The composition of tattoo ink could influence whether or not tattoos are carcinogenic, according to a recently published study in which researchers analyzed nearly 100 inks.
They reported that even when these products include a label that should specify the ingredients that the chemical compound contains, the lists are often inaccurate.
Although many azo pigments, which make up inks, do not cause health problems when chemically intact, it is possible that bacteria or ultraviolet light can degrade them into another nitrogen-based compound that is a potential carcinogen.
All this according to the explanation of the Joint Research Center of Binghamton University (State University of New York), which provides independent scientific advice to the European Union.
“The idea for this project initially came about because I was interested in what happens when laser light is used to remove tattoos,” said John Swierk, PhD, principal investigator for the project.
“But then I realized that very little is actually known about the composition of tattoo inks, so we started looking at popular brands,” he said.
The procedure consisted of interviewing tattoo artists to see what they knew about the inks they use on their clients. Artists could quickly identify a brand they preferred, but they didn't know much about its content.
“Surprisingly, no dry cleaners make specific pigments for tattoo ink,” Swierk explains. “The big companies make pigments for everything, like paint and textiles. These same pigments are used in tattoo inks.”
Everyone should know about carcinogenic substances present in inks
It also notes that tattoo artists must be licensed in the places where they operate for safety reasons, but no federal or local agency regulates the content of the inks.
Additionally, the team analyzed 16 inks using electron microscopy and about half contained particles smaller than 100nm. "That's a worrying size range," says Swierk. "Particles of this size can pass through the cell membrane and potentially cause damage."
From these analyses, they have confirmed the presence of ingredients that are not listed on some labels. For example, in one case, ethanol was not listed, but chemical analysis showed that it was present in the ink.
After the researchers run some more tests and peer-review the data, they will add the information to their What's in My Ink? website. . With this data, they seek that both consumers and artists make decisions based on truthful information.