90% of tattoo ink contains chemicals that can cause ORGAN DAMAGE, study finds – with more Americans than ever now inked

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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More than nine in ten people who get tattoos in the US could be unwittingly exposing themselves to chemicals that cause organ damage, a study suggests.

Tests in New York on 54 ink samples found 45 contained compounds that were not listed on the label.

The most common was polyethylene glycol, a compound that has been linked to damage to organs — including a type of necrosis in the kidneys.

Others included 2-phenoxyethanol, which has been linked to nervous system dysfunction in infants, and an antibiotic.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to start regulating tattoo inks in the coming months after a vote in Congress in late 2022 gave the agency the power to do so. Legislators decided on the shift after multiple reports of illnesses caused by microbe contaminants in tattoos.

Machine Gun Kelly’s new tattoo has been slammed by fans after he covered the top half of his body in black ink

Justin Bieber has got many tattoos (pictured in 2020)

And so has singer Adam Levine (pictured in 2019)

Other celebrities who have bedecked their bodies in tattoos include Justin Bieber (left) and Adam Levine (right)

Tattoo inks are regulated as ‘cosmetics’ — alongside make-up and body lotions among others — under the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act (MoCRA).

This was the largest overhaul of cosmetics regulation since 1938 and gave the FDA new powers — including to monitor the ingredients in tattoos.

The agency has so far released draft guidance on tattoo inks, as it gears up to regulate the products.

About a third of Americans have tattoos now, surveys suggest, and among adults aged 30 to 49 years old — as many as half have the inkings.

Tattoos are also becoming more common among celebrities, which may be fueling their popularity — with figures such as Justin Bieber jumping on the trend. 

And more extreme versions like Machine Gun Kelly’s  ‘blackout’ tattoos are also becoming more common.

In the study, published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, scientists collected ink samples from nine US-based manufacturers.

The ingredients found in the tests were then compared to those listed on the inks’ labels in order to reveal the discrepancies.

Polyethylene glycol, found in the inks, may be used in tattoos as a thickening agent, making them easier to apply. It is also used in other products such as body wash, foundations and even hair spray.

2-phenoxyethanol, which was also found in some of the inks, may be added as a preservative, experts suggest, as it can stop microbes from growing in the ink once a bottle is opened.

The chemical is also used in moisturizers, eye shadows and sunscreen for these effects, and is permitted for use up to a concentration of one percent in products.

The tests also spotted an antibiotic — propylene glycol — which is typically used for urinary tract infections (UTIs) and wasn’t declared on the label. It may also have been added to reduce the risks of contamination.

This antibiotic has also previously been linked to allergic reactions that can cause skin conditions such as eczema.

Tattoo inks put into the body by tattoo artists may be absorbed by macrophages — a type of white blood cell — which then hold the ink in the skin, keeping the tattoo in place.

But in some cases it is possible for impurities to leach into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, raising the risk of unwanted side effects such as damage to organs.

Dermatologists have previously warned against tattoos, saying these make it harder to detect skin cancers and contain impurities that can raise the risk of complications.

Dr Marc Everett, a plastic surgeon in New York who was not involved in the study, has previously suggested the tattoo inks can also cause inflammation in lymph nodes — which also help to carry fluids around the body.

The swelling may harm the body’s immune system, reducing its ability to fight off infections, it has previously been suggested.  

Tests in New York on 54 ink samples found as many as 45 contained impurities that were not listed on the label (stock image)

Tests in New York on 54 ink samples found as many as 45 contained impurities that were not listed on the label (stock image) 

Dr John Swierk, a chemist at Binghampton University who led the study, said: ‘We’re hoping the manufacturers take this as an opportunity to reevaluate their processes, and that artists and clients take this as an opportunity to push for better labeling and manufacturing.’

He added: ‘This is the first study to explicitly look at inks sold in the United States and is probably the most comprehensive because it looks at the pigments.’

‘These nominally stay in the skin, [along with] the carrier package, which is what the pigment is suspended in.’

He added: ‘Our goal in a lot of this research is to empower artists and their clients. Tattoo artists are serious professionals who have dedicated their lives to this craft and they want the best possible outcomes for their clients.

‘We’re trying to highlight that there are some deficiencies in manufacturing and labeling.’


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