No inks on the market today have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for injection into the skin – and yet one in four Americans age 18 to 50 has a tattoo. On Tuesday, the FDA hosted a webinar about the basics of tattoo regulation and safety. Whether you want to cover yourself with color or just get your eyeliner tattooed on, here are the facts you need to know.

One of the FDA’s jobs is to make sure that color additives – the substances that add color to everything from food to cosmetics – are used safely. To get approval for a pigment, a manufacturer must submit a petition to the FDA showing that the color additive is safe for whatever they want to use it for. Currently, no manufacturers have submitted petitions to use a color additive as tattoo ink, according to Bhakti Petigara Harp, a chemist in the FDA section of Cosmetics and Colors. Watch out for companies that allege their ink is FDA-approved; these claims are false.

From 2003 to 2004, the FDA received more than 150 reports of adverse reactions from tattoos. These side effects ranged from tenderness and swelling to itching and bumps. Most of these reactions were linked back to a particular brand of ink, which was quickly taken off the market. Another company bragged that its ink contained no preservatives – an attractive claim in our age of organic food. The problem was that, with no preservatives, bacteria and mold grew in the pigment, and many people suffered infections and other adverse reactions. These unfortunate incidents show how important it is to research the tattoo ink you plan to use.

The inks used for tattooing fall into two categories: inorganic pigments and synthetic organic pigments. Inorganic pigments are metal oxides, salts or minerals, like charcoal and cinnabar. A drawback of inorganic pigments is that some will fade or change color over time. The other type of inks are synthetic organic pigments. These were first synthesized in the mid 19th century to fill a demand for brighter colors. For those experiencing buyer’s remorse, some synthetic organic tattoo pigments can be removed with laser treatments.

In fact, 17 percent of people surveyed who had tattoos said they were considering getting their ink removed. Laser removal is an expensive, painful and time-consuming process that doesn’t always work. High-intensity light beams break up the pigment under the skin, fading the tattoo over time. Only a reputable dermatologist should administer laser treatment.

Another type of tattooing, called micropigmentation or permanent makeup, is used to replace traditional makeup. Common permanent makeup tattoos substitute eyeliner, lipliner and eyebrow pencil. Although some doctors offer permanent makeup tattoo services in a medical setting, these pigments are also not FDA-approved.

Some tattoos can interact with MRI scans, causing swelling or burning around the tattoo during the procedure. However, the risks of not getting a needed MRI are greater than the risks of tattoo interaction, so don’t avoid an MRI if your doctor says you require one.

Even though the FDA chooses not to exercise its authority to regulate tattoo pigments, this doesn’t mean consumers have to go unprotected. Research the ink you plan to use to make sure it has not been recalled and that the company marketing it doesn’t make suspicious claims like “FDA-approved” or “preservative-free.” Finally, make sure your tattoo artist is licensed in your state, and seek out reviews from former clients.  Here are some resources about tattooing:

Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?
Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts
MedWatch: The FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program

Article by Rose Pastore

 

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Comments

adverse reactions from tattoos are due to poor sanitation of needles and allergic reactions.

I did not realise that the pigments used in permanent lip and eye liner were not approved by the FDA

You said that 17% of the persons who had a tattoo wanted to get the ink removed. I think that is a problem because when you get a tattoo you have to be mature enough to know that you will have that tattoo for the rest of your life. Many tattoo centers I know don’t care if the person who is getting a tattoo is under 18. The bad part is that parents even see this as a good thing.. Tattoo should be allowed only if you are 21+ and I think it will be great if the ink producers could make an ink more healthy for our body and much easier to remove. Great article!

Good read, thanks for taking the time to write this and share.

As tattooing continues to become more popular there are going to be people who enter the profession with little to no desire to learn the history and do proper apprenticeships. During a GOOD apprenticeship a tattooer will learn all the basic skills to take care of their equipment from machines to power sources to pigments as well as proper sterilization. It is unfortunate many of the people who don't do these apprenticeships then put customers or their friends at risk while giving tattoo artist a bad name. Also people, customers, can sometimes not understand the healing process and get paranoid about the healing process so as more people get tattoos more paranoid stories exist. Call the shop, tattooer or maybe ask on a tattoo forum if you have a concern. If you goto a reputable tattoo shop it should greatly decrease the likelihood of much of this stuff. For many good tattooers you may have to make an appointment and wait but it will be worth it from quality to safety.

Have a good day.

You said that 17% of the persons who had a tattoo wanted to get the ink removed. I think that is a problem because when you get a tattoo you have to be mature enough to know that you will have that tattoo for the rest of your life. Many tattoo centers I know don't care if the person who is getting a tattoo is under 18. The bad part is that parents even see this as a good thing. Tattoo should be allowed only if you are 21+ and I think it will be great if the ink producers could make an ink more healthy for our body and much easier to remove. Great article!

Andrew

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A common problem that may develop with tattoos is the desire to remove them. Removing tattoos and permanent makeup can be very difficult.

Although tattoos may be satisfactory at first, they sometimes fade. Also, if the tattooist injects the pigments too deeply into the skin, the pigments may migrate beyond the original sites, resulting in a blurred appearance.

Another cause of dissatisfaction is that the human body changes over time, and styles change with the season. The permanent makeup that may have looked flattering when first injected may later clash with changing skin tones and facial or body contours. People who plan to have facial cosmetic surgery are advised that the appearance of their permanent makeup may become distorted. The tattoo that seemed stylish at first may become dated and embarrassing. And changing tattoos or permanent makeup is not as easy as changing your mind.

Consult your healthcare provider about the best removal techniques for you.

Reuters recently reported: (According to a February 2011 study) One in three tattoos in Germany contain unpermitted substances and two in three contain technical ink such as automotive paint or printer ink, a government study said on Friday.

The Chemical and Veterinarian Medicine Investigation (CVUA) office in Karlsruhe, Germany said samples of tattoo ink it inspected showed cancer-causing materials, including carbon black which is often used in automobile tires and printer toner.

Two-thirds of tattoo ink tested contained dangerous materials that are not illegal but also not intended to be injected into people's skin, said the CVUA, a department of the health ministry in southern state Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Scary

And worst of all is that people have no idea of drawing, color, aesthetics choose a horrific tattoos in most cases, instead of embellishing the body make it more ugly. So before getting a tattoo to go to museums and learn to appreciate art.

Yes, we're getting more and more people asking us about airbrush tattoos. Many people want to at least try it out before going the permanent route.

I own a tattoo shop, and I see it all the time. Customers come in on whims, to get a new boyfriend/girlfriends name on them, and 3-6 months later they are back in to get it covered up. With certain tattoos, I always try to talk to the customers about reprecussions of inking their body, and what it might mean down the road. I think that if more artists acted responsibly, by talking to their customers about such tattoos, there would be less people regretting them.

People should be smart about getting any type of body art. Tattoos should take serious thought and planning and be looked at like any type of cosmetic surgery you could get.check out all the risk before deciding if one is right for you or not, you don't want to have regrets later. Tattoos are a piece of art and should be something you love for the rest of your life.

I still believe you need to be careful while you are getting that tattoo. Do you really need it, and will it affect you in old age? Though the statistics are high, your health should come first, before the tattoo. This is especially so in getting them in sensitive areas.

I agree. Be smart about body art! I'm an airbrush makeup artist, and I do a lot of weddings. I am constantly being asked if I can cover tattoos for the big day. A lot of these brides are regretting it...

I want tattoo but my parents wont allow this. Is there something sure that is not gonna get any infection?

Very informative!
I had no idea color additives in the ink could cause infection. Well, as with everything, knowledge is power. I'll have to do some research next time I want a tattoo :)

I remember the the days when my friends longed for a tattoo. they could not wait to get one and then years later regret they ever got one.

Tattoos are so permanent and because removal systems/services aren't the greatest, I would have to agree with Doktu and say that it's best to cautious.

I didn't know it's one in four, that's high ratio. We should be very careful about ink injectioned to our skin,the temporary tatto might be a good choice.

I do bridal makeup as well, and I have had to do airbrush cover ups on tattoos for many brides. They always talk about regretting them or how the tattoo did not come out right, or how they got an infection. Very informative article.

I'm torn about getting it done. I keep thinking it will have to be a significant life event for me to do it. I wish it didn't hurt though!

I had eyeliner tattoo myself to get a beauty look and I'm pretty happy with how it turn on me. However, yes I got it done by an expert. I don't dare to go to the cheap one. It's been years, so far I got no problem. Unfortunately I weren't well informed about the ink type before I got my tattoo :(
It's just my fault for not finding your article earlier.

17% of people said they were considering getting their ink removed... Well that not surprising to me at all and that because a majority of my friends have tattoos and believe it or not most of them have regreted getting inked up. I think it a fad with permanent results. Good article, thanks for sharing.

after learning so many complications, i think i would rather stay away from tattooing myself.thanks for the great post.

I had a tattoo removed in Utah during college and I definitely learned my lesson. I'm not opposed to tattoo's but you better know what you want!

This is why I'll never get a tattoo. The risks just aren't worth it. I can be beautiful without resorting to permanent body art. I use a lot of professional makeup products when I want to get the same effect.

I'm pro tattoos, but I do believe one should research a lot before even considering getting one.

Of course this is not the case for a huge percentage of the people that get one. Which kind of explains the high number of people wishing to have it removed afterwards.

I was planning to get a tattoo (4 elements in Chinese characters) until I saw Justin Timberlake sporting the same design! Tattoos should represent your individuality, your uniqueness. I'm glad I waited for a while or I'd be in the 17% who want to remove their ink! Got any tattoo design ideas you could suggest?

I'm pretty shocked that such a large percentage of people would get their tattoos removed! For me my tattoos are a part of who I am, I don't think I could ever have the heart to remove them!

I found your article to be thought provoking and you also raise many good things to consider. I'm glad I came across this website and saw your article. It helped me out with a paper I had to write for a class I'm taking for my major at my university. I will be citing you as a source. Thanks for the great article.

Personally I believe what Ozzy Osborne Says about tattoos "the only way to be original nowadays is to not have one"

Truly the safer path to follow and Yet Still rock N Roll ;)

How long to airbrush tattoos last? I wish I would have gone that route instead. Thanks for the article.

One thing to add... If you do decide to remove your tattoo... you should go to someone who is certified. There are a bunch of risks in getting tattoos, but also ones in getting them removed.

Wow.. Great sharing. Body painting with clay and other normal pigments existed in most, if not all, tribalism cultures. Often worn during ceremonies, it still survives in this very old form among the original people of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific islands and parts of Africa. A form of body painting known as Mehndi, using dyes made of henna (hence also known rather mistakenly as "henna tattoo"), was and is still experienced in India and the Middle East, especially on brides.

Very nice writeup. Yes, there are both advantages and disadvantages of getting a tattoo inked. It is good to know it beforehand though.

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