How hidden toxins in your tattoos can migrate to your lymph nodes

Microscopic particles of metals, preservatives and toxins in tattoo ink have been shown to move in the body and nano particles end up in the lymph nodes, that play a major role in the human immune system

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 12:48pm

If you don’t have a tattoo yourself, you probably know dozens of people who do. New research suggests they may not be as harmless as body art fanatics believe them to be.

Microscopic particles from tattoo ink can migrate into the body and wind up in lymph nodes, crucial hubs of the human immune system, according to a study.

‘Respect the art’: Hong Kong tattoo convention hopes to break stigma about body ink

The nano particles – measuring a few micrometres down to nanometres – include molecules from preservatives and contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese and cobalt, researchers reported in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

Tattoo inks are composed of various organic and inorganic pigments, and can be contaminated with toxic impurities.

Besides carbon black, the second most common ingredient used in tattoo inks is titanium dioxide, a white pigment also used in food additives, sunscreens and paints.

The chemical has been associated with delayed healing, itching and skin irritation.

“When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlour where they use sterile needles,” says co-author Hiram Castillo, a researcher at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.

“No one checks the chemical composition of the colours, but our study shows that maybe they should.”

Scientists in Grenoble, joined by colleagues at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin, used X-ray fluorescence measurements to identify particles in the skin and the lymph nodes, which are located in the neck, under the arms and along the crease between the thighs and the abdomen.

Only the tiniest, nano particles made it into the lymph nodes.

The researchers also used a technique called Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to assess changes in tissue near tattoo particles at the molecular level.

They reported “strong evidence” for both the migration and long-term deposit of toxic elements in the body.

Now their presence has been established, the next step is to look for evidence of adverse effects, including inflammation.

Tattoos have become mainstream fashion accessories in recent years. By one estimate, some 40 per cent of millennials in the US have at least one tattoo, hidden or on display.

It is not only triad members who get inked in Hong Kong these days. The city sports more than two dozen tattoo parlours and will play host to the 5th annual Hong Kong and China International Tattoo Convention at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal at the end of the month, attracting more than 300 artists from across Asia.