Tattoo enthusiasts are no stranger to the process of getting inked. The buzz of the tattoo gun as the needle deposits the ink under the skin in artistic and beautiful patterns is practically second nature to those who have been engaging in body art practices for years.
Even for tattoo neophytes, their fears tend to center around the needle itself, and not what it's putting into their skin. Recent studies have revealed that this fear may be somewhat misplaced. As some experts are finding out, it's not the needle, but the ink that may be leaving tattooees with more than just a case of potential tattoo regret.
Tattoo ink is very heavy metal – but not in the way you'd think
Many people who have extensive, body-sprawling tattoos are fond of showing off the artistry of the design, the skill of the tattooist and above all, the vibrancy of the colors. Tattoo inks in recent years have been made available across a full spectrum of brights, earth-tones and everything in between. But while vibrant and bright tattoo ink is surely a sight to behold, it may be worth it to stop and take a look at just what makes these colorful inks pop.
According to Scientific American, tattoo inks can contain a variety of strange and interesting chemical components – including heavy metals such as mercury, lead or even arsenic, which are widely known for being toxic to people. Other things you're likely to find in tattoo ink? car polish and soot made from burning plastic. While admittedly the amounts of these elements present in the ink are low enough to pose fairly little in the way of health concerns, most people may still want to think twice about willingly injecting themselves with what basically amounts to poison.
Paying the price for pretty colors
The pigments in different colors of ink are made up of a range of materials, and some of those can be more harmful than others. Red ink, for example, tends to contain a higher concentration of mercury than other colors. That's to say nothing of the fairly new but still growing UV-sensitive tattoo ink, which contains phosphorous as a means of giving it its characteristic blacklight glow. Unfortunately, while these colors may be vibrant and visually striking, they can have unforeseen and unwanted effects on the skin. Severe reactions to tattoo ink aren't unheard of, and can leave tattooees with redness, rashes and in extreme cases, even scarring.
Scientific American noted that black is recommended as the safest color of ink for a tattoo, since its primary component is carbon – fairly benign when held up against some of the other heavy metals that bring out the more exotic hues. Even so, tattoo ink is, by definition, not soluble in water – it has to keep from being dissolved by the body's natural processes, after all. This in and of itself makes the prospect of injecting any ink under the skin inherently risky.
One thing it's important to keep in mind for those considering tattoos is that the FDA currently does not officially approve any tattoo inks, especially for use under the skin. While this doesn't necessarily mean that tattooing is inherently dangerous, more wary enthusiasts may want to take the government's lack of approval as a potential warning sign.
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