(From a Medical and Health Perspective)
The tattoo trend started about 20 years ago in America and Europe. Today it has become a worldwide craze. Furthermore, the media glorifies the tattoo culture through such TV programs as Miami Ink, LA Ink, Inked, etc. We have tattoo sporting celebrities like David Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and a host of other tattooed models and athletes.
It is estimated that 20% of all Americans are tattooed. 30% of teens and twenties are tattooed. Tattoos are a fast-growing retail business, and tattoo shops are springing up every day. The word ‘tattoo’ is one of the most searched words on Internet search engines.
Tattooing was originally banned by Western culture. Popular in tribal societies, it was considered a vile heathen practice, having its roots in superstition, pagan worship and magic rituals. Sailors in the past wore tattoos as good luck charms against drowning at sea. Later on, tattoos became signs of rebellion – and gangsters, heavy metal rockers, hells angel bikers, criminals and the social outcast sported skulls, snakes, lewd women and flames. Tattoos were also used as homage to departed ones or as commitment to a partner. Today, not only celebrities sport tattoos, but even Christians has embraced tattoos through the Christian rock music community and Christian tattoo shops.
This article is basically written from a medical point of view. First and foremost, it is to be noted that there is no federal regulation. The FDA stands as a mute spectator to what is going on in the tattoo industry. Shockingly, under the proprietary trade secrets clause, companies need not disclose the ingredients that compose tattoo ink. In other words, no one knows how many dangerous chemicals are injected under the skin in the name of art and self-expression.
Here are some facts:
i. 40% of the organic colorants used in tattoos are not approved as cosmetic ingredients.
ii. 20% of colorants contain a carcinogenic aromatic amine.
iii. Tattoo inks contain mutagenic chemicals (that cause mutations); teratogenic chemicals (that cause birth defects) and carcinogenic chemicals (that cause cancer). Tattoo inks permeate into the blood and cause biochemical reactions in the body.
iv. The carrier solution used in tattoo inks contains harmful substances such as denatured alcohols, methanol, antifreeze, detergents, formaldehyde and toxic aldehydes.
v. Alcohol increases the skin’s permeability, causing more chemicals to be transported into the blood stream.
vi. A wide range of dyes and pigments are used in tattoos, such as ABS plasic. Plastic based inks (which glow in the dark) cause polymerization, where the pigment particles converge into one solid piece under the skin.
vii. Yellow #7 pigment is phototoxic and breaks down in the body when removed with UV light or laser.
viii. Many metals in the tattoo inks, such as nickel and mercury, cause metal allergies.
ix. The FDA lists potential tattoo risks as – infections, allergies, granulomas*, keloid formation**, MRI complications. But does not include the more serious risk of cancer caused by radio-active pigments. The skin infections include psoriasis, dermatitis, tumours (benign and malignant).
(*Granulomas are small knot-like protuberances made up of a mass of tissue, when the body rejects the tattoo as a foreign object and forms nodules around it.)
(**Keloids form usually when the tattoos are removed. The scars grow beyond their natural boundaries and form keloids.)
x. One of the most dangerous facts is regarding the use of needles (unhygienic or otherwise) in tattoo application. Not only does this cause tetanus, herpes simplex virus, staph, hepatitis B & C, syphilis, but there have been cases of HIV/AIDS being transmitted through the use of these needles.
xi. Laser removal of tattoos can be very expensive. It may cost $1000 to remove a tattoo that cost $50. There are five methods to remove tattoos, including using a laser to break up tattoo pigments; surgical removal that involves cutting the tattoo away; sanding the skin with a wire brush to remove the epidermis and dermis layers in a process called dermabrasion; using a salt solution to soak the tattooed skin (salabrasion); and scarification, removing the tattoo with an acid solution to form a scar in its place. But none of these methods are perfect, and evidence of the tattoo remains in the skin throughout life.
xii. Tattoos and piercings which have become a world-wide craze are indicative of a psychology of self-mutilation, defiance (rebellion; anti-establishment attitude), independence (doing things one’s own way; extreme ‘self-expression’), and ‘belonging’ (‘belonging’ as for example in prison or criminal gang cultures).
xiii. A new term has been coined recently – ‘tattoo regret’. It is a fact that more than 70% of those who have had tattoos in teenage or the early twenties have regretted them later on.
A casual visit of a customer to a tattoo shop would not really reveal how clean and sterile the environment is. It is to be noted that tattoo shops are not required to follow the same sterilization practices as other places that use needles, such as hospitals and doctors’ offices. Unqualified tattoo artists, unhygienic tools, highly toxic inks –can cause not just long-term damage and scarring of the skin, but also irreversible toxic biochemical reactions within the body.
Tattoo regret is eternal regret.