Think before you ink

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: August 12th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular. It seems like everyone is sporting ink these days, from twenty-something hipsters to soccer moms. A lot has been learned about the risks posed by the needles used to give tattoos. But what about the ink itself?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is starting to take a closer look at the ink used in tattoos and permanent makeup. While tattoo parlors are regulated by state and local authorities, the federal agency oversees the pigments the artists use to make the colorful designs commonly sported on ankles, lower backs, biceps or other parts.

The aim is to have a better understanding of tattoo ink and its effect on the human body. The FDA’s research was prompted by a rash of complaints, including people complaining of itchy or inflamed skin around the tattoo in the summer when they’ve been out in the sun. In addition, some people have reported swelling or burning in the tattoo during an MRI.

The FDA hopes to learn the chemical composition of inks and how they break down in the body. They also want to know the short-term and long-term safety risks posed by the pigments and how the body reacts to the interaction of light with the inks.

In the meantime, the FDA has issued some tips to those thinking about getting a tattoo or permanent make-up.

First, remember that no ink has been FDA-approved at this time.

Also, consider the permanence of a tattoo: Removal is time-consuming, costly and not always successful. If you do want to get a tattoo removed, consult a doctor or health care professional, don’t use a do-it-yourself product or seek help at the tattoo parlor.

Don’t avoid an MRI if a doctor says you need one.

And finally, you just might want to think before you ink.