Think Before You Ink: Tattoo Health Risks

man getting a tattoo on his arm

Tattoos have been around since the mid 1800’s. Originally, tattoos were used for curative, religious, and cultural purposes. Fast forward 170 years later and tattoos are more prevalent than ever before. Individuals from all over the world are choosing to cover their bodies with ink as a way to express themselves in a uniquely creative way. However, as more and more people choose to decorate their body with ink, we can’t help but ask: is this safe?

Tattoo Health Risks

Not sure if you want to contribute to the trendy world of tattoos with one of your own? You may want to read this list of health risks first.


Do tattoos cause skin cancer? This has been a question that researchers have been exploring for years. While there is no direct connection between tattoos and skin cancer, there are some ingredients in tattoo ink that may be linked to cancer.

When it comes to cancer, black ink can be especially dangerous because it contains a very high level of benzo(a)pyrene. Benzo(a)pyrene is currently listed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Health officials and researchers are especially concerned about the effects of black tattoo ink, as it is the most commonly used color for tattooing.

“Blackout” tattoos have also raised significant concern among health officials and researchers. This hot new trend may be especially dangerous since it requires individuals to have large portions of their bodies covered in thick, heavy solid black ink. In addition to the fear of carcinogens contained in the ink, individuals are also concerned about the way these tattoos cover the body. A change in skin pigmentation is one of the earliest signs of skin cancer, particularly melanoma. When the body is “blacked out” with tattoo ink, individuals may not be able to notice these changes right away. For this reason, tattoos should never be placed over pre-existing moles, birth marks, or other skin discolorations or abnormalities.

Another cause for concern is what happens to a tattoo after you’ve had it for a while. Over time, tattoos tend to fade and lose their pigmentation. This is especially true for black out tattoos which tend to break down much more rapidly. When a tattoo begins to fade and lose its pigment it can create many cancer-causing compounds.

Allergic Reactions

If your skin is sensitive to certain perfumes, makeup products, or lotions, then you might want to think twice before getting a tattoo. It is fairly common for individuals to have an allergic reaction to the dyes used in tattoos. Sometimes individuals are under the inaccurate assumption that tattoos contain harmless paint or ink. However, this ink is actually filled with many chemicals and unnatural ingredients that can irritate a person’s skin. If you know that you have sensitive skin or have frequent allergic reactions, it might be best to consult with an allergist prior to getting a tattoo.


Hepatitis is a major concern when it comes to getting a tattoo. Hepatitis is transmitted almost exclusively from individuals who share needles with one another. This is why it’s absolutely crucial to investigate your tattoo parlor before allowing them to ink you. Visit their shop multiple times and make sure that all employees are wearing gloves and using new, clean needles before they tattoo every customer. If you notice someone using the same needle for multiple tattoos or individuals, run away!

MRI Complications

If you have a medical condition that requires you to get MRIs on a regular basis, then you may want to hold off on getting a tattoo. While it’s rare, there have been instances where tattooed individuals have experienced complications from the MRI procedure. Sometimes the magnets can cause reactions around the tattooed area including redness, swelling, and in some cases, even first or second degree burns.

Another concern is the accuracy of MRI results on a tattooed individual. Since MRIs produce gray-scale images of organs and structures of the body, these results can become distorted or hard to read when tattoo ink is mixed into the image. Red ink is especially known for creating issues with MRIs since it contains iron which is highly magnetic. Whether or not a tattoo will interfere with an MRI scan depends largely on the size of the tattoo and the ingredients used in the ink.

If you have tattoos and are in need of an MRI, check with your doctor first and discuss your concerns. The physician should be able to inform you of the risks and any testing alternative if one exists.

While tattoos can be a great form of personal expression, it is important to consider all of these health risks before you go under the needle. Consult with your doctor and do your research before you choose to get a tattoo. Remember, tattoos are more than just a trend; they are a permanent modification to your body that carries possible health concerns.

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