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The Effects of Tattoos on Skin

author image Charis Grey
For 15 years, Charis Grey's award-winning work has appeared in film, television, newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. She has worked as a story editor on the CBS drama "Flashpoint" and her work appears bimonthly in "The Driver Magazine." She has a Bachelor of Science in biology and a doctorate in chiropractic medicine from Palmer College.
The Effects of Tattoos on Skin
man holding up tattooed arm Photo Credit: mabe123/iStock/Getty Images

Whether you're dreaming about getting your first tattoo or adding to your growing sleeve, you may have put more thought into the design than the health risks it might pose. The FDA does not regulate tattoo ink and there have been no systematic studies about the body's reaction to tattoo ink, how it is processed and the effect on human health. Adverse reactions to tattoos, including permanent make-up, can occur immediately after the procedure or appear years later. A tattoo is a permanent mark of self-expression so take time to consider the other effects it might have on your body.

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Redness and Swelling

The presence of metal salts contained in some tattoo ink pigments can cause redness and swelling around the areas that have been penetrated by tattoo needles. This symptom can last up to three weeks. The FDA further notes that exposure to the sun has caused inflammation around tattoos in some people. This type of inflammation is most often associated with yellow pigmented tattoos, but can also appear in tattoos that use red pigment, as both pigments contain cadmium sulfide, which causes photosensitivity.

Allergic Reactions

The Dermatological Society of New Zealand notes that allergic contact dermatitis and photoallergic dermatitis can occur as a result of hypersensitivity to tattoo pigments. These reactions manifest as a red rash, which is sometimes accompanied by scaly, flaking skin.

Skin Infections

Though uncommon, skin infections have sometimes occurred after tattooing. The Dermatological Society of New Zealand lists impetigo, cellulitis, herpes simplex and viral warts as infections that could be transmitted through the use of improperly sterilized tattoo equipment. Confirm that the tattoo artist is a licensed practitioner who follows the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's universal precautions and has an autoclave in the studio to properly sterilize equipment.

Pre-Existing Conditions

If you have a pre-existing skin condition, such as eczema, it would be wise to reconsider your decision to get a tattoo. Tattoos can cause flare-ups in any pre-existing skin condition, according to Kid’s Health.

Formation of Granulomas

The FDA notes that the body sometimes treats tattoo pigments as unwanted foreign substances, leading to the formation of granulomas in the tattooed area. Granulomas are raised, red bumps made up of skin cells and white blood cells. They are most commonly associated with red tattoo ink.

Lichenoid Reactions

Lichenoid reactions to tattoo ink appear as shiny, flat purple bumps covered with white lines. These are most commonly seen in the red areas of a tattoo because they are a reaction to red pigment.

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