What You're Actually Doing To Your Body Every Time You Get A Tattoo

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How Tattoos Affect The Body (And How To Avoid The Risks)

By Kiera Carter

Have you ever wondered if there might be any possible downsides to getting inked and how tattoos affect the body?

Besides the fact that you chose your ex-husband’s initials as your tattoo of choice, of course.

In a 2015 study, researchers decided to find out what the risks of getting tatted up may be by evaluating the adverse reactions, like chronic infections or itching, (even years afterward) that are often associated with tattoos.

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After looking at 280 people who had had some kind of reaction to getting tattoos, the experts found that 83 percent of reactions involved colored ink, and were more commonly found on the extremities than on the trunk of the body.

Since colored pigments are made from different compounds than black ink is, the skin might react differently to them, according to the study, which was published in Dermatology.

Researchers also noted that substances in the ink may react with sunlight, therefore explaining why reactions are less common on parts of the body that are usually covered by clothing. 

Experts noted that no tattoo is completely safe: “Tattoos injure the skin, which may allow microorganisms to enter the body,” said Wolfgang Bäumler, PhD, a professor of dermatology at the University of Regensburg in Germany.

What’s more, the review also found eight cases of malignant melanoma on the site of the tattoo.

“Tattoo inks may contain carcinogens, but it’s unclear whether the reported cases of skin cancer are associated with tattoos or occurred coincidentally,” said Dr. Bäumler, whose study noted that this number is actually few in comparison to the many people who have tattoos. (In fact, 24 percent of the population is inked.)

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Thankfully, this correlation doesn’t mean that you need to go amputate any tattooed regions of your body, but if you’re on the fence about your next tattoo, then it’s definitely something to consider.

At the very least, you should do your research in order to make sure that the salon you go to is hygienic. An artist who cares about hygiene will review the entire procedure with you and show you that the needles are new and sterile, and that the ink bottles are single use, as to reduce the risk of an infection.

As dermatologist Marie Leger explains, many problems could stem from the fact that tattoo ink isn't very regulated. And, sometimes, the problem may stem from a tattoo allergy.

"Some of the stories we got do definitely sound like tattoo allergy. They'll have a red tattoo, and then a few years later, they will get a new tattoo — and, all of a sudden, the new red and the old red tattoo become itchy and raised," Leger explained.

Leger also explained how those who get tattoos tend to be risk-takers anyway: "I don't think anyone gets a tattoo because it's totally safe; I think people do it because it's culturally a little bit rebellious."

RELATED: 10 Important Ways To Prepare For Your First Tattoo

Kiera Carter has a decade's worth of experience covering fitness, health, and lifestyle topics for national magazines and websites. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Travel + Leisure, and more. 

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Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in December 2016 and was updated with the latest information.

This article was originally published at Prevention. Reprinted with permission from the author.