Tempted to get a tattoo? Today, people from all walks of life have tattoos, which might lead you to believe that tattoos are completely safe.
But there are health risks that can result in the need for medical care. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of United States (US) is particularly concerned about a family of bacteria called nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) that has been found in a recent outbreak of illnesses linked to contaminated tattoo inks.
M. chelonae, one of several disease-causing NTM species, can cause lung disease, joint infection, eye problems and other organ infections. These infections can be difficult to diagnose and can require treatment lasting six months or more.
FDA also warns that tattoo inks, and the pigments used to colour them, can become contaminated by other bacteria, mold and fungi. To raise awareness and make diagnoses more accurate, FDA strongly encourages reporting of tattoo-associated complications.
Strategies for Controlling Risks of Infection:
Tattoo artists can minimize the risk of infection by using inks that have been formulated or processed to ensure they are free from disease-causing bacteria, and avoiding the use of non-sterile water to dilute the inks or wash the skin. Non-sterile water includes tap, bottled, filtered or distilled water.
Consumers should know that the ointments often provided by tattoo parlors are not effective against these infections. NTM infections may look similar to allergic reactions, which means they might be easily misdiagnosed and treated ineffectively.
Once an infection is diagnosed, health care providers will prescribe appropriate antibiotic treatment. Such treatment might have uncomfortable side effects, such as nausea or gastrointestinal problems. However, without prompt and proper treatment an infection could spread beyond the tattoo or become complicated by a secondary infection.
If you suspect you may have a tattoo-related infection, FDA recommends the following:
- Contact your health care professional if you see a red rash with swelling, possibly accompanied by itching or pain in the tattooed area, usually appearing 2-3 weeks after tattooing.
- Report the problem to the tattoo artist.
- Report the problem to FDA’s consumer complaint coordinator in your area.
Why Tattoo Inks Go Bad:
Inks and pigments can be contaminated through:
- use of contaminated ingredients to make inks,
- use of manufacturing processes that introduce contaminants or allow contaminants to survive,
- use of unhygienic practices that contaminate ink bottles or mixing with contaminated colors,
- use of non-sterile water to dilute the inks, and
- using tattoo inks past their expiration date.