Tattoos Embed Carcinogenic Heavy Metals into Your Lymph Nodes

February 2, 2018 at 8:39 pm





Almost half of tattoo inks contain “unsafe levels” of heavy metals and other carcinogens, according to the European Commission. A recent study found these toxins travel from our skin to our lymph nodes. Safer options are available.

Forty-three percent of the 358 tatoo inks analyzed by the European Union’s Joint Research Centre last year contained “unsafe levels” of carcinogenic polyaromatic hydrocarbons. They also contained arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and nickel, all known or probable carcinogens.




Another study, published in the journal Scientific Reports last September, found that these contaminants travel from the skin and become lodged in our lymph nodes, the part of our immune system responsible for filtering foreign particles and cancer cells.

These contaminants are found mostly in the pigment carbon black, a product of coal. Besides carbon black, the second-most common ingredient used in tattoo inks is titanium dioxide, a white pigment also used in sunscreens and paints.

Titanium dioxide nanoparticles are classified as a “possible carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as an “occupational carcinogen” by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A study published in Radiology and Oncology says they cause “oxidative stress resulting in cell damage, genotoxicity, inflammation and immune response.”

Additionally, the European Commission report found that 60% of the inks they surveyed contained “azo compounds” which release carcinogenic molecules when they break down. For example, the known carcinogen o-Anisole forms when the pigment known as solvent red 1 breaks down:




The breakdown of these compounds is triggered by sunlight and laser irradiation, used for tattoo removal.

“When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often vary careful in choosing a parlor where they use sterile needles,” co-author Hiram Castillo, a researcher at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, told The Guardian.

“No one checks the chemical composition of the colors, but our study shows that maybe they should.”

It is estimated 40 percent of American millennials have at least one tattoo.

There are safer, more natural tattoo inks available. For example non-metallic organic red pigments can be made from carmine, scarlet lake, sandalwood or brazilwood. Here’s a guide on what to look for.