Considering a tattoo? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants you to think before you ink.
America’s body-art craze is not without risks, the agency says. From 2004 to 2016, it received nearly 400 reports of problems with tattoos, such as infections from contaminated tattoo inks or allergic reactions.
Potential concerns for consumers include unsafe practices and the ink itself, said Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.
“While you can get serious infections from unhygienic practices and equipment that isn’t sterile, infections can also result from ink that was contaminated with bacteria or mold,” Katz said in an agency news release.
“Using non-sterile water to dilute the pigments (ingredients that add color) is a common culprit, although not the only one,” she said.
Katz added there’s no foolproof way to tell if the ink is safe. “An ink can be contaminated even if the container is sealed or the label says the product is sterile,” she said.
Research shows that some tattoo inks contain pigments used in printer toner or in car paint. No pigments for injection into the skin for cosmetic purposes have FDA approval.
A number of reactions may occur after you get a tattoo.
“You might notice a rash — redness or bumps — in the area of your tattoo, and you could develop a fever,” Katz said.
“More aggressive infections may cause high fever, shaking, chills, and sweats. Treating such infections might require a variety of antibiotics — possibly for months — or even hospitalization and/or surgery,” she said.
A rash could also mean you’re having an allergic reaction. “And because the inks are permanent, the reaction may persist,” she explained.
“Contact your health care professional if you have any concerns,” Katz advised.
Other problems may show up later. After getting a tattoo, you may develop scar tissue. Or your tattoos might lead to swelling and burning when you undergo an MRI. If your doctor wants to schedule an MRI, be sure to disclose that you have a tattoo, Katz said.
Other agency tips
Avoid do-it-yourself tattoo inks and kits. They’ve been linked with infections and allergic reactions, and users may not know how to control and avoid all sources of contamination.
Be forewarned that removing a tattoo is difficult, and complete removal without scarring may not be possible.
If you do decide to get a tattoo, make sure the parlor and artist comply with state and local laws.
If an infection or other reaction develops after getting a tattoo, contact your health care provider and “notify the tattoo artist so he or she can identify the ink and avoid using it again,” Katz said. She suggested asking for the brand, color and any lot or batch number of the ink or diluting agent to help determine the source of the problem and how to treat it.
In such cases, the consumer, tattoo artist or health care professional should inform the FDA and provide as much detail as possible about the ink and the reaction.
Consumer Reports has more on tattoos.