Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS • Nutritional Periodontist
August 28, 2017
Medical research suggests that tattoo inks might be harmful; yet, so much is unknown. I believe this subject must be addressed and discussed. Pigments in tattoo inks may be a neglected source for unhealthy immune responses and other detrimental outcomes in the body. More controlled human research needs to be explored before the ramifications of the facts are fully understood.
This subject may create a lot of controversy, since tattooing has been around for a long time. For example, a tattoo was discovered on a man living over 5000 years ago who was found frozen in a glacier pool in the Italian Alps. However, the potential for long-term harm is significant and mounting.
As a dentist, I am opposed to placing any toxic substances into the mouth or into teeth that might damage the body and create chronic disease. Whatever repeatedly stimulates the immune system to create chronic inflammation could eventually manifest in disease years after the initial insult and well distant from the original site of insult. Could tattoo ink be harmful to the body in this way? Could ink in the skin be as damaging to the body as is mercury in dental amalgams. Is tattoo ink any different than other toxic elements leaking into the blood system? We need to know!
Many years ago in my office, I was examining a young man. While looking around his mouth, I noticed that there were strange discolorations throughout his soft palate. The soft palate is the fleshy, flexible part toward the back of the roof of the mouth that leads into the throat. The soft tissue is loaded with blood vessels that are close to the surface but are not usually visible. However, in this patient I saw many blood vessels in his soft palate, which were deeply pigmented and visible.
It turned out that my patient had full body tattoos. The tattoo pigments or their breakdown elements must have entered his blood system and permanently lodged in the lining of his blood vessels. How did this pigment get into his blood? At that time over 20 years ago, I did not know the potential medical consequences.
Current published research advises about the risks of tattoos. Here are some reported facts, which have created many unanswered questions for me:
- There are potentially numerous chemicals in the pigments of tattoo ink that are not regulated and that may initiate an immune response that could lead to systemic chronic inflammation. (HERE, HERE)
- Some of the chemicals in the ink have been associated with squamous cell carcinoma. The authors of this article suggest that chronic, low-grade inflammation (as a result of the chemicals in tattoo ink) is the causative factor for the observed cancer. (HERE)
- When some tattoo ink pigments are exposed to sunlight or lasers, the ink could break down into more toxic chemicals. Some of the elements created from this chemical change have potential to cause cancer. (HERE)
- Nanoparticles in some tattoo inks can infiltrate various cells causing cell death. (HERE)
- People who have many tattoos covering large areas of the body may compromise the skin’s natural potential to sweat. This could be a concern since sweating in necessary to cool the body’s internal temperature and to rid itself of toxic substances. It might be a serious problem for those with full body tattoos who are engaged in strenuous physical activities like marathon runners or physically active military personnel. (HERE)
- On the other hand, to be objective, here is an article that suggests tattoos may improve the immune system. (HERE)
Three in ten Americans have tattoos, based on a recent Harris Poll. Almost 50% of Millennials, those 83 million people born between 1982 and 2000, have at least one tattoo. And, most don’t stop with only one.
I am concerned. My basic question is this: “How harmful are tattoo inks to the body in general?” Answers only will come from continued, in-depth medical research, which I encourage.
The FDA needs to assure the public that inks used for tattoos are safe. If tattoo inks might be toxic to the body, then those who have tattoos should investigate whatever they could do to support their immune system naturally and to assist their body’s detoxification naturally.