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Tattoo Chemicals Raise Concerns

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Today’s tattoo explosion is drawing concerns to the chemicals used in tattoo art and the long-term health issues associated with tattoo inks.

Environmental Health News points out that emerging research has revealed issues with the chemicals used in tattoo inks, such as some known endocrine or hormonal disrupters, some with dangerous toxic and heavy metals, and one that is a serious skin carcinogen. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has initiated a probe into tattoo ink safety.

With more than 45 million Americans, about 36 percent of people in their late 20s, donning at least one tattoo, concern is justified surrounding phthalates, heavy metals, carcinogenic hydrocarbons, and endocrine disrupters that are, essentially, injected, said Environmental Health News, citing data from the FDA and a Harris Interactive Poll.

Tattooing has long been known to lead to allergic reactions, rashes, chronic skin problems, infection, and inflammation when exposed to the sun, according to Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C. The new study suggest the chemicals involved might be the actual culprits and also raises issues concerning longer-term risks, including cancer.

For instance, black tattoo ink contains benzo(a)pyrene, a strong carcinogen and dibutyl phthalate, a plasticizer. “The substances found in the inks might be partially responsible for adverse skin reactions to tattoos,” wrote the dermatologists from Germany’s University of Regensburg, said Environmental Health News. Inks also contain phthalates, known endocrine disrupters, that can mimic estrogen or interrupt testosterone, said Environmental Health News. Phthalates feminize the reproductive tract in boys and are linked to sperm defects and changed thyroid hormones.

Heavy metals—for instance, lead—can have negative impacts to reproductive and nervous systems and were found in tattoo inks along with lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, and titanium. Some pigments, described as industrial grade, are “suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint,” according to an FDA fact sheet said Environmental Health News. Black tattoo inks are typically made from soot, which contains combustion products called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), according to scientists. PAH is a considered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “among the most potent and well-documented skin carcinogens,” often used in testing to grow tumors.

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