5 serious health risks to be aware of when having a tattoo

Having tattoos remains popular and young people are queuing up to get them done.   However, most people are not aware of the risks involved in tattooing their skin. It is likely that they know more about the pros and cons of signing up for a Fair Go casino bonus than they do about the risks involved in getting a tattoo.   But it would be wise to understand some of these risks before going ahead with one.

Dr. Ian Webster who is a Cape Town dermatologist made it clear, when speaking with Health24, that only a professional tattoo artist should be used.   It is vital that all the instruments that are used in the process of tattooing should be sterilized and of course used correctly. The clinic should be spotless.  If this is not the case, serious complications can arise.

Dr. Webster went on to say that many people don’t realize that it is possible to transmit serious infections, such as hepatitis and HIV and also that some people may have an allergic reaction so it is crucial that these risks be looked into before going ahead.

The process of tattooing imbeds permanent granules of color under the skin. Notwithstanding the dangers already mentioned concerning HIV or hepatitis, there are other complications that may occur after having a tattoo and you should be aware of them.

Possibility of allergy to the ink

In the UK, Nicola Hickman got a heart tattoo on her ankle as a way of showing her deep love for her daughter.    It took some weeks until she realized there was a problem.  She reported to the Daily Mail that “I noticed that the tattoo was bumpy and the red color was fading I went back to the tattooist to ask his opinion, and he said he would be happy to top up the color when the bumps went down”.

His advice was to use a cream with antiseptic but it didn’t help and it just got worse.  Hickman went on to say “I tried to ignore it but it got to the point when I couldn’t think of anything else. I couldn’t wear proper footwear and I couldn’t sleep on it.”

It became obvious that she had an allergy to the red ink. Hickman reported that “The dermatologists took one look at it and were shocked. They’d never seen an allergic reaction like it before. They took pictures that they wanted to use for a report in a medical journal.   The result was that 11 months later doctors had to surgically remove a growth that had formed there, leaving her ankle with a 4 cm scar.

“I had another tattoo done of my daughter’s name in black ink on my neck and I’ve never had any problems with it.  They’re still not sure what it was in the red ink which caused the allergic reaction.  It might have been a metallic chemical.  My ankle’s still not perfectly healed, but I’m glad the growth has gone.”

An article appeared in The Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery which stated that “classic pigments and their degradation products used in tattooing, such as dichromate (green), cobalt (blue), cadmium (yellow) and mercury salt (red) -based pigments are responsible for these kinds of allergic reactions with permanent tattoos.”

The process of tattooing, which introduces a foreign substance into the skin, may cause a toxic or immunological reaction.   This may occur straight away or even after years.

A tattoo could be concealing cancer

The American journal, Jama Dermatology reported a case in Germany where a man had been requesting the removal of multicolored tattoos from his chest and arms.  Upon examination, doctors noticed a mole located inside a tattoo on his arm that looked suspicious.  They recommended it be removed prior to any laser therapy.  Unfortunately, he refused and went ahead with laser therapy. This man went on to have 47 surgeries and after 7 years he finally had the mole removed and the diagnosis was stage 2 melanoma.

According to Dr. Robert Shmerling, who is faculty editor at Harvard Health Publications, the tattoo ink may be obscuring changes to moles and it may be difficult to assess them.  It is also possible for the ink to move “into underlying tissues and resemble the spread of metastatic melanoma.”

He goes on to say that laser therapy is tricky because “Lasers break up pigment inside the tattoo. But it can also break up pigment inside a suspicious mole, making assessment of the mole difficult.”

It is important when considering having a tattoo, that you choose an area of the skin clear of any moles or birthmarks.

Tattoos can affect how you perspire

Apparently tattooed skin discharges approximately 50% less sweat than untattooed skin. Maurie Luetkemeier, Professor of Physiology at Alma College, Michigan said “We also found the sodium in sweat was more concentrated when released from tattooed skin.”

Sodium and electrolytes usually get reabsorbed into the skin after you perspire but according to Luetkemeier the tattoo may partially prevent this from occurring.  Apparently, this is more likely to occur if you have a large tattoo on an area of the skin with a lot of sweat glands, like your back or arms. It could be that your body will have a difficult time cooling itself down.

Professor Luetkemmeier says “You look at someone in the military, where tattoos are very prevalent, and if they’re exposed to high heat and a heavy workload, there could be thermoregulatory problems.”  However, he does point out that this has not been proven, and more research is needed.

Tattoos can increase the risk of bacterial infection

According to an article appearing in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, “Tattoos can cause bacterial infections caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, which could lead to impetigo, erysipelas and septicaemia; Staphylococcus aureus can cause rare toxic shock syndrome; skin and soft tissue infections can be caused by community acquired methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA); treponema pallidum can cause syphilis; and Mycbacterium leprae which causes leprosy.”

A paper that appeared in BMJ Case Reports speaks about a man who after having a tattoo took a swim in the Gulf of Mexico and later found himself in hospital with an infection – bacterium Vibrio vulnificus. For two months he experienced skin necrosis and septic shock and ultimately died.  This man was suffering from chronic liver disease so the tattoo was not the direct reason for his death. However, because his skin had only recently been tattooed bacterium present in the sea water, was able to enter his blood stream.

Tattoos can lead to problems during medical procedures

Studies have found that tattoos may interfere with MRIs in that the metal- based ink in tattoos have been found to react to magnetic resonance imaging.

A report concerning a man who got second degree burns on two of his tattoos while undergoing a cervical spine MRI appeared in the American Journal of Roentgenology. He felt a burning sensation on his arm and saw that the skin where the tattoo was had become raised and swollen.  There was also another case of a professional football player who also experienced burning on a tattoo while undergoing an MRI of his pelvis area.

According to the report, the burns were caused by an “electromagnetic reaction due to the ferromagnetic metallic compounds found in tattoo pigments, especially iron oxide – a reaction that has the potential to distort the field of image.”

Taking this into account it would be definitely wise to avoid having tattoos that use iron-based inks but if you already have one, be sure to mention this to your doctor if you need to undergo an MRI.

Possible reactions that may occur following a tattoo.

The US Food and Drug Administration says that a rash may appear in the skin around the area of the tattoo or you may develop a fever.   Sometimes complications include chills or sweats and a rash may mean that you have an allergy to the ink.  You may get an infection and need antibiotics or even surgery.   Tattoo ink is permanent so sometimes these reactions may continue.


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