Got Ink?

February 10, 2015

Tattoos have been around for centuries and have gained great popularity in recent times. Many tattoos are elaborate works of art. Others are the old standard “Mom,” military-type or former sweethearts.  Some are applied safely and some are not. No matter which type of tattoo you get, the act of permanent tattooing involves piercing the skin and injecting a foreign substance. This can lead to health problems or conditions if not done properly and with strict infection control procedures.

Below is a list of some of the health issues that can occur from tattoos:

Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to the inks that are used. This can lead to a localized reaction where the ink has been applied or it can lead to a reaction all over your body in the form of hives. If you experience a reaction to the inks, you should consult your health care provider. If you have any difficulty breathing after the inks have been injected, get medical help immediately.

Infections: Some people may experience an infection if improper equipment is used. Signs of infection can include swelling at the site, pain, redness, fever or oozing. Seek medical attention if you demonstrate signs of infection. Certain diseases like hepatitis B and C and HIV can be transmitted through tattooing when proper sanitary procedures are not followed.

Keloids:  A keloid is scar tissue. It forms under the tattoo and raises up the skin. If you are prone to keloids before a tattoo, your chances of forming a keloid after a tattoo is greater.

Granulomas: A granuloma is a nodule (bump-like) of tissue that forms around a substance that enters the body. The immune response of the body may react to components of the tattoo, such as the ink, as a foreign substance and attempt to protect the body by forming these nodules and “capturing” the substance.

Interference with an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Occasionally, although rare, the dyes from the ink in the tattoo can react with an MRI and cause a burning sensation or swelling at the site.

Scarring after removal: The tattoo you desire today may not be the tattoo you desire tomorrow. Tattoos can be removed using laser technology, but complete removal without scarring may be impossible. The FDA (Federal Food and Drug Administration) cautions not to use do-it-yourself tattoo removal products. Should you decide that you wish to remove a tattoo, you should consult a health care provider who is trained in tattoo removal or can recommend a provider who is trained in the procedures. 

Rather than getting a permanent tattoo, some people opt for temporary tattoos. There are temporary decal-type tattoos that are popular with young children, featuring some of their favorite characters. There are also longer lasting henna (reddish-brown) tattoos that are popular with teenagers and young adults. Although temporary tattoos do not involve piercing the skin, they still contain dyes to which skin can react. This is especially true when henna tattoos have added ingredients to create black or blue henna. Henna and a coal tar-type dye that makes the henna black, are licensed for use in hair dyes and not for use on the skin. The FDA is currently researching all dyes used for tattooing, both for permanent and temporary tattoos, as to their safety.

Effective January 1, 2015, the Quinnipiack Valley Health District, public health department for Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) passed regulations governing the sanitary conditions of the tattooing facility and ensuring that it has a license, which is issued by the state of CT.  The intention of the regulations is to protect the public by safeguarding tattoo sanitation thereby reducing the chance of infection. (You can view these regulations on the QVHD website, QVHD does not evaluate the safety of dye content. If you have a reaction to a temporary or permanent tattoo, report it to the FDA MedWatch line, 1-800-332-1088 or on line,  Information for this column was compiled from the FDA website and WebMD, keyword tattoos. If you do not have internet access and would like written information on this topic, contact or call 203 248-4528.