As more and more Americans tattoo their bodies, some have wondered whether there may be a hidden risk (other than the risk of regretting the tattoo a few years down the road).
Many inks are made with metals; blue, for example, contains cobalt and aluminum, and red may contain mercury sulfide. That, along with the fact that tattooing can be traumatizing to the skin, prompted suspicion that tattoos might lead to skin cancer. Studies in recent years have documented a few cases of cancer at a tattoo site.
But Dr. Ariel Ostad, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, says that does not mean the tattoo caused the cancer. Indeed, he said, the ink is unlikely to do any harm because it is confined to cells in the skin called macrophages, whose job is to absorb foreign material.
More likely, he said, the tattoo was placed on an existing mole, making any changes in the mole hard to spot. Several case studies have dealt with melanomas that were overlooked because they arose from moles hidden by tattoos. Dr. Ostad says he is often asked whether tattoos can lead to cancer, and the answer “is unequivocally no.”
“But people should know that they should always leave a rim of healthy skin around a pre-existing mole.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
There is no evidence that tattoos lead to skin cancer.
Henna tattoos are widely available and usually harmless. But certain kinds can cause a powerful allergic reaction.
Henna is a vegetable dye that can be brown, red or green, and it wears off in a matter of days. But to produce a darker color, some tattoo artists add a chemical called para-phenylenediamine, or PPD. The Food and Drug Administration says the only legal use for PPD in cosmetics is as a hair dye.
This photograph, published in the Aug. 6 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, shows the blistered hands of a 19-year-old Kuwaiti woman who had a temporary tattoo applied at a wedding eight days earlier. She was treated with topical corticosteroids.
“The blisters lasted a week or so,” said Dr. Colby C. Evans, a Texas dermatologist and a co-author of the article. “It left behind a dark pigmentation that will take six months or more to fade.”
Is henna without PPD any safer? “There have been some reported cases of allergy to henna itself, but it’s rare,” Dr. Evans said. “Allergy to PPD is extremely common.”
It is more than likely common sense not to get a tattoo when you are sick or not feeling quite 100% but this is a huge tattoo don’t. Many tattoo artist as well as experts will warn people not to get inked when they are sick, think they are sick or simply feel run down a bit. The main reason for this is your immune system is a bit run down and it doesn’t need the extra stress of worrying about a new tattoo that has just been inked on your skin. So if you are planning on getting a tattoo on a certain day and find yourself a bit under the weather, wait until your are your full self again.
Also another great practice to get used to when thinking about getting a tattoo is making sure you take plenty of vitamin C. This will help the healing process as well as your health. Also another tip people should be aware of is not to take any kind of pain reliever before you head out to the tattoo parlor or studio. Tattoo artist say not to practice this because pain relievers can thin your blood causing you to bleed more. If you bleed too much it can effect the quality of your tattoo. So if you are concerned about the pain, you will simply have to tough it out until after you have gotten your tattoo. After that you are more than welcome to take the pain reliever of your choice. Another quick tip is to stay away from the bottle before getting a tattoo, it too will thin your blood making you bleed more.