Tattoo health and safety regulations tend to focus on short-term risks like infections, but little is actually known about the long-term risks of living with ink under your skin, according to a new review in The Lancet. Between one and five per cent of tattooed people suffer a bacterial infection, and some people can have allergic reactions to the ink, according to the report. Since the inks are classified as cosmetics, their long-term toxicology can't be tested in animals, Luch said. But tattoo ink is injected into living tissue, which contains blood vessels, nerves and immune cells. Examining the bodies of the deceased who have had tattoos for decades has shown that up to 90 per cent of the ink has disappeared from the skin, he said. There are no industry standards for ink ingredients, the industry is minimally regulated, and few problems with tattoos are reported to authorities, she said.

Modern tattoo inks mostly contain organic pigments, but can also include preservatives and contaminants like nickel, arsenic and lead, Luch and his coauthors note.
Reactions tend to be more common from coloured inks than from black and white ones, Luch said.
Tattooing has been going on for at least 5,000 years, but has become a modern trend, with roughly 120 million people in the western hemisphere having at least one tattoo, Luch said. By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. It is harder to measure the long-term effects of ink since tattoo inks are in most countries classified as cosmetics, Luch said.
In one study in Switzerland, preservatives banned for use in cosmetics were found in 14 per cent of tattoo ink samples.

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Michi Shinohara, a dermatologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the review. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.

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