Beware Of Contaminated Tattoo Ink
August 24, 2012

Things To Think About When Getting A Tattoo

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Body art can mean different things to different people. Some want to make lasting tributes to their families and friends. Others hope to show their devotion to pop culture, religion, or an issue they are passionate about. For whatever reason people pursue body art and there are a few things that consumers should be aware of.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 21 percent of adults in the United States state that they have at least one tattoo on their body. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that tattoo inks can become contaminated with bacteria, fungi, or mold. They have encouraged tattoo-associated complications to be reported to the FDA MedWatch program.

“Reporting an infection to FDA and the artist is important. Once the problem is reported, FDA can investigate, and the artist can take steps to prevent others from being infected,” remarked epidemiologist Katherine Hollinger of the FDA´s Office of Cosmetics and Colors in a prepared statement.

One factor people should consider when getting body art is the type of ink that the tattoo artist is using. Some concentrated tattoo inks may be made of products that were not intended for tattoo use, such as calligraphy ink, drawing ink, or possibly printer ink. Manufacturers of these products sell these items online and, besides state required licenses, there isn´t much regulation or oversight.

As well, the CDC warns that it is important for tattoo artists to be careful of the water that they use. Water may be used to help dilute concentrated inks to produce a certain shade for a tattoo design. The CDC recommends tattoo artists not use any non-sterile water as it can become contaminated with ink and possibly unsafe germs. Earlier this year, there were reports of non-tuberculous Mycobaterial (NTM) skin infections for some individuals who had tattoos with the same pre-diluted gray ink. Another case of a persistent rash was reported in January 2012 after the individual had received a tattoo. The rash appeared to follow the lines made by a pre-diluted gray ink.

The CDC reported that NTM infections usually don´t spread and are localized to the exposed area. These infections are also difficult to treat and may need four to six months for treatment with drugs. For those who are not able to be treated with medication, there is the option of surgery to take out infected issue but the removal may lead to scarring.

Furthermore, the FDA's Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network started and coordinated an investigation with local and state health departments and laboratories, the CDC, and FDA investigators who worked in different district offices. They started the investigation in January 2012 and found that 19 people of one tattoo artist had NTM infections. The FDA also found out about NTM outbreaks in other states like Colorado, Iowa, and Washington.

Overall, the CDC provided a list of recommendations to ink manufacturers and tattoo artists. They advised ink producers to create sterile inks. They also recommended that tattoo artists not use inks or other products not meant for tattooing, not to dilute ink before tattooing, not to use non-sterile water to clean equipment, and to use asceptic technique during tattooing.

For consumers, the CDC advised that they use a tattoo parlor that is approved or registered in the local jurisdiction, ask for inks that are made specifically for tattoos, watch that tattoo artists adhere to correct hygienic practices, and stay aware of possible infection after receiving a tattoo.