There are many things you should consider before getting a tattoo: Are you drunk with your buddies in the Cross? Will you regret having it done 10 years from now (or even tomorrow)? Are you getting it done by a sketchy artist in a basement that smells like arse and stale beer and regret?
Well, add this doozy to the list: Potentially toxic elements in tattoo ink can leech, permanently, into your lymph nodes and cause some nasty side effects, according to new research from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.
In the study, published in Scientific Reports, researchers examined the skin and lymphatic tissues of four tattooed corpses (lovely job, right?). Researchers found that, when you get a tattoo, certain compounds and pigments travel within your body, both in micro and nonoparticle forms.
Problem is, the usually harmless pigment used in tattoo ink has potential impurities that can become damaging once inside your body. For example, most tattoo inks contain organic pigments, as well as contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese, or cobalt.
The most common ingredient is carbon black, followed by titanium dioxide (TiO2), a white pigment used to create certain shades. TiO2 is considered pretty safe—it’s used in sunscreens and toothpastes—but some studies have shown it can become harmful by creating oxidative stress (the process that damages your cells and potentially causes cancer), inflammation, and an immune response similar to an allergic reaction, according to additional research published in Radiology and Oncology.
If you’re familiar with white tattoos, you’ve seen what we’re talking about: The skin is raised and can be itchy due to delayed healing.
“We already knew that pigments from tattoos would travel to the lymph nodes because of visual evidence: The lymph nodes become tinted with the colour of the tattoo,” study co-author Bernhard Hesse said in a press release. “It is the response of the body to clean the site of entrance of the tattoo.”
Researchers have found that tattoo ink can lead to chronic enlargement of the lymph nodes and lifelong exposure to these toxic compounds, because they found molecular changes to the tissue, as well as inflammation.
“When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlour where they use sterile needles that haven’t been used previously,” study co-author Hiram Castillo said in a press release. “No one checks the chemical composition of the colours, but our study shows that maybe they should.”