September 24, 2014 — A case report published in PRS Global Open has found a possible link between red tattoo ink and squamous cell carcinoma, a serious type of skin cancer.
It is possible that the skin cancer was coincidental, but the researchers still believe skin cancer should be added to the list of possible tattoo ink side effects.
The 48 year-old man had no history of skin cancer, binge tanning, or severe sunburns, and he was healthy and relatively young. Furthermore, the cancer occurred just four months after he received the tattoo and it spread rapidly — but only in the red parts. The man was tattooed with “Dark Red” organic ink from Eternal Ink.
The researchers did not determine whether the ink contained carcinogenic chemicals, but they warned that red ink is the most common cause of hypersensitivity reactions. In the past, red ink contained a known carcinogen — mercury sulfide — but it has been removed.
The man underwent a series of extremely painful and disfiguring surgeries to remove the cancerous tissue. Six weeks after the first surgery, he noticed additional skin abnormalities in other red areas of the tattoo. He had to have another surgery. He also had a skin graft, in which doctors removed healthy skin from his upper arm and transplanted it to the damaged area on his leg.
What is the problem?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that tattoo inks are subject to pre-market approval, but they are rarely screened for safety before entering the market:
“Although a number of color additives are approved for use in cosmetics, none is approved for injection into the skin … Many pigments used in tattoo inks are not approved for skin contact at all. Some are industrial grade colors that are suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint.”