Tattoos are synonymous with risk. After all, a tattoo is an open wound, and there are the possibilities of allergic reactions, infections, or diseases like tetanus or hepatitis, especially in unsanitary conditions.
A new study adds to the list of health consequences to getting inked: potentially toxic metals in tattoo ink circulate in the immune system, staining lymph nodes, The Smithsonian reports.
Researchers inspected lymph nodes and skin samples from dead donors, four of whom had tattoos and two that had none. They found that among the tattooed persons, two had stained lymph nodes, one with blue and one with green ink. In addition, the nodes and skin showed high levels of metals such as chromium, aluminum, iron, nickel and copper. In one of the nodes, there were traces of mercury and cadmium, which are both highly toxic.
Hiram Castillo-Michel, one of the study’s authors, said, “When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlor where they use sterile needles that haven’t been used previously. No one checks the chemical composition of the colors, but our study shows that maybe they should.”
Castillo-Michel and other scientists at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble used X-ray fluorescence analysis to determine the composition of foreign particles in the donor nodes, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to examine biomolecular changes in the tissue around the stained areas.
The presence of these metals could lead to a chronic enlargement of the lymph nodes, and lifelong exposure to their toxicity, the researchers said. They did find strong evidence that these inks can cause changes leading to inflammation, but did not further analyze what health effects they may have caused.
The team hopes to delve further into the specific health effects tattooing and tattoos might have on the human body.
The study was published in Scientific Reports.