Cancer Risk: Poisoned By a Tattoo

Millions of Americans have decorated their bodies with tattoos. And other than the risk of hepatitis and other infectious diseases, most people think that tattoos are harmless.

Posted on | Arthur Perry, MD, FACS | Comments ()

Millions of Americans have decorated their bodies with tattoos. And other than the risk of hepatitis and other infectious diseases, most people think that tattoos are harmless. 

But the FDA does not regulate tattoo pigments. Those pigments were originally developed to color paint and industrial products, and they’ve actually never been tested in humans for safety. It turns out that tattoo pigments contain toxic metals like lead, cadmium and mercury.  And worse, they contain some really bad chemicals like phenol and toluene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons derived from petroleum that are often carcinogenic. Over the last decade, doctors have started seeing skin cancers, particularly squamous cell carcinomas, arising from tattooed skin. 

You might read this and think that you’re better off undergoing laser tattoo removal. Unfortunately, while the tattoo might be erased by the treatment, blasting away that pigment releases it into the body a second time. So, I won’t make many friends in the medical community by saying that until we better study the fate and toxicity of tattoo pigment, I don’t think it’s such as good idea to have tattoos lasered off. 

If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, and that’s between you and your mother, you should consider using a safer pigment called InfiniteInk that does not contain toxins and can be easily removed. It’s available in a few dozen tattoo establishments now. I’m sure it will cost more, but wouldn’t you want a pigment that was developed to color medicines, rather than paints?

Blog written by Arthur Perry, MD, FACS
Dr. Perry has over 2 decades of experience as a clinical surgeon and has been named to the “Best Doctors in the NY Area” book...