Tattoo Ink Contains Chemicals That Cause Organ Damage

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A study has found that more than nine in 10 people who get tattoos in America could be unintentionally exposing themselves to harmful chemicals that cause organ damage


Testing conducted in New York on 54 ink samples has revealed at least 45 contained compounds that were not listed on the label. Details of the study were published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Surveys suggest that around one-third of Americans have tattoos now. Results also showed that at least half have tattoos among adults aged 30 to 49 years old.

Testing reveals tattoo ink contains contaminants linked to organ damage

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is slated to start regulating tattoo inks later in 2024 following a vote in Congress in late 2022 that gave the agency the power to do so.

Legislators have decided on the shift after several reports of illnesses caused by microbe contaminants found in tattoos.

Like make-up and body lotions, tattoo inks are regulated as “cosmetics” under the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act (MoCRA). This was the largest revision of existing cosmetics regulation since 1938 and gave the FDA new powers, such as monitoring the ingredients in tattoos.

So far, the FDA has released draft guidance on tattoo inks, as it prepares to regulate the products. (Related: Tattoos can leak dangerous heavy metals into your lymph nodes, study finds.)

Kelli Moseman, a chemistry researcher at Binghamton University in New York, and her fellow researchers gathered ink samples from nine U.S.-based manufacturers. They then compared the ingredients found in the tests to those listed on the inks’ labels to find discrepancies.

Some ink labels listed additives that weren’t present. For example, 36 listed glycerol but it was only detected in 29 of the tattoo inks that were studied.

Only one brand accurately listed the ingredients contained in its ink. Fifteen inks contained propylene glycol, which the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) reported as the 2018 allergen of the year.

Researchers reported that the most common contaminant was also polyethylene glycol, a compound that has been linked to organ damage, including a type of necrosis in the kidneys.

90% of tattoo ink contains chemicals that can cause ORGAN DAMAGE, study  finds - with more Americans than ever now inked | Daily Mail Online

Polyethylene glycol is sometimes used in tattoos as a thickening agent, making them easier to apply. The compound is also used in other products such as body wash, foundations and hair spray.


Other chemicals used in tattoos include 2-phenoxyethanol, which has been linked to nervous system dysfunction in infants. The chemical can sometimes be added as a preservative.


Experts think that 2-phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative because it can stop microbes from growing in the ink once a bottle is opened. It is also used in products like eye shadows, moisturizers and sunscreen for these effects.


The tests also found the presence of propylene glycol, an antibiotic that is often used for urinary tract infections (UTIs). The antibiotic wasn’t declared on the label and it may have been added to reduce the risks of contamination.

Most tattoo ink contains dangerous chemicals linked to organ damage, study  finds - The Mirror US

Propylene glycol has previously been linked to allergic reactions that can cause skin conditions, like eczema.


Tattoo inks put into the body by tattoo artists may be absorbed by a type of white blood cell called macrophages, which then hold the ink in the skin, keeping the tattoo in place.


However, impurities can sometimes leach into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body. This process then increases the risk of adverse side effects like organ damage.


The researchers said that while they are only studying six inks per manufacturer, there is reasonable cause for concern that labeling issues also affect other inks not considered in this study.


Tattoos make it harder to detect skin cancers

In the past, dermatologists have warned against tattoos because they make it harder to detect skin cancers. They also cautioned that tattoo inks contain impurities that can increase the risk of health complications.

90% of US tattoo inks contain ingredients not listed on the label

Dr. Marc Everett, a plastic surgeon in New York, has previously warned that tattoo inks can cause inflammation in lymph nodes that also help carry fluids around the body.


Everett, who was not involved in the study, explained that the swelling may harm your body’s immune system and reduce its ability to fight off infections.


Dr. John Swierk, a chemist at Binghampton University who led the study, said the research team hopes that the manufacturers use the study data to reevaluate their processes. He also added that both artists and clients should “take this as an opportunity to push for better labeling and manufacturing.”


Swierk said this was the first study to explicitly look at inks sold in the U.S. He added that is probably the most comprehensive one because it studied the pigments used in tattoo inks. “We’re trying to highlight that there are some deficiencies in manufacturing and labeling,” he said.


According to Swierk, pigments “nominally stay in the skin, [along with] the carrier package, which is what the pigment is suspended in.”


Visit Chemicals.news to read more stories about chemicals that can harm human health.