Humans have used tattoos for centuries to advertise group membership or social status. Older forms of tattoo appeared to have been more therapeutic. Archeologists surmise that the web-like tattoos drawn on the abdomens and breasts of female, Egyptian women were meant to protect against miscarriage. The mysterious dots and crosses found on the lower spine, knee and ankle joints of the world famous “Ice Man”, are speculated to have been a medicinal treatment for joint pain. As the Ice Man is a 5,200 year old frozen mummy, he is currently the oldest human ever known to have been tattooed.
In this century, tattoo art was particularly used among prison inmates in previous decades, but there has been a popular resurgence of tattoo art among the Millennial generation. What hasn’t been investigated, until now, is the safety of tattoos. Modern tattoo parlours know to use sterile needles as a preventative measure against the transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis C. But what about the ink itself?
A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, has found that the ink used in tattoos does not stay where it is originally put. Over time, tiny nanoparticles of tattoo ink migrate away from the tattoo itself and accumulate in lymph nodes. Scientists discovered this while examining samples of skin and lymph nodes from six different corpses, four of which had tattoos. The corpses with tattoos were found to have contaminants, such as titanium, in their lymph nodes, causing the nodes to enlarge.
Tattoo ink is usually comprised of organic and metal-based pigments and preservatives, but can also be contaminated with toxic impurities, like nickel, chromium, manganese and cobalt. While there is not yet any evidence that the accumulation of these toxins is a contributing factor to any disease, it is a disturbing finding. It means that tattoo pigments injected into the skin are picked up as “foreign bodies” and then stored, either in the skin or in lymph nodes for disposal, which means greater stress is placed on your immune system. Those who already struggle with weak immunity, or auto-immune problems may want to exercise caution when deciding whether or not to get a tattoo.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has an honours degree in English Literature from the University of Waterloo, and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.