Pain from tattoos lasts long after ink has dried
A new study suggests tattoos can cause severe long-term skin reactions down the road.
Researchers from the NYU Langone Medical Center conducted survey interviews of 300 people with tattoos in New York’s Central Park in June 2013. The results, about one in every 10 inkers experienced a rash, itching or swelling that lasted from four months to several years.
“With the explosion in the number of tattoos, we are seeing some complications,” says Dr. Vikram Khanna, dermatologist at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. “In this study, complications do not have to do with the tattoo artist or the parlor practices, but rather the qualities of ink and how the body’s immune system responds to it.”
The survey respondents ranged in age from 18 to 69, with most having no more than five tattoos, according to the findings, which were published in the journal Contact Dermatitis. Sixty-seven percent of the tattoos were on the arms, and the longest-lasting complications stemmed from red and black shades of ink – 44 percent to red and 33 percent to black.
“The skin is a highly immune-sensitive organ, and the long-term consequences of repeatedly testing the body’s immune system with injected dyes and colored inks are poorly understood,” said lead study investigator and NYU Langone dermatologist Marie Leger, MD, PhD, in a news release. “Some of the reactions appear to be an immune response, yet we do not know who is most likely to have an immune reaction to a tattoo.”
Less than 33 percent of participants visited a doctor for their reaction, but the majority revisited the tattoo parlor to complain or ask for guidance.
“A dermatologist can usually quickly determine if it is an infection or an allergic reaction and provide treatment accordingly,” Dr. Khanna says. “Occasionally, if there is a severe ongoing skin reaction, the tattoo may need to be removed, and new technology may assist in the removal.”
That treatment can include anti-inflammatory steroid drugs, laser surgery or removal of the tattooed area.
Leger said a larger survey will be conducted to determine what colored inks and possible dye components are most closely tied to adverse reactions.
“Expert dermatologists are not surprised because the types of inks used are not well regulated and are very diverse,” Dr. Khanna says. “The tattoo artists sometimes use unique blends to formulate ideal colorings/qualities for their designs. This makes it hard to know what component of the tattoo is causing the problem.”
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