both of these devastating illnesses…!)

It is your body, which I respect. But equally, it is important to understand the potential implications for your health in the longer term, and to be educated.

For many tattoos, as you will see below, a plethora of heavy metals and toxic chemicals are used to create the works of art on your body.

How Toxic Are You?  Take the Quiz to Find Out! 

If you have been following my blogs, you will know that regulation for body care products – even baby care products and their safety, is beyond a joke.

With the average woman being subjected to 515 toxic chemicals A DAY in their body care products, there’s an overwhelming and massive problem going on in our everyday products…

So, you can only imagine how safe an indelible tattoo is?

The answer?

It’s Toxic.

What’s Really  in Tattoo Ink?

Going beyond the potential safety risks of the needles themselves, the fact that tattoo inks are unregulated and that many are made just like fragrances in things like perfumes and laundry detergents etc – with a ‘proprietary blend’ means that manufacturers get away with putting all sorts of scary stuff in them (without having to report what the ingredients are).

We do know that Phthalates and benzo(a)pyrene are two of the most harmful chemicals present, both having been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption and can also be found on the EPA’s carcinogen list.

Phthalates = Hormone Disruptors

For phthalates, which can mimic estrogen or disrupt testosterone, exposure of fetuses and infants is the major concern. In infant boys, prenatal exposure to dibutyl phthalate has been linked to feminization of the reproductive tract.

In men, phthalate exposure has been linked to sperm defects and altered thyroid hormones. However, the ongoing exposure to phthalates in tattoos is unknown, as it is thought that they may not be continuous.

Not All Inks are Vegan…

Black ink in many cases is made from animal bones that have been burned down to charcoal and soot called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as PAHs. And if you call yourself a die-hard vegan, brace yourself… not all inks are vegan. Some inks may contain animal fat as the carrier, as beetles and gelatin (from things like boiled down horse’s hooves).  Nice…

Just Because It’s Available, Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe!

The PAHs in the inks include benzo(a)pyrene, which was identified in an Environmental Protection Agency toxicity report as “among the most potent and well-documented skin carcinogens”.

It is so potent that it is routinely used in animal tests to grow tumours. Also, it has been linked to skin cancer in shale oil workers, and the EPA has classified it as a probable human carcinogen.

”Tattooing with black inks entails an injection of substantial amounts of phenol and PAHs into the skin. Most of these PAHs are carcinogenic and may additionally generate deleterious singlet oxygen inside the dermis when skin is exposed to UVA (e.g. solar radiation)”, wrote the authors of one study.

They went on to say that the PAHs could “stay lifelong in the skin” and “may affect skin integrity,” which could lead to skin ageing and cancer.

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Heavy Metals

And then there are the heavy metals that tend to be present in coloured inks, such as:

  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Cobalt nickel
  • Titanium
  • Mercury
  • Aresenic
  • Beryllium

These metals are highly toxic can trigger allergic reactions and potentially lead to disease. Scientists are unsure of the exact effects.

Some pigments are industrial grade colors that are “suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint,” according to an FDA fact sheet.

The Longer Term Effects

Unfortunately, there’s not been a huge amount of research regarding tattoos, however, scientists have seen possible connections with tattoos to skin cancer, but the overwhelming conclusion is that they are unclear of the role of tattoos and cancer.

There have been rare cases of skin cancer malignant tumours found in tattoos, but scientists say these could just be a coincidence.

The FDA has tried to answer the question, where does the pigment go when it is faded by sunlight or removed by laser light? Does this process actually disburse the toxins throughout the body even more and make the tattoo(s) even MORE toxic and cause more damage with heavy metal poisoning?

One has to wonder how the huge demand for tattoos currently is going to affect health issues down the road…

Tattoos & MRIs

Some people have reported sensitivity springing up even years after they first got their tattoo; also, medical MRIs can cause tattoos to burn or sting as the heavy metals in the ink are affected by the test’s magnetism.

Therefore, scientists are still unsure of the long-term effects that tattoos actually pose. (It is important to also remember that many research studies are funded by Big Pharma…and that their profits lie in our ill health…). However…

Ink Warning Labels

In the USA, two of the leading tattoo ink manufacturers must now place warning labels in their catalogues, product containers and websites stating that the:

‘inks contain many heavy metals including lead, arsenic and others and that these ingredients have been linked to cancer and birth defects’

as a result of a 2007 lawsuit brought by the American Environmental Safety Institute (AESI).

Note: It still does not stop these products from being available, and used widely…(question, when you have gone to get a tattoo, has your tattoo artist informed you of these risks? Have you been shown these labels before making a decision to proceed?).

Other Health Hazards

If the tattoo parlour’s equipment and needles aren’t properly sterilised in an autoclave between customers, you could be exposing yourself to tuberculosis, syphilis, malaria, mycobacterium, hepatitis B or C, HIV or even leprosy.

Dermatologist Audrey Kunin, who runs the popular Dermadoctor website states,

“The potential risk of infectious spread from tattooing (particularly due to Hepatitis B) is high enough that it is a practice that should be avoided by pregnant women to safeguard the health of the baby [and that of the pregnant woman herself] whose immune system is down regulated and is much more vulnerable to these types of infection.”

Safer Options

Ok, firstly, let me state that when you have a tattoo, as stated above, it’s toxic – there’s no two ways about it!  You have put foreign substances into your body that were not meant to be there – some of them proven cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals.

However, if you are prepared to take the risks, out of all the options, according to Dr. Kunin, black might be the ‘safest’ permanent ink, as it rarely causes any kind of sensitivity issues, although try to avoid ‘India ink,’ as it is animal based.

If you want red, see if your tattoo parlour works with non-metallic and organic pigments such as sandalwood, brazilwood, carmine or scarlet lake.

Red is the most toxic in regards to the cancer-causing carcinogens as it can contain mercury, iron oxide and cadmium (and try to avoid manganese violet for purple). There are also other non-metallic options for other colours as well.

Look for less toxic carriers such as glycerin, witch hazel, ethanol or water.

As the demand for tattoos has spread like wildfire, it also means that there are a lot more safer (read, still toxic, just not AS toxic) options available. Do your research. Discuss options with your tattooist in regards to the best less-toxic options available.


As with all products, including prescriptions, my personal mantra is:

 ‘just because something is for sale or prescribed, it doesn’t make it safe!’

and tattoos are certainly no exception to the rule.

Do your research. Understand the potential risks involved.

Toxicity and toxic overload health issues have now become a rampant part of many people’s everyday lives, without them even knowing it. Making informed choices regarding how to reduce your toxic exposure can have huge positive impacts on your health and well-being.

Why not join our FREE 5 Day Detox Your Life Course? Available for a LIMITED TIME here.

How safe are tattoos? Based on the research and information given in this article, I would have to say, not very safe!  What do you think?

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