According to the findings of a new study on tattoo inks, almost half of them included substances that can cause cancer or induce malignant mutations.
Following their research into several popular tattoo inks, the scientists at State University of New York (SUNY) presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago, Illinois on Wednesday (August 24).
As the researchers point out, very little is known about the exact components that make up the substance. The study included examples of 56 different kinds of tattoo ink that are commonly used to draw on people’s skin.
There are two components that go into making a tattoo: the pigment, which is either a molecular compound or a solid substance, and the carrier fluids, which are commonly alcohol-based. Both of these components are required for a tattoo to be created.
The team discovered that several of the samples of tattoo inks included chemicals that were not specified on the label. 23 of the pigments, most commonly blues and greens, were found to azo-compounds, while one of the 56 samples even included ethanol, which can assist in the process of blood thinning.
These chemical compounds are benign in and of themselves, but they have the potential to become cancerous if they are subjected to bacteria found on the skin or an excessive amount of ultraviolet light, such as that which is emitted by the sun.
“We don’t necessarily know what the pigments break down into and so that’s the real concern,” said Dr. John Swierk, the chemist who led the study, speaking to the Daily Mail.
“It’s possible that you might have pigments that by themselves are safe, but that photodecompose into something of concern.”
Because of concerns that they may be hazardous, the European Union placed a ban on the use of two pigments in the beginning of this year: blue 15:3 and green 7.
In the United States, however, the colors are still in widespread use.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not keeping a close watch on the industry.
“From life-like faces to elaborate nature scenes, tattoos are a true art form,” the scientists said.
“Although people have decorated their bodies for millennia for ceremonial and religious reasons, many people today adorn themselves with these images as a form of self-expression. But the inks used for tattoos are unregulated in the U.S., resulting in products whose components are largely a mystery.”
In another aspect of the research, scientists investigated the particle sizes present in 16 different kinds of inks that are used in tattoos. Half of these samples, including black pigments, had particles less than 100 nanometers.
The size of these samples was “concerning” because, according to the scientists, they could “get through the cell membrane and potentially cause harm” by triggering cancerous mutations.
“When you get down to that size regime you start to have concerns about nanoparticles penetrating cells, getting into the nucleus of cells, and doing damage and causing problems like cancer that way,” Swierk explained.
“Big companies manufacture pigments for everything, such as paint and textiles. These same pigments are used in tattoo inks.”
As a result of the discoveries, the scientists are currently working on the website What’s In My Ink to create the first comprehensive database of the substances that may be found in the many types of tattoo inks sold in the United States.
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