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FDA Alert: Tattoo ink can cause serious infection

On Behalf of | Aug 11, 2014 | General |

I myself have never considered getting a tattoo, unless I were to join the Marine Corps, in which case a nice “Semper Fi” across the biceps might be cool. At this point in my life, a hitch in the Corps doesn’t seem to be a likely career move, so I’d say inking is out for me.

But inking seems to be more and more often considered cool. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration says that the ink used may not be.

The FDA is warning tattoo parlors, people getting tattoos, and people buying at-home tattoo kits that not all tattoo ink is safe.

Tattoo infections are not new. Tattoos have been linked to hepatitis, staph, and even MSRA (the life-threatening superbug Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). The infections were usually due to unsanitary environments and dirty needles.

But it’s been found that people can contract infections even in the most sanitary conditions. Last month a California company recalled inks in home tattoo kits after testing confirmed bacterial contamination in unopened bottles of ink. One infection has been connected to the company’s products, and the FDA says they know of other reports of infections linked to inks with similar packaging.

It seems that ink can carry bacteria into the bloodstream, causing a process called “sepsis.” The symptoms of a severe infection are fever, shaking chills, and heavy sweating. Other symptoms include swelling, redness, bump on the skin, discharge, blisters, or excessive pain at the sit of the tattoo. Reactions can occur years after the tattoo has been applied.

Even temporary tattoos, such as those popular with kids and found at beaches and other holiday destinations can carry a risk, because of an ink sometimes used in them called black henna, which can cause dangerous skin reactions.

But as I said, tattoos seem to be increasing in popularity. One university offers many tips for people who decide to add art to their bodies, such as what a tattoo studio should look like, and what procedures should be used – for example, that the ink should never be taken directly from the main source bottle or returned to that bottle. (One that particularly struck me was “Apply a sun block (with a high SPF) to your tattoo for the rest of your life.” The site, at the University of Michigan, advises, “If you are considering a tattoo think of it as permanent.”)

Tattoo regret is nothing new either. Tattoo removals have increased 440 percent over the last decade, often due to break-ups or job searching during a recession. But be careful to at least keep it to a philosophical, financial or personal regret, and not a health emergency.