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Is Tattoo Ink Safe?

Recent Study Raises Tattoo Ink Safety Concerns

News conglomerates are making a fuss about a recent study finding tattoo ink in lymph nodes. At our Toronto & Vancouver tattoo shop, safety is our top priority. So we delved deep into the study to determine:
  • What does this mean?
  • How do tattoo ink particles end up in the lymph nodes?
  • Is it a tattoo safety concern?
  • How can safety be improved?
In this article, we share our findings with you.

About the tattoo ink study

To determine what the study results mean, let’s first take a look at what the study is all about. The study uses ν-XRF mapping and μ-FTIR microscopy to take a look at the effects of tattoo pigments. Woah, those are some unfamiliar terms, what do they mean? In short, they’re used for imaging, allowing observation at the micro and nano scale. To make these observations, the study examines skin and lymphatic tissue from anonymous body donors.

What did they find?

In the study, they discovered evidence of ink particle migration (ink particles were being moved away from the original tattoo site). They were also able to determine the composition of the ink particles that had moved. The concerns for the ink composition in the migrating particles is in their nature. They contain inorganic metals including:
  • Nickel
  • Chromium
  • Manganese
  • Cobalt
As well, titanium dioxide is a potentially toxic combination found in mixing some shades of ink. Admittedly, the amounts they are finding are small since they are looking at the nano level. However, the alarm bells that news outlets are raising focus on the location of these particles. Through this study, it is apparent that ink particles carrying these elements are traveling to the lymph nodes. And traces of them are remaining there.

How do tattoo ink particles end up in the lymph nodes?

The lymph nodes are an essential part of your immune system. There are two ways in which the tattoo ink particles can migrate there: 1. Passive Transport, 2. Active Transport.

Passive transport

Tattoo ink particles are passively transported to the lymph nodes through blood and lymph fluids.

Active transport

Immune cells absorb tattoo particles and deposit them in the lymph nodes.
Active Transport Tattoo Ink

Why are tattoo ink particles transported to the lymph nodes?

Ok, so we know how the ink particles end up in the lymph nodes. But why do they get transported there? Once again, the lymph nodes play an important role in the immune system. Ink particles ending up here is actually a sign of a healthy immune response. This is just part of your body reacting to getting a tattoo. Your cells recognize the ink particles as invading your body and go to remove them. Specifically, they are taking the inorganic or potentially toxic materials for the immune system to process and then expel through the digestive system. The process is actually very similar to how laser tattoo removal works. In tattoo removal, the ink particles are broken down. This makes it easier for cells to eat the particles and pass them through your immune and digestive systems. Don’t worry, your body won’t just remove your whole tattoo on its own. Specialized lasers are required to break down the ink particles enough. The ink particles this study is addressing appear to be from the initial tattooing and healing process, not an ongoing natural removal. By the time your tattoo heals, your body no longer treats the tattoo as a foreign element.

So are the ink particles a safety concern?

It does not appear that the migrating ink particles are a safety concern. The tattoo ink particles in the study contain heavy metals and toxic materials. Not things you really want to find in your body. But, the lymphatic system is where they should be sent. The study does address that some traces of these elements are staying in the nodes, not all of it is passing through. However, there is no evidence that there a long-term effects from such small quantities. There is no clear cause for concern. But it is causing people to reconsider tattoo safety practices. So there is some good coming from this study.

How to improve tattoo safety

There’s no evidence that the tattoo ink is a long-term health concern. But no one can fault you for wanting to minimize risks. In fact, at Chronic Ink, we encourage clients to prioritize their own safety when it comes to tattoos. The number one thing you can do here is pay attention to the ink quality at your tattoo shop. When it comes to tattoo safety, most people focus on sterile needles and work environment. Indeed, these are important, but it’s worth asking about the ink itself.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist

Ink quality is not government-regulated in Canada. So tattoo shops need to self-monitor. Ask if their tattoo ink adheres to the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist. The CIH helps to keep ink safe by showing what ingredients are safe for the human body. There are other countries where tattoo inks face stricter regulation. Spanish police recently busted an illegal tattoo ink network in the Canary Islands. The ingredients and toxicity levels were outside of regulation. While these programs are in their infancy the responsibility of using quality ink falls to tattoo shops and consumers. The best tattoo shops care about your health and safety. Before you get a tattoo, it’s worth learning what goes into your ink.
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