Getting a Tattoo Can Permanently Change Your Body (Entirely Aside from the Ink)

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When you get a tattoo, you expect (and pay for) a permanent addition to your body…but what if that alteration is more than skin deep?

A new study published in the Particle and Fibre Toxicology Journal, alleges that some people with multiple tattoos end up with a microscopic sprinkling of metal in their lymph nodes.

Scientists have known about the metal particles for some time, but have assumed it was a byproduct of the ink filtered out by lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, and groin. This study, though, points to a different culprit.

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Now, researchers have discovered that traces of nickel and chromium found in these lymph nodes actually come from the needle of the tattoo gun. Hiram Castillo, one of the study’s authors, explains what they found: “There is more to tattoos than meets the eye. It is not only about the cleanliness of the parlour, the sterilization of the equipment or even about the pigments. Now we find that the needle wear also has an impact in your body.”

The team of researchers, out of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Germany, began by studying tissue from deceased people with and without tattoos and found particles of iron, chromium, and nickel in the lymph nodes of those sporting ink. Those aren’t common metals found in inks, explains Ines Schreiver, another scientist connected with the study.

“We tested around 50 ink samples without finding such metal particles and made sure that we hadn’t contaminated the samples during sample preparation. Then we though of testing the needle and that was our ‘eureka’ moment.”

The real culprit is probably a white pigment contained in green, blue, and red tattoo inks. It’s called titanium dioxide, and it can wear away needles.

The discovery could help explain why some people experience allergic reactions to tattoos – and lest you think that the nanoparticles are no big deal, I’m sorry to tell you that smaller sized particles can often release higher amounts of toxic elements.

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That said, there is no evidence to suggest that tattoos are associated with wider health problems…for now. Researchers are, Schreiver says, going to keep digging.

“Unfortunately, today, we can’t determine the exact impact on human health and possible allergy development deriving from the tattoo needle wear. These are long-term effects which can only be assessed in long-term epidemiological studies that monitor the health of thousands of people over decades.”

Just one more thing to think about before you choose the shop – and the color – of your next amazing piece of body art.