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Where Do The Inks Go? Potential Side Effects of Tattoo Ink That You Can’t Ignore

Where Do The Inks Go? Potential Side Effects of Tattoo Ink That You Can’t Ignore

Think before you ink! Are you wondering if there are any health risks? Yes, there are some and this post is to highlight them so that you can make an informed decision before you get your first or next tattoo. Tattoos have been around for about 5,000 years but nobody knows what the long term health effects are because they have never been extensively studied and are unknown.

What we do know is that, apart from short term side effects, nobody knows what happens to the ink and what effects it has on the major organs and body tissue. Studies done on corpses with tattoos show that the ink had long disappeared from the skin but it is a mystery as to whether it was safely excreted or whether it caused toxicity and other health problems. Research in The Lancet found that there was no link with cancer but that is only one study and they also warn that tattoo ink may contain possible carcinogens.

1. Inks are not just color pigments

What goes into a tattoo ink? Apart from color pigments, there may be heavy metals (mercury, lead and arsenic) which may be linked to cancer and birth defects. Then, there are other ingredients such as pen ink, soot, blood and anything else dreamed up by the tattoo artist. That is why Californian tattoo parlors are required by law to warn customers of these dangers. There are no international regulations in force for tattoo inks either.

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The Danish government has published a report on the minerals and preservatives in many of the tattoo inks. They found that most inks contained a large amount of copper, chrome and zinc while the amounts of tin, lead, arsenic, mercury, and uranium tended to be in smaller amounts. The main preservatives used were benzoic acid, metylisothiazoline and octylthiazolone.

2. There must be some regulation about the inks

Actually, there is none. The FDA considers tattooing rather like cosmetic applications so it has not bothered to regulate what should be allowed in the ink. The FDA only investigates complaints and occasionally issues warnings about the doubtful ingredients in these pigments. It is astonishing to think that 120 million people in the western world have at least one tattoo and the whole industry is almost totally unregulated!

3. Think about what happens during the process

The needle used by the artist is rather like a sewing machine needle. It contains the coloring and this is repeatedly injected under the skin so it can and does enter the bloodstream. This can lead to infections if the needle or the ingredients are not sterilized. Hepatitis and the super bug MRSA have been linked to tattoos so that is always why you should check out the equipment before being treated. Are the needles in sealed units and is the ink in unopened containers?

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4. Check out the artist first

You can do some preliminary checks. There is no regulation or official training for tattoo artists and yet they are allowed to inject you with some ingredients containing preservatives and even potentially toxic metals. But there are top quality tattoo artists who work in a professional manner so it is always worthwhile doing your homework first.

You might want to check out the portfolio of the artist and see the quality of the work. Look out for signs of bleeding in the photos and if the skin has been damaged in any way. This happens when they have to pack a lot of color into a tiny space and if they are inexperienced, the skin will look beat up and show areas of light color. It takes skill and expertise to get that part of the tattoo right.

Look at the designs and samples shown. There should be a good mix of color, traditional and realism in the photos. You can look at the premises and see whether they are clean and well managed. Prices are also a good indicator of quality and you can pay up to $100 an hour on average although better artists can easily ask three times that much.

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5. Plan the whole operation carefully

If you do decide to go ahead, bear in mind that you should start off with a small design on a part of your skin which is less sensitive to pain. Bony areas are notoriously painful, so start off with an area which has plenty of flesh. Also avoid sensitive areas like the groin as no anaesthetic is given. There may be pain, minor skin infection or an allergic reaction. Many people recommend eating something beforehand as that lessens the pain.

Try to avoid alcohol as that tends to thin your blood and that will likely cause more bleeding. Check your spelling of the design you have chosen, especially if it is in Chinese. You may have thought it meant “beautiful” but the spelling you have chosen means a “giant squid”!

6. Follow after care instructions carefully

You will probably be given a healing ointment to apply so that the tattoo remains moisturized. Make sure you wash the tattoo with very mild soap and gently dry it with a clean towel. Avoid tight clothes so that there is a minimum of friction around the tattoo area. You can keep a light bandage on it. Avoid direct sunlight and forget about the swimming pool as chlorine can irritate the skin.

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Now that you know all the essential information about what is actually getting into your skin and bloodstream, you can make an informed decision about whether a tattoo is right for you!

Featured photo credit: Adam Levine/ katrina3094 via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on November 20, 2018

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

A new year beautifully symbolizes a new chapter opening in the book that is your life. But while so many people like you aspire to achieve ambitious goals, only 12% of you will ever experience the taste of victory. Sound bad? It is. 156 million people (that’s 156,000,000) will probably give up on their resolution before you can say “confetti.” Keep on reading to learn why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to succeed).

Note: Since losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, I chose to focus on weight loss (but these principles can be applied to just about any goal you think of — make it work for you!).

1. You’re treating a marathon like a sprint.

Slow and steady habit change might not be sexy, but it’s a lot more effective than the “I want it ALL and I want it NOW!” mentality. Small changes stick better because they aren’t intimidating (if you do it right, you’ll barely even notice them!).

If you have a lot of bad habits today, the last thing you need to do is remodel your entire life overnight. Want to lose weight? Stop it with the crash diets and excessive exercise plans. Instead of following a super restrictive plan that bans anything fun, add one positive habit per week. For example, you could start with something easy like drinking more water during your first week. The following week, you could move on to eating 3 fruits and veggies every day. And the next week, you could aim to eat a fistful of protein at every meal.

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2. You put the cart before the horse.

“Supplementing” a crappy diet is stupid, so don’t even think about it. Focus on the actions that produce the overwhelming amount of results. If it’s not important, don’t worry about it.

3. You don’t believe in yourself.

A failure to act can cripple you before you leave the starting line. If you’ve tried (and failed) to set a New Year’s resolution (or several) in the past, I know it might be hard to believe in yourself. Doubt is a nagging voice in your head that will resist personal growth with every ounce of its being. The only way to defeat doubt is to believe in yourself. Who cares if you’ve failed a time or two? This year, you can try again (but better this time).

4. Too much thinking, not enough doing.

The best self-help book in the world can’t save you if you fail to take action. Yes, seek inspiration and knowledge, but only as much as you can realistically apply to your life. If you can put just one thing you learn from every book or article you read into practice, you’ll be on the fast track to success.

5. You’re in too much of a hurry.

If it was quick-and-easy, everybody would do it, so it’s in your best interest to exercise your patience muscles.

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6. You don’t enjoy the process.

Is it any wonder people struggle with their weight when they see eating as a chore and exercise as a dreadful bore? The best fitness plan is one that causes the least interruption to your daily life. The goal isn’t to add stress to your life, but rather to remove it.

The best of us couldn’t bring ourselves to do something we hate consistently, so make getting in shape fun, however you’ve gotta do it. That could be participating in a sport you love, exercising with a good friend or two, joining a group exercise class so you can meet new people, or giving yourself one “free day” per week where you forget about your training plan and exercise in any way you please.

7. You’re trying too hard.

Unless you want to experience some nasty cravings, don’t deprive your body of pleasure. The more you tell yourself you can’t have a food, the more you’re going to want it. As long as you’re making positive choices 80-90% of the time, don’t sweat the occasional indulgence.

8. You don’t track your progress.

Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an “I CAN do this” attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time. Improving your best performance on a regular basis offers positive feedback that will encourage you to keep going.

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9. You have no social support.

It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel alone. The good news? You’re not alone: far from it. Post a status on Facebook asking your friends if anybody would like to be your gym or accountability buddy. If you know a co-worker who shares your goal, try to coordinate your lunch time and go out together so you’ll be more likely to make positive decisions. Join a support group of like-minded folks on Facebook, LinkedIn, or elsewhere on the internet. Strength in numbers is powerful, so use it to your advantage.

10. You know your what but not your why.

The biggest reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail: you know what you want but you not why you want it.

Yes: you want to get fit, lose weight, or be healthy… but why is your goal important to you? For example:

Do you want to be fit so you can be a positive example that your children can admire and look up to?

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Do you want to lose fat so you’ll feel more confident and sexy in your body than ever before?

Do you want to be healthy so you’ll have increased clarity, energy, and focus that would carry over into every single aspect of your life?

Whether you’re getting in shape because you want to live longer, be a good example, boost your energy, feel confident, have an excuse to buy hot new clothes, or increase your likelihood of getting laid (hey, I’m not here to judge) is up to you. Forget about any preconceived notions and be true to yourself.

  • The more specific you can make your goal,
  • The more vivid it will be in your imagination,
  • The more encouraged you’ll be,
  • The more likely it is you will succeed (because yes, you CAN do this!).

I hope this guide to why New Year’s resolutions fail helps you achieve your goals this year. If you found this helpful, please pass it along to some friends so they can be successful just like you. What do you hope to accomplish next year?

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