Recently published studies have found that the inks can contain a host of dodgy substances, including thimerosal, phthalates, metals, and hydrocarbons that are carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
One chemical commonly used to make black tattoo ink called benzo(a)pyrene is known to be a potent carcinogen that causes skin cancer in animal tests.
Coloured inks often contain lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, titanium and other heavy metals that could trigger allergies or diseases, scientists say.
Some pigments are industrial grade dyes ‘suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint,’ according to an FDA fact sheet.
Joseph Braun, an environmental epidemiologist at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, told Environmental Health News: ‘The short answer is we don’t know if the chemicals in tattoo inks represent a health hazard.’
An estimated 45million people in the U.S., including at least 36 per cent of adults in their late 30s, have at least one tattoo.
Particular concern surrounds the use of black tattoo inks, often made from soot containing products of combustion called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
The PAHs in the inks include benzo(a)pyrene, a compound identified in an Environmental Protection Agency toxicity report as ‘among the most potent and well-documented skin carcinogens.’
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adds: “One of the chemicals known to be used in tattoo ink is thimerosal, also called thiomersal, an organic compound containing ethylmercury. In the US, thimerosal is commonly included in tattoo inks, vaccines, antivenins, and eye and ear products as a preservative. Due in part to mercury’s toxic effects, thimerosal is very effective at killing off fungal and bacterial growth.” However, mercury is a well-known neurotoxin.
“In light of these and other concerns,” concludes Helen Suh MacIntosh, “it makes sense to think twice about getting a tattoo.”
Those of you already inked can take solace in some Eco-progress in the area of tattoo removal. As TrendHunter.com reports: “Removing tattoos with lasers is tricky business as surgeons are very cautious to ensure the skin is not overheated as that would result in scarring. The normal procedure involves using a coolant such as tetrafluoroethane which reduces skin temperature as it evaporates. Tetrafluoroethane has one unfortunate property: it contributes to greenhouse gases as it is many times worse than carbon dioxide.”
An alternative removal method has been developed and patented by John Stuart Nelson at the Beckman Laser Institute. Nelson’s method uses pressurized liquid CO2 as the cooling agent. “It is delivered as a fine mist of solid dry ice particles which reduce skin temperatures before sublimating into a gaseous form,” says TrendHunter.com.