Tattoo ink contains a lot of crazy stuff, but you're not going to die from it
In America, there are more than 50 million people with at least one tattoo, the millennial generation (of course) harboring the most – an estimated 45 percent of anyone born between 1980 and 2000 have one. The bad news? They’re all carrying around toxic chemicals under their skin that will probably lead to an excruciatingly painful death one day.
At least, that’s what Bloomberg wants you to believe.
It’s true, since 2004, the FDA has received hundreds of complaints from people reporting adverse reactions to tattoo ink, including out-of-the-ordinary scarring, itching or inflamed skin — compared with only 5 complaints of the same nature from 1988 to 2003.
The problem with using this specific data as a means to imply there’s a sort of epidemic in the industry, is that there were far fewer people getting tattooed from 1988 to 2003 than there are now. Statistically speaking, we would expect more people to suffer considering more people are going under the needle. Rule of numbers, and all of that.
Regardless, concerns tend to pop up every few months or so about the risks one takes when visiting a tattoo shop to get that sick owl outline or state flag emblazoned on a forearm. Especially when companies are sometimes asked to recall their product containing microbial contamination.
However, the risks associated with tattoo ink depend on a variety of factors — mostly on how trustworthy of an artist you’ve chosen or how sensitive you are to anything in the ink. Another has to do with what colors you decide to use.
To attain bright, long-lasting tones, ink manufacturers often use a heavy metal component to achieve certain shades, including things like zinc, iron, lead and … yes, mercury. Put in those terms, getting tattooed sounds fucking frightening, but our body is built in a way it can withstand small doses of this stuff getting in.
“Luckily, a number of the possible toxic substances found in ink have a very short half-life, meaning they do not stay in the body for a long time,” says DeleteItNow, a tattoo removal and laser salon. “Staying healthy before and after getting a tattoo, and also during the tattoo removal process, is crucial. If you are healthy, the body is well-equipped with detoxification pathways that can handle many of the ingredients in tattoo ink. However, if you are sensitive to new substances introduced to the body, or have a compromised immune system or unhealthy life style, then be cautious and educated about what substances are used in the tattoo ink.”
Right now, the FDA and other research facilities are working to see if there are any long-term effects of tattoos and the inks used in them, but claim there isn’t a huge priority to figure that out just yet (tens of thousands of complaints in a short period of time would be cause for concern, hundreds over decades, not so much).
So if you’re one of the many millions considering getting new work done at the moment but find yourself questioning the safety, consider this one factor alleviated. Focus more on the reputation of the shop, the professionalism of the artist and the cleanliness of the venue — not to mention your own lifestyle and dedication to aftercare.
You're not going to die from getting a tattoo, no matter what outlets like Bloomberg want you to think.