A report on the recently discovered health risks associated with tattoos.
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Tattoo, a 2012 release by aging rockers Van Halen extolling their love of tattoos. As I'm sure you're aware, tattoos have become a lot more popular over the past couple of decades with some estimating that as many as one in three adults here in the UK have one. In the United States, a poll in 2012 found that one out of every five adults, that's 21 percent, has at least one tattoo. Another U.S. study found that the number was close to 40 percent among those aged 18 to 29.
Well the bad news is that tattoos might be bad for you. Yes you've heard that before from your parents most likely. But now researchers in Germany say yes there's scientific risk because the tattoo ink hasn't been thoroughly tested. Dan Damon spoke to Ines Griever, a researcher from Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, a scientific body that advises authorities on chemical safety among other things. He started by asking her what's in the ink.
The ink is made of different compounds. The main ingredient of course is the pigments themselves. They give the color, but you have solvents, you have preservatives and other ingredients to make the ink fluid.
And really, has there been any control, any standard setting of what's in the ink?
There are little regulations in Europe. In some countries and Germany, we have regulations since 2009, but it's taken from the cosmetic regulation. But cosmetics, as you know, are staying on the skin, so you have a barrier. In tattooing, you enter the ink deep into the skin. It's getting into contact with lymph fluid and blood. So it's directly entering the body.
So what did you find out specifically? There are some substances in tattoo ink that we should be more cautious about?
What we found out is the smaller the particles are, the easier they can be transported in the body. We also looked for toxic elements, for example like nickel and chromium, and we found that not only in the skin but also in the lymph nodes.
Which is worrying isn't it?
Yes it is. We have a lifelong exposition to this toxic material. I was very shocked when I got to know that the tattoos are also traveling to the lymph nodes, and you have a very large and colorful lymph nodes if you have a tattoo. People nowadays think everything in our environment is kind of controlled by government. And in this case it's actually not. So there are unknown dangers and there are side effects. So if you want to get a tattoo, you should be aware of things that can happen. Next to an ugly tattoo or infections, also the chemicals inside the ink have some dangerous with it. And you should know about it.
What you're saying is much more research and perhaps more regulation is going to be needed.
Yes it is. And especially that people take care what, and the tattooists, take care what inks they use. That you protect your tattoo for example from the sun. If you have very colorful tattoos, some of the pigments can be cleaved by sunlight. This is something you should know. And it's not that just that your tattoo might bleach from it, but it also can release maybe toxic or carcinogenic compounds from the pigments.
Ines Griever of Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment speaking there about tattoos.