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FDA Updates Tattoo Ink Infection and Risk Warnings


May 10, 2017 — The FDA is updating consumers about the risks of getting a tattoo after hundreds of people reported infections from bad ink and other severe side effects.

The FDA urged consumers to Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe? The agency received 363 injury reports associated with tattoos from 2004 to 2016, but it is likely that many more were never reported.

One of the most common problems is a tattoo infection. Infections are often caused by non-sterile equipment or unhygienic practices. The ink itself may also be contaminated with bacteria, either as a result of poor manufacturing or the artist mixing the ink with non-sterile water.

There is no easy way for a person getting a tattoo to know if the ink is contaminated, even if the bottle is sealed and marked “sterile.” In recent years, there have been several recalls for tattoo inks and do-it-yourself kits that caused outbreaks of allergic reactions and infections.

An infected tattoo may cause a rash, redness, bumps, and fever. There is also a risk of more severe complications:

“More aggressive infections may cause high fever, shaking, chills, and sweats. Treating such infections might require a variety of antibiotics—possibly for months—or even hospitalization and/or surgery.”

Depending on the severity of the infection, the tattoo may be ruined and the person may suffer permanent side effects. Allergic reactions to the ink itself may also persist indefinitely. Many people develop “granulomas,” or scar tissue around foreign material.

There are no FDA-approved tattoo inks for injection into the skin. However, studies have found that some manufacturers use the same pigments that are also found in car paint, printer toners, and hair dye.

Metal and other ingredients like p-phenylenediamene (PPD) in the ink may also cause problems. Some people experience swelling or burning when they have a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan.


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