Getting inked is more popular than ever — as evidenced by the rise and diversity in super artful tattoos and advanced inking techniques. But just because tattooing is becoming way more popular, doesn’t mean there aren’t still serious risks to watch out for, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
In a new consumer report released yesterday, the FDA updated their decade-old tattoo guidelines to include some scary warnings from the 363 official horror story reports they’ve received between 2004 and 2016. We’re talking mold-infested ink, allergy-triggered rashes and nasty scars.
According to the FDA, there are two major things you need to worry about if you’re thinking about getting ink: less than clean conditions and contaminated ink. Way more important than its Instagrammability, a tattoo parlor should be clean as a surgeon's theater — you can get serious infections from non-sterile needles and equipment, so if your potential parlor looks dingy, think again. Watch your artist prep his or her equipment so you can verify they’re breaking out sterile new tools for every customer.
Secondly, you've got to watch out for the actual ink, which can be contaminated by non-sterile water used to break up the pigments and can be infested with bacteria or mold. “There’s no sure-fire way to tell if the ink is safe,” according to the FDA report. “An ink can be contaminated even if the container is sealed or the label says the product is sterile.” Contamination aside, even the inks themselves can contain pigments used in printer toner or car paint. The FDA doesn’t regulate inks used for cosmetics purposes so do your research before going under the needle.
Next, the FDA warns you could be dealing with allergic reactions or scarring — they’ve seen everything from rashes to aggressive infections that required serious medical intervention. And because the inks are permanent, the reaction may persist, warns the FDA. Yikes. "If you are prone to developing bad scars or hypertrophic or keloidal scars, then you are at higher risk of developing a scar within the tattoo," says Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "If you have any known allergies, you should mention these to your tattoo artist, but keep in mind that the ingredients in the inks may not be known and you may not be aware of certain substances you are allergic to."
Finally, the FDA warns that we still don’t know the long-term effects of ink — they’ve received reports of nasty reactions while the ink is still fresh and also years later. Tattoos can even cause you to develop an allergy to other products like hair dye down the road if the ink used contains p-phenylenediamene (PPD). "You may become sensitized to the PPD and then have an allergic reaction on re-exposure," says Shah. "If you are sensitized to a substance, other similar substances can then set off an allergic reaction."
The bottom line? Think before you ink. "With tattoos, customers should always understand that there is some uncertainty," says Shah. In addition to making sure your artist is licensed and uses hygienic methods,"ask them where they purchase their ink, how it is diluted — is sterile water used? — and stored, as well as their personal adverse reaction rates. In other words, how many of their clients have had infections or other issues," says Shah.
Do your skin a solid and check out the National Conference of State Legislatures for state-by-state guidelines on tattoo regulations. A little homework before popping into a tattoo parlor on a whim can help keep you from becoming another rash story (and earn you some peace of mind).
This story originally appeared on Allure.
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