The inks used for tattoos are not regulated, inspected, or approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or any other organization.
For those teens responsible enough to go to a professional tattoo parlor where infection control measures are better, there are still health risks to consider. Most people assume that tattoo ink is ‘safe’, but the reality is the FDA makes no claim as to the ink’s safety.
Dermatologists point to risks from heavy metals that are used to give a rich and vibrant tattoo. Small exposures to these metals usually pose no risk, but as tattoos cover larger areas of the body, the exposure risk greatly increases. Metals such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic can be routinely found in tattoo ink.
Environmental companies have begun to encourage ink manufacturers to voluntarily inform the public of the contents of some inks, and warn about the possible dangers from heavy metals inside.
Hospital pathology labs are seeing inks deposited in the lymph nodes of patients during surgical procedures, and the colors correspond to the patient’s tattoos. Whether these ink deposits lead to diseases down the road remains to be seen, but most doctors agree that ink in a lymph is not good.
Dermatologists know that sun exposure to certain tattoos (the darker colors that absorb the sun better) also increase the risk for skin cancer, and as tattoo wearers in large numbers age, the medical community will also get a better perspective on the possibility of increased skin cancers associated with tattoos.