Tattoos May Pose a Long-Term Health Threat

By KC Craichy

tattooInk from tattoos could be doing more than coloring your skin, it could be compromising your health. That’s according to a study recently published in Scientific Reports. Instead of just being concerned whether your tattoo artist is using a sterile needle and spelling any words correctly, you now need to think about what kind of ink they are using because nanoparticles in the ink can travel through the blood stream.

Researchers at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany studied four donor corpses and were able to determine tattoo ink had travelled in their bodies to their lymph nodes.

“A central aim of this study was to assess to what extent tattooing increases the proportion of toxic elements in the body,” said study authors Ines Schreiver and Bernhard Hesse. “In this investigation, we found a broad range of tattoo pigment particles with up to several micrometers in size in human skin but only smaller (nano) particles transported to the lymph nodes.” 

Tattoos and permanent make up work by depositing insoluble pigments into the dermal skin layer. These pigments consist of either inorganic colorful metals and their oxides, or of polyaromatic compounds which are thought to be safe. Scientists found a broad range of elements in the skin tissue including nickel, chromium, manganese, carbon, cobalt and titanium dioxide.  

Using X-ray fluorescence techniques and advanced mass spectrometry, researchers were able to determine organic pigments, heavy metals and titanium dioxide was transported from skin to regional lymph nodes.

While enlarged lymph nodes have been noticed in tattooed individuals previously, the long-term effects of tattoos have been lightly researched to this point. This study will likely cause a further investigation into the subject, however.

“The exact size limit preventing this translocation is unknown yet,” Schreiver and Hesse wrote. “The deposit of particles leads to chronic enlargement of the respective lymph node and lifelong exposure. In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible biodistribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body.”

Click here to read the full report in Scientific Reports.

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