Jul 15, 2015

Research Suggests Tattoos May Pose Health Risks

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Getting a tattoo may put you at risk for long-term skin problems, a new study warns. 

"We were rather alarmed at the high rate of reported chronic complications tied to getting a tattoo," said senior investigator Dr. Marie Leger, an assistant professor in the dermatology department at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. 

"Given the growing popularity of tattoos, physicians, public health officials and consumers need to be aware of the risks involved," Leger said in a Langone news release.

For the study, researchers surveyed about 300 New York City adults, aged 18 to 69, with tattoos. Most of them had no more than five tattoos, and the arm was the most popular tattoo site (67 percent).

Up to 6 percent of the study participants experienced some form of tattoo-related rash, infection, severe itching or swelling that sometimes lasted longer than four months. In some cases, the problems persisted for years, according to the investigators.

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Some tattoo-related skin problems can be treated with anti-inflammatory steroid drugs, but others may require laser surgery, Leger said.

The chemicals used in tattoo ink are not standardized or properly regulated, she said.

 "It is not yet known if the reactions being observed are due to chemicals in the ink itself or to other chemicals, such as preservatives or brighteners, added to them, or to the chemicals' breakdown over time. The lack of a national database or reporting requirements also hinders reliable monitoring," Leger said.

 The study was published online May 27 in the journal Contact Dermatitis.

About one in five adult Americans has at least one tattoo, according to the study authors.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about tattoos.

Copyright © 2015 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

This article was written by Robert Preidt from HealthDay and was legally licensed

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Editorial Voice
Paul M. Friedman, M.D. for the Editorial Voice - ZALEA Paul M. Friedman, M.D.

It is estimated that one-quarter of adults age 18-50 in the United States currently have a tattoo and approximately 20,000,000 people have unwanted tattoos. Typical tattoo inks are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Leger and team published in the May issue of the journal Contact Dermatitis “an alarming high rate of reported chronic complications tied to getting a tattoo”, although an adverse tattoo reaction of 10.3% seems high in my clinical experience.  

The high complication rate seen by Dr. Leger's team certainly warrants larger and long-term studies and should prompt the FDA to further explore the safety of tattoo ink. The American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery can help you find a doctor in your area who is experienced in laser tattoo removal.  


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