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Tattoos aren't just skin deep, researchers are finding — but do they cause cancer?

Tiny “nano-particles” of tattoo ink are shown to accumulate in the lymph nodes.
Do Tattoos Cause Cancer
Photo: Getty Images

We already know that tattoos can cause infection, sweat problems — and even serious regret — but not much else is known about the long-term risks they pose to our bodies. At least, until now.

A team of researchers from Germany and France say they were able to identify nanoparticles of titanium dioxide — a common ingredient in tattoo white and color dyes — in the lymph nodes of four deceased subjects they autopsied. This part isn’t new: the lymph nodes help our bodies purge toxins and “pigmented and enlarged lymph nodes have been noticed in tattooed individuals for decades,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

What is concerning, however, is that this research shows these tiny ink particles can accumulate over years, possibly increasing risk of developing more serious diseases later in life, like cancer.

Wait, do tattoos cause cancer?

However, the researchers are quick to say that further study is needed since cancer and other chronic illnesses caused by chemicals usually take years of exposure to develop.

“It is important to know that there is not much regulation on tattoo inks in the world that would allow one to state that tattoo inks are generally safe,” study first author Ines Schreiver of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment told Health.com. “The ingredients have never been approved for the injection into skin, and there is a significant lack of data to explain the so far known side effects like allergies and granuloma formation.”

Schreiver is right: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any tattoo dye pigments for cosmetic purposes, adding on their website that “published research has reported that some inks contain pigments used in printer toner or in car paint.”

Yikes.

“There might be more risk associated with tattoos then the ever increasing trend of tattooing might imply,” Schreiver added to Health.com. “People should be aware of the unknown risks that might come along with tattooing, rather than presuming that the colors are safe.”

So, maybe skip the permanent skull-and-crossbones or butterfly tattoo in favor of the temporary (and safer) ones you get out of vending machines.

 
 
 
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