Tattoo ink could leave you tainted with infection

By Shayna Brouker • Published: November 29th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Thinking about getting a tattoo? One-quarter of 18- to 30-year-olds already have one. But in addition to the social stigma, judgment during job interviews and the pain of an electric pricking needle, you might want to consider this discovery from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before you get body art: Tattoo ink could be contaminated with Mucobacterium chelonae (MEW-co-back-TEAR-ee-um chel-ON-ay). This bacterium can cause an infection that mimics allergic reactions, and it can take six months — or more — to cure it.

There have been at least 22 cases reported, with another 31 possibly tied to the outbreak. According to the C-D-C, the culprit was water added to blank ink to dilute it to gray. The water in the ink was treated by reverse-osmosis, which isn’t always sterile, paving the way for contamination. The ink caused allergic-like reactions of reddish or purple bumps and bruises.

If you’re one of those looking to get a tattoo in the next five years, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of this infection and others, like MRSA (MUR-sa) or H-I-V.

When it comes to cleanliness, make sure the studio is on par with a doctor’s office. Let the bathroom be your benchmark — if it’s dirty, make a run for it. Ensure the artist’s license is up to date. Don’t get a tattoo if you’ve sick, have been drinking alcohol, taking drugs or using aspirin. The artist should use a single-use needle from a sterile packet and sterile gloves. Ask for a list of specific pigments, including color, manufacturer’s name and lot number. This information could prove handy in the case of an outbreak, and at the very least, you’ll have peace of mind.

Last, be sure to baby your new ink. Following these guidelines will help ensure that your only regret is getting your ex-beau’s name tattooed on your arm instead of that cool tribal band.