Would you knowingly inject dangerous heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic into your body? How about carcinogens and endocrine disrupters such as phthalates and hydrocarbons? Chances are that is exactly what you have done if you have a tattoo, because those substances are commonly found in the inks used for tattoos.
Dangerous Heavy Metals Found in Tattoo Ink
Many tattoo inks contain heavy metals that have been linked to a large number of health problems, including cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Among the most concerning metals found in tattoos are mercury, lead, antimony, beryllium, cadmium and arsenic.
Mercury is a neurotoxin, meaning it has detrimental effects on the nervous system. It can damage the brain and lead to physical and emotional disorders.
Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many of the body’s organs and tissues, including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, nervous and reproductive systems. In severe cases, lead poisoning symptoms can include seizures, coma and death. Other symptoms commonly associated with lead exposure include abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anemia and irritability.
Beryllium is listed as a Class A EPA carcinogen. Exposure can cause Chronic Beryllium Disease, an often fatal lung disease.
Cadmium is a heavy metal that poses severe risks to human health, including kidney, bone, and pulmonary damage.
Arsenic is a known carcinogen, and new studies have also found that exposure to higher levels of arsenic leads to genetic damage.
Antimony exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, skin and lungs. As the exposure continues, more serious problems may occur, such as lung diseases, heart problems, diarrhea, severe vomiting and stomach ulcers.
Phthalates, Hydrocarbons and Other Dangerous Compounds in Tattoo Ink
Many tattoo inks also contain dangerous phthalates and hydrocarbons. Phthalates, also contained in many cosmetic products deemed unsafe by the Environmental Working Group, have been shown to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive systems in animal studies.
Black tattoo inks are often made from soot-containing products of combustion called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Among the PAHs in the inks is benzo(a)pyrene, a compound identified in an Environmental Protection Agency toxicity report as “among the most potent and well-documented skin carcinogens.”
Tattoo Removal Can Send a Cascade of Dangerous Chemicals Throughout the Body
As time goes by, many people who originally opted for tattoos decide they would like to have them removed. According to a 2006 survey in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 17 percent of 18 to 50-year-olds with tattoos have considered tattoo removal. However, tattoo removal may be even more dangerous than getting a tattoo in the first place.
By far the most common method of removing tattoos today is laser tattoo removal – a technique where a laser is used in repeated sessions to dissolve the tattoo. Once the tattoo inks are dissolved, their components – including any dangerous ones such as those outlined above – are absorbed into the body and bloodstream. Many may never be fully eliminated from the body, and even those components which do get eliminated may cause damage before they are eliminated.
An estimated 45 million people in the U.S. have at least one tattoo, including at least 36 percent of adults in their late 30s. For those who already have tattoos, the best advice may be to keep them – unless you want to use outdated tattoo removal techniques such as surgery which leave scars in place of the tattoos. If you don’t already have a tattoo, the best advice is to not get one.
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