The process of administering a tattoo is complex and precarious. Tattooists must not only be skilled artists, but are also required by most states to have training and certification in basic blood-borne pathogen training, for the safety of artists and recipient alike.
Despite the tattooist's skill or the precautions that are taken to keep the process safe, sterile and clean, ultimately, the artists can only be as safe as the materials they are working with. Like any other product, sometimes tattoo inks and needles can be defective or have other issues that could compromise performance. Unfortunately, due to the nature of tattooing, a bad batch of ink or a faulty needle could create major complications for the tattoo recipient that are more than just skin deep.
One of the main concerns affecting the safety and reliability of tattoo materials is the lack of any sort of industry-wide level regulation on a government level. According to the official site of the Food and Drug Administration, no tattoo inks or pigments have been FDA-approved for safety. While this doesn't mean that tattoo inks are unsafe, it does mean that the FDA can't guarantee the safety of any ink that gets injected through the tattoo process. There are a variety of inks and pigments made from an equally high number of materials, from charcoal to plastic to rust to various kinds of heavy metals. As yet, there has been no research conducted to conclusively determine if and how such pigments can negatively interact with the body.
The FDA and the National Center for Toxicological Research are interested in determining what happens to the body when ink fades from conditions such as sun, age and laser tattoo removal. Until such studies have been completed, it is unlikely that the FDA will approve any inks for injection under the skin. This means that consumers who wish to get tattooed will have a much harder time making informed decisions as to the artist they go to and the composition of the inks being used.
Even inks that have been proven to be safe can still create problems due to contamination from outside bacteria. This was a frightening reality that recently struck certain manufacturers of tattoo supplies, as FDA officials reportedly discovered contaminated inks and needles, leading to a nationwide recall. While most licensed tattoo establishments will likely have acquiesced to the voluntary recall suggested by the FDA, there is unfortunately nothing stopping unlicensed amateur tattoo artists from purchasing the potentially contaminated materials independently. Since tattoo inks aren't regulated by any government administration, they are readily available for purchase online through a variety of retailers, including user-based services like eBay.
According to OzarksFirst, a Midwest-area news publication, bacteria such as those recently discovered by the FDA can lead to a serious infection known as sepsis, which can lead to severe complications and illness. Customers heading to a shop to get inked almost surely aren't expecting a nasty infection to be on the list of potential outcomes, but lack of regulation makes this a sad reality of the industry, giving a whole new meaning to the idea of bad tattoos.
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