Most of us have been there, right?
We’ve weighed up the pros and cons of getting a tattoo.
We’ve seriously debated permanently inking an image, or symbol, onto our skin.
It might have been about something or someone you hold close to you, or it may just be something you fancied at the time.
I know have definitely debated the urge numerous times, especially when I was younger.
While many hold no regrets when it comes to their tattoos; others embrace them less so with age.
Celebrities such as David Beckham have made getting a tattoo the cool or in thing to do. So much so that a tattoo is viewed by most people now as the norm in today’s society.
After all, over a third of the population has decided at some point in their life that it was a good idea to ink themselves for life.
But now, rather than the uncertainty over whether you’ll like what you decide upon getting tattooed on your skin forever, there is another reason to question whether getting inked is such a smart idea.
Ask yourself this question…
Have you ever considered exactly what tattoo ink is actually made of?
The health consequences of getting a tattoo are not something that most people even consider.
Nonetheless, it is an important factor that is ultimately overlooked.
So what is tattoo ink actually made of?
Well, the majority of the ink is made from metal salts, however, some are made of plastic or vegetable dyes, and if organic, they are usually plant-based.
Over the years people who have gone for the coloured needle have complained of scarring, allergic reactions, and phototoxic reactions (adverse reactions to light or sunlight), and depending on the type of pigment, other complications can occur.
Brightly coloured plastic-based pigments have been highly problematic for some, and glow in the dark tattoos can be radioactive and toxic.
Yes, you did read that right, they can be radioactive!
The truth is…
No tattoo pigments have been approved for injection into the skin.
Manufactures of ink are not required to release their ingredients as doing so could supposedly give away “trade secrets”.
Make of that what you will.
The fact is, it’s an unregulated industry, and considering the damage that can be caused, the fact it is unregulated is hugely unsettling.
This is only compounded when you look at the stats of how many people have chosen to get tattoo…
1 in five in the UK now has a tattoo.
14% of teachers have a tattoo.
19% of 18- to 25-year-olds have returned from a holiday abroad with an inking.
29% The proportion of Brits aged between 16 and 44 who have a tattoo.
45% of people with tattoos have their first tattoo done between the ages of 18 and 25.
Even No10 Downing Street hasn’t been tattoo free as the ex-Prime Minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron, 43, has a dolphin tattoo on her ankle.
The stated cause for the majority of tattoo’s being because it makes people feel “sexy”.
Unfortunately what makes you feel sexy now, could be what makes you ill later.
The chemicals and heavy metals in tattoo ink can cause various forms of cancer, birth defects, certain mutations, and can be dreadfully destructive to your immune system.
So what’s in a tattoo?
Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colours which are used for printer ink or car paint.
In America, the FDA’s website warns people about how tattoo ink can cause infections, allergic reactions, keloid scarring, granulomas, and potential complications if you ever need an MRI scan.
Without full disclosure of ingredients, it is impossible to know for sure what is in tattoo ink.
Added to this, according to a 2005 study out of Northern Arizona University, each colour and each brand of ink has completely different ingredients,.
The carrier solution itself might contain harmful substances such as denatured alcohols, methanol, rubbing alcohol, antifreeze, detergents, or formaldehyde and other highly toxic aldehydes.
The oldest pigments came from using ground up minerals and carbon black.
According to, a wide range of dyes and pigments are now used in tattoos “from inorganic materials like titanium dioxide and iron oxides to carbon black, azo dyes, and acridine, quinoline, phthalocyanine and naphthol derivates, dyes made from ash, and other mixtures.”
Currently popular is Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS plastic), used in Intenze, Millenium and other ABS pigmented brands.
This is a far cry from their tribal predecessors made with dyes from the natural environment.
Many of today’s tattoos contain an unknown conglomeration of metallic salts (oxides, sulphides, selenides), organic dyes or plastics suspended in a carrier solution for consistency of application.
In the European Commission’s report on the health risks of tattooing, they note that close to 40% of organic colourants used in permanent tattoos in Europe are not even approved for use on the skin as a cosmetic ingredient, and just under 20% of the colourants studied contained a carcinogenic aromatic amine.
Many of the chemicals found were originally intended for use in writing and printer inks, as well as car paints.
(I don’t know about you…but I wouldn’t want car paint permanently etched under my skin.)
These inks are injected deep enough into the skin that often tattoos will not even be destroyed by 3rd-degree burns.
The ink will remain under the skin and will constantly leech into the bloodstream.
A team of researchers is working with an Arkansas-based FDA laboratory to learn more about the chemistry between tattoos and the body.
Chemist Paul Howard, Ph.D., with the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), is investigating the “chemical composition of the inks and how they break down (metabolise) in the body.”
They’re also looking at the short-term and long-term safety of tattoo pigments, and how the body responds to the interaction of light with the inks.
“There have been no systematic studies of the safety of tattoo inks,” said Howard, “so we are trying to ask–and answer–some fundamental questions.”
Part of the team’s research is to understand what happens to tattoo ink when it’s exposed to sunlight and fades over time. “Where does the pigment go?” asked Howard.
Some experts theorise that body cells digest and destroy the ink, ridding themselves of bacteria and other foreign matter as a defence mechanism.
Yellow 74 pigment is believed by some to be broken down by enzymes, or metabolised, similar to the way our bodies excrete other substances, according to NCTR research.
Sunlight breaks down the pigment Yellow 74 into colourless compounds that, while invisible, most likely still remain in the skin and could potentially be toxic.
Research has also shown that some pigment migrates from the tattoo site to the body’s lymph nodes, explained Howard.
“Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, a collection of fluid-carrying vessels in the body that filter out disease-causing organisms. Whether the migration of tattoo ink has health consequences or not is still unknown,” states the FDA’s website.
Anybody who remembers the former Arsenal and Sweden footballer Freddie Ljungberg will know that the lymph nodes and glands can be put under such a toxic burden that it can lead to a severe pain and health issues.
Ljungberg was tested for cancer in a health scare caused by the ink used for his tattoos and he had to undergo an operation to remove a gland in his hip.
Initially, it was thought the cause was an old injury but this was discounted and with doctors unable to determine the cause of the swelling in his hip they carried out tests including looking for cancer.
Doctors concluded that the swelling, which led to a trapped nerve, may have been caused by the ink in his two tattoos of panthers on his back.
Ljungberg was out of action for four weeks and returned only after doctors had removed one of his lymphatic glands.
Although the reaction encountered by the player is most unusual as usually, the main complications are of contracting hepatitis B or C when having a tattoo from the use of non-sterile needles, it just shows how careful you should be when deciding whether or not to get a tattoo.
Freddie’s initial complications happened soon after he was “inked”, but no one knows what further complications may lay down the road.
Further research is definitely needed to fully understand the effects of tattoos; however, your long-term health is worth considering next time you think about getting a tattoo.
Optimism Honour Passion
P.S. If you have been struggling with your own health issues and would like to see if or how we could help you then click the link here, fill out the form and Ryan or one of the team will be in touch as soon as possible.

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