There is no doubt that the art of tattooing has exploded in today's pop culture. An art practiced for centuries, current day practice has reached 45 million of our adult population, and over 1/3 of the twenty-something population in the U.S. The explosion in pop culture occurred after TV shows such as Miami Ink and LA Ink revealed the inner workings and culture of salons and their artists. Social media's contribution of "following" these artists amplified the explosion. While undoubtedly an interesting and often beautiful art, numerous health concerns are now surfacing with the practice which bring about serious questions for tattoo customers. The concerns have moved way beyond dirty needles and the possibility of tetanus to serious toxicity issues with unresolved questions/answers. There are currently no FDA regulations on tattoo inks, with many possible ink sources within and outside of the U.S. Investigations into the health and safety of the materials have barely begun and there is still much to be understood, but this article will cover some of the existing information that has been confirmed, along with testing and protocol recommendations from our team at Metabolic Healing.
Tattoo Ink and PAHs
One of the greatest concerns for toxicity with tattooing is the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Black ink, usually based from coal tar and/or soot contains the largest concentrations of PCHs. Additionally, black ink is almost 100% nanoparticles, allowing easy invasion and accumulation into the body's cells, with documented preference for migration into the spleen & kidneys, both critical organs for immune and detoxification function. Authors of a 2013 study at Bradford University offered this statement regarding these findings on nanoparticles and toxicity/cancer risks:
"“…There is no question that these substances can be toxic. It takes a long time for the multiple-step nature of cancer to show its face. I don’t think we should wait 20 years to see if there is anything wrong with these ingredients.”
It is postulated that the PAHs may remain in the body for life. PAHs are known to be carcinogenic, especially benzo(a)pyrene, now a Group 1 classification for cancer risk. Levels of this particular PAH were shown in tattoo customers to reach levels of .1 to .3 , with the acceptable level determined at only .04.
PAHs are known to:
- increase reactivity towards organic compounds due to generation of singlet oxygen
- increase ozone content
- absorb UV radiation, compromising skin integrity (the body's largest organ)
- decrease mitochondrial function of the body's cells
Accumulation of ink has been discovered in lymph nodes near tattoo sites, months to years after the tattoo was placed on the body. Cancer risks include skin (especially melanoma), colon, lung, and bladder. The lymphatic system is the body's cleansing partner for the blood, and all areas of the body are dependent upon proper lymphatic drainage to remove poisons.
Tattoo Ink and Heavy Metals
Both black and colored inks have been tested for heavy metal content, and black ink samples show high levels of lead, with colored inks showing high levels of lead, cadmium, nickel, titanium, mercury & chromium. Numerous research studies show correlations between these metals and cancer and heart disease, as well as many neurological disorders.
Tattoo Ink and Phthalates
Dibutyl phthalate is a plastic stabilizer which appears to be present in all black tattoo ink samples. Phthalates can mimic estrogen or disrupt testosterone, and exposure of fetuses and infants is a major concern. In infant boys, prenatal exposure to dibutyl phthalate has been linked to feminization of the reproductive tract. In men, phthalate exposure has been linked to sperm defects and altered thyroid hormones. A critical consideration, given the lack of understanding about the clearing of these toxins from tattooing, is what toxins may be passed from an adult's body to a developing fetus. Information and current research in this area would indicate that the risks are considerable.
Tattoo Toxicity and Testing
At Metabolic Healing, we are committed to the science of proper testing and targeted therapeutic protocols. It is my opinion that regular testing is necessary for anyone who is receiving tattoo art, as well as individualized detoxification protocols. A majority of my clients have compromised methylation capacity, and I believe many others also have this, unknowingly. We are exposed to a massive number of chemicals, heavy metals and environmental pathogens - more than our bodies were designed to filter and excrete properly. A proper set of tests, including blood & hair, can be very effective in determining a person's risks as well as appropriate approaches. These tests are determined for each person individually, based upon health history and functional weakness patterns.
While the choice to not tattoo is the only sure prevention of the exposures discussed in this article, regularly scheduled testing and individualized detox procedures may reduce the risks described for those receiving tattoos.