Do Tattoos Raise the Risk for Cancer?

He added that this “also accounts for the pigments and toxic elements that we found in the lymph nodes in our study. The long-term health effects of this are unknown, so far.”

The depositing of elements from tatoo ink in lymph nodes has never been investigated before. Because data on the exposure to toxic elements are yet unavailable, “people should be aware of the unknown risks that might come along with tattooing rather than presuming that the colors are safe,” said Dr Castillo-Michel.

The findings were published online September 12 in Scientific Reports.

Tattoos have become increasingly mainstream. Tattoo-related health and safety regulations have focused primarily on regulations regarding hygiene and the prevention of infection.

The ink used to create a tattoo generally contains organic pigments but can also include nickel, chromium, manganese, cobalt, or titanium dioxide (TiO2), which is the second most common ingredient used.

In this study, particles from both organic pigments and inorganic TiO 2 were detected in skin and lymph nodes, as were several of the more toxic elements, such as nickel and chromium.

“Some of the elements we found, such as nickel and chromium, are categorized as carcinogenic and sensitizing substances by the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals,” said first author Ines Schreiver, of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Berlin, Germany. “These substances potentially may harm the health of tattooed individuals.”

She explained that to perform an appropriate risk assessment, further investigations on the average amounts of these compounds in the skin are needed. “This is necessary to estimate to what extent these elements will increase the risk of cancer over human lifetime,” said Schreiver.

The deposit of these pigmented particles led to chronic enlargement of the lymph nodes, and exposure appears to be lifelong, she added.

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