Q: Is it true that tattoos can cause skin cancer? I’m dying to get one. – Ellen T., Garden City, N.Y.
A: The short answer is … the jury is still out. But, and this is a big BUT for those of you with tattoos, many kinds of tattoo ink are toxic and can be germ-filled. There’s been a wave of infections (19 in Rochester, N.Y., alone) from tainted ink. Unless the artist changes ink for every customer, when you get a tat, you are being intimate with everyone who got a tat from that inkwell.
As for the toxins, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has started to look into the risks, and since more than 45 million Americans (36 percent of 30-year-olds) have tats, the info shouldn’t be too hard to get – eventually. Remember, it took a couple of decades to positively determine that smoking causes lung cancer. That didn’t mean it was smart to smoke before the official findings came out.
In the meantime, here’s what we know and we want you to think about: Those colorful inks include phthalates (hormone disrupters that you worry about in plastics), as well as carcinogenic metals and hydrocarbons. Black ink (based on soot) may contain hazardous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can cause cancer. They’re also made with dibutyl phthalate and benzo(a)prene, which is labeled by the Environmental Protection Agency as “among the most potent and well-documented skin carcinogens.” Blue ink contains cobalt and aluminum. Red ink often contains cadmium and mercury sulfide. And the FDA notes that many of the inks are industrial grade suitable for printer’s ink and automobile paint! Plus, inks have been found to migrate to your lymph nodes.
Your skin is there to protect you from heat, cold, dirt, germs and dangerous chemicals. So ask yourself, does walking around with known toxins etched into your skin sound smart?
But heck, if you believe scarring the largest organ of your body – your skin – is cool, we suggest you take a deep breath and wait for the urge to pass.
– Dr. Michael Roizen & Dr. Mehmet Oz
© 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.