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My boyfriend is pretty much covered in tattoos.

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I think sometimes people preemptively judge him (and others) for this. Apparently if you have tattoos you must also do the following: drink, smoke, go to jail and steal candy from small children. They don’t know that he is the nicest guy in the world, has a masters, has a great job in the music industry, literally never drinks and hasn’t smoked a cigarette in his life.

That’s all well and good, and I love his tattoos; but recently I  began wondering: what’s in the ink? I’m so concerned with what we put in our mouths and on our skin, that I never really considered what Scott has put in his skin. According to Scientific American,

It is true that some red inks used for permanent tattoos contain mercury, while other reds may contain different heavy metals like cadmium or iron oxide. These metals—which give the tattoo its “permanence” in skin—have been known to cause allergic reactions, eczema and scarring and can also cause sensitivity to mercury from other sources like dental fillings or consuming some fish. While red causes the most problems, most other colors of standard tattoo ink are also derived from heavy metals (including lead, antimony, beryllium, chromium, cobalt nickel and arsenic) and can cause skin reactions in some people.

Well that’s a bummer.

Tattoo ink does vary from brand to brand and color to color. Unfortunately tattoo ink manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients in ink. Studies have shown that inks often contain not only mercury, lead, antimony, beryllium, cobalt, nickel, and arsenic, but also cadmium, iron, copper and titanium. And it’s not only colored inks, black ink often contains benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogen that causes skin cancer in animal testing.

You may have heard that women are not allowed to get a tattoo while pregnant. I always thought this was due to the risk of infected needles. Wrong. It’s because several inks, particularly red ink, contains mercury which can negatively affect the baby (and mama!).

Scientists at Bradford University in the UK performed a study proving that tattoo ink contains cancer causing chemical that can also damage collagen,

The new study found that nanoparticles from the tattoo dye enters the blood stream and accumulates in spleen and kidneys. Both the organs play significant roles in keeping the body healthy by cleaning it. Spleen is a vital organ of the body that helps fight infection and balance body fluids. On the other hand, kidneys regulate water content and remove waste products from the body.

According to Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D, ink carriers can also be carcinogenic. They normally consist of ethanol, propylene glycol, glycerin, witch hazel and purified water, but can also contain more dangerous substances like denatured alcohols, antifreeze and formaldehyde (which is a proven carcinogen).

Dr. Helmenstine also provides the composition of ink pigments:

  • black – iron oxide, carbon
  • red – cinnabar, iron oxide, cadmium red
  • orange – disazodiarylide and/or disazopyrazolone, cadmium seleno-sulfide
  • yellow – cadmium yellow
  • green – chromium oxide, malachite, lead chromate

How To Detox Heavy Metals

Detoxing heavy metals is serious business and should be done under supervision. The most effective way to detox is to not put toxins in or on your body. I am a huge fan of detoxing, and not just from tattoos. When we consider the toxic load we encounter each day that prior generations never had to experience, we quickly realize that detoxification is necessary.

Broken cell wall chlorella is extremely effective at binding to heavy metals and removing them. Bentonite clay also binds to heavy metals and flushes them out. Both chlorella and bentonite clay not only bind to metals, but toxins in general to remove them from the body.

Sources:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=tattoo-ink-mercury-and-other-toxins

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2032696/Now-tattoos-cancer-U-S-regulator-probes-fears-inks-contain-carcinogenic-chemicals.html

http://www.ibtimes.co.in/articles/508170/20130923/tattoo-ink-cancer.htm

http://chemistry.about.com/od/medicalhealth/a/tattoocarrier.htm

http://chemistry.about.com/library/weekly/aa121602a.htm

19 responses on “Are Tattoos Toxic?

  1. Allison @ Frisky Lemon

    AH! I literally just got my first tattoo this past weekend…my artists told me that she uses powder inks that are pretty simple in terms of ingredients…but I never thought to detox after getting a tattoo. I’ll be drinking some bentonite clay tonight…and looking into chlorella. Thanks so much for this!

  2. Latosha

    So are tattoos just toxic for a certain period of time or are the heavy metals released throughout your lifetime? For example, if you get a tattoo and get pregnant years later, would that tattoo affect your pregnancy?

    1. dani stout Post author

      It depends on your lifestyle and diet. For example, I got a tattoo when I was 22 but I’m not worried about it because I regularly take steps to detox and eat well. Whereas if I got a tattoo at 22, still ate poorly, still put heavy metals into my body (ie: from deodorant, amalgam fillings, etc) that would be cause for concern.

      Also before I pregnancy I suggest both partners take steps to detox for 6-12 months.

    1. dani stout Post author

      All inks are vegan these days (excluding in certain countries and tribes that tattoo traditionally). That’s like labeling water gluten-free. Unfortunately, like I said in the post, companies are not required to disclose all of the ingredients. I agree that most good artists will be able to get less toxic ink, but only if asked. It’s difficult to come by non-mercury based inks (reds in particular) because even if a company says it’s mercury-free, they aren’t required to tell the truth.

  3. jessica

    I totally feel the same way about people automatically judging! My husband is covered also and has been an Electrician for 12 years and we have a six year old so it’s kind of sad and funny how weird people get about them! But yes, I worry about the toxins as well, we eat mainly organic so I’m hoping that’s doing some good in reversing some of the negative effects.

  4. Rebecca

    Ink is not the only concern. When you get a tattoo, some people have the belief that you are basically creating an injury that can permanently affect energy flow/chakras within the body. Same thing with piercings. Ink might end up being the least item of concern. Something to consider if you are really interested in looking at the full holistic picture of tattooing/piercing.

  5. YAM

    I read here that they use cadium in yellow ink. As an Artist we know cadium is highly toxic and to even open a window when using the color to paint with. To put that on or in one’s body is crazy.

  6. Matt Gerard

    What about henna tattoos? I recall a negative article years ago when first introduced to removing toxins from my food and skin products etc; but now that the teenage daughter is battling peer pressures of today to inflict torture and maming on her body I’m hard pressed trying to find reasoning and recently witnessed a hand henna tattoo that was bought at the local fete? Are these just as bad?

    1. dani stout Post author

      I don’t think any teenagers should get tattoos. It’s just too young, chances are they’ll change their mind about it. That being said, I think you should evaluate why you think getting a tattoo is a result of peer pressure, and inflicts torture and mames the body. If you think your daughter is succumbing to peer pressure, you should talk to her about that. These comments insinuate that my partner !) succumbed to peer pressure 2) tortured himself 3) mamed his body. I am SURE that was not your intent, so my point is that people get tattoos for all different reasons, and I would suggest helping your daughter make sure that her reason is right for her. There are non-toxic inks as well as non-toxic henna. You just have to source them. Best of luck!

    2. ShilohKB

      Henna is an herb, like tea, it can be used a just as an herb powder and water it is actually quite healthy. Henna tattoes are surface coloring only, they are temporary and non toxic.

  7. Erin

    I use the brand Solid Ink which is about as natural as you can get. It is made by a tattoo artist and although they are not required to list ingredients, not every manufacturer is out to lie to and poison its customers. As a crunchy artist I would never use anything on a client that I would not use on myself. Just make sure your artist knows about your concerns and ask about vegan AND organic inks.

  8. Laci

    I have been doing some research as well (no tattoos yet) and if I did get one it would be with ORGANIC black ink only. sounds like black is the safest color out there.

    1. mark

      I thought the same? Black would be best, but Mercola.com says it has the most nanoparticles of all the inks, which these tiny atom sized particles easily go to the blood stream and infect the rest of the body. OH My goodness, there is just no safe place in the world!

  9. Lauren

    Hi Dani!

    Do you know anything about the dangers of getting a tattoo removed with laser therapy? I have read that following treatment, tattoo pigment can be found in the lymph nodes. That sounds scary! Are you aware of ways to remove a tattoo without overwhelming the body with toxins?

    Thanks 🙂

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