After looking at several popular tattoo samples for a new study, researchers found that nearly 50 percent of tattoo inks contain chemicals that can cause cancer.
At a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago, Illinois, on Wednesday, researchers from Binghamton University presented their research, which was led by John Swierk, an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry at the school.
As Swierk points out, there are two parts of tattoo ink: a pigment and a carrier solution. The pigment is a molecular or solid compound while the carrier fluids transport the pigment through different layers of the skin.
The scientist explained how he and his team set out to test 56 popular inks before discovering that half of them contained an off-label chemical.
“Every time we looked at one of the inks, we found something that got me thinking,” he told the ACS. “For example, 23 of the 56 different inks analyzed to date suggest an azo-containing dye is present.”
Speak with The daily email About his work, Swierk noted that azo compounds can degenerate when exposed to many bacteria or under ultraviolet light, which comes from sunlight, and become “carcinogenic.”
The chemist also acknowledged that there is still much to learn about pigments and how safe they are.
“We don’t necessarily know where the pigments break down into and so that’s the real concern,” he said. “It’s possible you have pigments that are safe in their own right, but that photo decomposes into something of concern.”
In one sample, researchers discovered ethanol, which can be used as a blood thinner, in the ink. However, it is still unclear whether that could endanger people’s health or not.
In the second part of the study, the researcher examined the size of the particles within 16 inks used for tattoos. They found that half of those inks contained particles smaller than 100 nanometers, which is “worrying” because then the particles are small enough to “penetrate the cell membrane and potentially cause damage.”
At the meeting on Wednesday, shared via The daily emailSwierk spoke about the tiny particles in the ink and how they can cause health problems, including cancer.
“When you get to that regimen, you start to worry about nanoparticles entering cells, getting into the nucleus of cells and doing damage that way and causing problems like cancer,” he said.
He also noted that there are no types of pigments used specifically for tattoos.
“Large companies make pigments for everything, such as paint and textiles. These same pigments are used in tattoo inks,” he added.
Earlier this year, the European Union banned the use of two pigments, blue 15:3 and green seven. The decision came after the company discovered that certain chemicals in the ink can cause “cancer or genetic mutations,” with the ban in 27 European countries. However, the colors are still used in the United States.