Tattoo paints: what’s inside, how they work and why they can be dangerous

The European Chemicals Agency and tattoo specialists are debating whether certain tattoo inks should be banned as they are potentially carcinogenic. But what does tattoo ink actually contain? And what’s so harmful?

Tattoo paints - information about features and options - facts

Tattoo paints: composition, options, types, types, features, choice, advice

When tattooing, the ink is pierced with a needle about 1.55 millimeters into the skin. The paint gets into the second layer of the skin – the dermis. While the top layer of the skin, the epidermis, is regularly exfoliated and renewed, this is not the case with the dermis. This is why tattoos stay forever – unless you remove them..

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Pigments, solvents, preservatives: this is what tattoo ink contains

Colors are usually industrial pigments and are not intended to be applied to the body. The ink used in tattooing usually consists of three main components:

  • Black or colored pigments.

  • Solvents or dispersants, such as water or alcohol, in which the pigments dissolve.

  • Other additives such as preservatives or thickeners.

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After tattooing, small balls of colored pigments settle in the dermis. The body transfers additional color substances. They can be deposited in different parts of the body..

Once in the skin, the pigments at least migrate to the lymph nodes. They also appear in the liver and kidneys – the body tries to excrete them again and at the same time stains various organs. This is why tattoo ink can be dangerous..

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There are several problems associated with tattooing:

  • Impurities: Among the preservatives used, there are always substances that some people have an allergic reaction to – or that only develop after a tattoo. For example, a number of tattoo inks contain nickel, a metal that many people are allergic to..

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  • Pigments: The color pigments used in tattoo inks are not specifically designed for this purpose. These are the same ones that are used, for example, in cosmetic products such as eyeshadow, as well as in car paints. Purity standards applied during manufacturing are not necessarily as stringent as one would like for a product that is injected under the skin. This is why tattoo ink contains potentially harmful impurities..

  • The pigments themselves: Some of the color pigments used are also considered unhealthy. For example, the European Chemicals Agency suspects that certain colors, which should be banned at this time, could cause bladder cancer. Since there is still too little research on ink for tattoos, these assumptions have not yet been conclusively proven..

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There are no safe colors, but there are warning lists

The most practical for anyone looking to get a tattoo would be an approved list that lists all the colors that can be used without hesitation. Currently, there is no such list because the effects of tattoo ink are practically unknown. For example, many color pigments have been tested to determine if they can be applied to the skin. But what happens when you inject them under your skin hasn’t been researched before, especially for a long time. This is why it cannot be said that a certain color is harmless to health..

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The Security Gateway portal of the EU Commission gives some information on which colors should definitely not be used. Collected here product warnings so consumers can look for tattoo ink that has had warnings in recent years.

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Laser does not reduce the health risk of tattoos

A common method of tattoo removal is laser. The light pulse penetrates the skin by two to three millimeters. Colored pigments absorb light energy and explode as a result. The tattoo doesn’t just disappear with a laser – it divides into small pieces that the body has to carry away. While the colored pigments are mostly present with the tattoo intact, the crushed pigments migrate even more through the body after exposure to the laser..

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In addition, the laser produces not only crushed pigments, but also to some extent decomposition products, that is, completely new substances. Studies have shown that carcinogenic substances can also be formed during laser processing. Thus, the health risk associated with tattoo ink is not reduced by the laser, but rather even increased..

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Other ways to remove unpleasant skin patterns include:

  1. Diathermy: a method in which the cellular fluid in the tattooed skin cells is heated by high-frequency beams, so that the skin cells die off and the natural regeneration process resumes.
  2. Dermabrasion: A painful removal method that also leaves unsightly scars. The tattooed skin layer is sanded.
  3. Waterjet cutting: a jet of water is injected into the cellular layers of the skin through an incision.

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Color pigments are washed off the skin under pressure with water with various additives. Since waterjet cutting is performed only in stationary mode, this option is very expensive..

The text is the opinion of the author, does not claim to be the ultimate truth.

Material prepared: ELEN00 (Elena00)