Tattoos used to be trendy mostly with certain groups – like bikers, rebels, rockers, and sailors.
But these days they’ve become thoroughly mainstream. Approximately one in five adults in the US now have them, and the statistics are similar in the UK.
Lately, some researchers are beginning to ask whether tattoos are safe… not only with regard to hygiene and the potential for tattoo needles to spread infections, but because little is really known about their potential for causing serious health problems — including cancer. Read on for more. . .
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Many, though not all, of the inks used for tattoos contain known carcinogens.
Some red dyes contain mercury and some greens and blues are made with cobalt – the same cobalt blue used in ceramics. What’s more, the chemical benzo(a)pyrene — commonly used for black ink — causes skin cancer in animal tests and has also been linked to skin cancer in petroleum workers.
In a study conducted by Jorgen Serup, a professor of dermatology at Copenhagen University Hospital, carcinogenic chemicals were found in 13 out of 21 common European tattoo inks.1
Furthermore, ink manufacturers in the UK acknowledge that 5% of tattoo studios use inks containing known carcinogens. 2
Arsenic and heavy metals in your skin art
Besides the toxins already mentioned, several other chemicals commonly used in inks can damage your health.
Arsenic is a known carcinogen contained in some inks, and high enough exposure can cause genetic damage.
Beryllium, yet another carcinogen frequently present in tattoo ink, can also cause Chronic Beryllium Disease, which affects the lungs and can vary in severity from mild to fatal. It causes inflammation and sometimes scarring of the lung tissue, resulting most often in a persistent dry cough and shortness of breath.
Antimony can irritate your lungs, eyes, and skin, and prolonged exposure can ultimately lead to problems with your lungs, heart, and stomach.
Cadmium endangers your kidneys, bones, and heart.
Lead is extremely toxic to much of your body, including your bones, heart, nervous system, and kidneys. Symptoms of lead exposure can range from headaches to seizures and death.
Big damage from very tiny particles
Yet another danger comes from the fact that tattoo ink is filled with nanoparticles, ultra-microscopic in size, which can penetrate through the deeper layers of your skin and enter your bloodstream. These particles are unimaginably small, less than 100 billionths of a meter.
Evidence suggests that these nanoparticles are able to accumulate in certain filtering organs, especially your spleen and kidneys, impairing their ability to remove impurities and toxins from your body. Some nanoparticles may also be able to cause nerve damage.
While nanoparticles in themselves may not be particularly dangerous, they may enable heavy metals and carcinogenic chemicals to enter your body more readily, making these toxins even more toxic.
Despite growing evidence that more research should be done, there is little or no regulation of the tattoo industry.
Desmond Tobin, the director of Bradford University’s center for skin sciences, stated to London’s Sunday Times, “We need to do more work, but there is no question that these substances can be toxic . . . Millions of Europeans are now being tattooed with chemical substances of unknown origin.” 3
Although the FDA technically has the power to regulate tattoos in the US, the mere presence of heavy metals and known carcinogens shows the FDA is not on top of the potential problem.
I haven’t seen any studies linking tattoos to increased risk of cancer or other diseases (except for the infections I mentioned earlier). In this article, you may have noticed I employed the words “may” and “could” a lot. There isn’t much to go on.
But some of the inks contain toxic substances. There’s no dispute about that. Larger doses than those received in a tattoo may be necessary to cause cancer. On the other hand, a small dose or a series of small doses may be sufficient. We don’t know for sure. I wouldn’t take a chance.
Tattoos have been a fad for a while now. The first wave of tattooed kids must be pushing forty, and generations that followed them are taking it up and taking it even further. It doesn’t look like this craze is going away. It’s time to take a skeptical look at it.
By chance, I attended a dinner party last week where one of the guests had written a book about tattoos. She’s not against them, but her advice to young people is — first of all — they can’t be removed. Don’t kid yourself. Her second bit of advice is “get only one, and get it in a place no one will see except your intimate partner.”
Assuming the young people in your life will listen to anything, you might want to pass that along. . .
Take protective measures
Those who insist on getting a tattoo should take some precautions.
The components of tattoo ink are absorbed into your body — so all those carcinogens and heavy metals enter your bloodstream at one time. While your body may eventually expel them, they can wreak havoc in the meantime, and some may lodge permanently in bones and tissues.
You might want to consider a detox protocol to “encourage” them to leave. Chlorella supplements or even an oral chelation protocol can help expel mercury and other heavy metals. (Long-time readers of this newsletter know that I think oral chelation is best done under a doctor’s supervision, because it depletes good minerals as well as toxic ones.)
Ask the tattoo artist about his basic sanitation and safety procedures to prevent infection and disease transfer. And also find out what chemicals and heavy metals are in the inks he uses.
Our last issue talked about the potential dangers of calcium supplements. This is important stuff to know, so if you missed it you can read it now, just below this.