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Ink Poisoning: Is It Possible and How Do I Know If I Have It?

Tattoos have become so prevalent that many people don’t really think about how they affect our skin and our bodies. As you may know, no tattoo would be possible without ink, and no ink could be created without a mixture of different chemical substances and compounds.

So why do we take tattoos so lightly when we literally injure our skin and inject chemicals on our own?

Not to scare you or anything, but tattoos can be quite dangerous and traumatic for our body. So much so that one of the reactions to a tattoo is ink allergy or ink poisoning (among many other reactions).

In the following paragraphs we will consider the problem of ink poisoning, whether it is possible to get it and how it manifests itself. So if you’re curious about this potential problem and you’re a tattoo enthusiast, keep scrolling!

Ink poisoning: 6 things you need to know

Ink poisoning 6 things you need to know
Credit: Instagram

1. What is ink poisoning?

Many associate ink poisoning with external factors, like dirty, unsterilized tattoo tools, or even confuse it with a tattoo infection. However, ink poisoning has nothing to do with these things. As the issue itself indicates, ink poisoning is only related to the ink used in the tattooing process.

Now, the subject of tattoo ink has been part of a general tattoo safety discussion for years. The problem is that no ink in the United States is FDA approved or standardized. So the problem extends to, or to be more precise, stems from the very ingredients used to make tattoo ink; ingredients that you would never put in your body otherwise.

So, ink poisoning is simply a case where someone is poisoned by tattoo ink.!

2. Why does ink poisoning happen? – Ink Ingredients and Body Reactions

As we have established, the problem lies with the ink, or to be more precise, the ingredients used to make the ink. If you’re unfamiliar with these ingredients, don’t worry. Many people, even tattoo artists, don’t know exactly what is in the ink they use or get tattooed with.

However, research has shown that the main components found in tattoo ink are toxic chemicals and heavy metals, which are the main culprits in cases of ink poisoning. Additionally, approximately more than 10% of all unopened bottles of tattoo ink are already contaminated.

So what ingredients are used to make tattoo ink?

Well, some of them include carbon black, cinnabar, iron oxide, titanium oxide, cadmium, chromium, nickel, lead, manganese, denatured alcohol, l antimony, beryllium, different types of fillers, even sunscreen, rubbing alcohol or animal fat and oil.

The list of toxic chemicals and heavy metals is long, and the majority of them are on the EPA’s list of common causes of allergic reactions, infections, and cancer.

Red ink is considered the most toxic of all inks. It alone may contain cinnabar, iron oxide, cadmium, denatured alcohols, and other ingredients that directly cause skin infections and cancers.

It is essential to mention that to create shades of different pigments, the inks are introduced into a white pigment, which contains titanium oxide (TiO2). This ingredient alone can contribute to ink poisoning, delayed tattoo healing, tattoo lift, and skin hypersensitivity.

Now, this is all super informative and good to know, but these ingredients have to come in very small amounts. So why do they cause poisoning?

Well, the real problem starts when the ink is placed in the dermis of your skin, permanently. The body recognizes these elements as foreign and tries to get rid of the excess ink particles.

However, he cannot get rid of it completely, ever. These toxic particles and compounds travel through your body (entering the lymphatic system or bloodstream) forever, or until you get rid of a tattoo.

So, to solve the problem in question, the immune system tries to repair the damage, but, in the case where the immune system is weaker or weakened, it cannot prevent the toxic particles from causing reactions, such as poisoning with ink, allergic reactions or infections.

3. What are the symptoms of ink poisoning?

One of the reasons people confuse ink poisoning with ink allergies or infection is because of the symptoms, which are quite similar. However, as in the case of ink poisoning, the toxic ink enters the lymph nodes and other parts of the body, the symptoms become much more severe and persistent. Depending on the degree of poisoning, symptoms include;

  • Swelling of the tattoo and swelling of the surrounding area
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Increased joint pain and body aches/aches
  • Increased body temperature, fever and chills
  • Irritation and rash of the tattooed area
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Prolonged or delayed tattoo healing

4. What to do in case of potential ink poisoning?

Since some ink poisoning symptoms are similar to those of tattoo infectionit’s better to seek medical help for proper examination and diagnosis. Such symptoms often require medical treatment as well, so be sure to consult your GP.

Also be sure to contact your tattoo artist and ask for the brand of ink they tattooed you. It could also help the doctor and your tattoo artist identify toxic particles in the ink that trigger poisoning and such an immune system response. Also, be sure to let your doctor know the color of the ink and any other information that might be helpful in resolving the issue.

5. How to prevent ink poisoning?

So far the information is not too optimistic, we are well aware of that. However, we must point out that cases of ink poisoning are quite rare, and even when they do occur, they are treated properly and successfully. So, you shouldn’t be afraid to get a tattoo. However, if you think ink poisoning may be happening to you, here’s how you can prevent it.

  • Still get tattooed by a professional and reliable tattoo artist. High-end tattoo artists use high-quality ink, so the chances of ink poisoning or ink allergies are minimized.
  • Ask your tattoo artist to do a swab test; this will help them be aware of any potential allergic reactions to different colors and types of ink.
  • Get checked for allergies with your doctor before getting a tattoo. If the test shows that you are allergic to certain compounds, be sure to let your tattoo artist know as well.
  • Make sure you take care, your body and your health. Eat healthy, wholesome meals, take vitamin supplements to boost your immune system, and drink plenty of water. Exercise and physical activity are also key to keeping your body healthy and resistant to toxic compounds, like those found in ink.
  • In the end, if none of this sounds convincing and you’re still worried about tattoo ink and ink poisoning, all you can do is cancel tattoo appointment and not get inked.

Tattoo Ink Poisoning FAQ

spider tattoo on hand
Credit: Instagram

What happens if tattoo ink gets into your blood?

Excess ink usually ends up in the bloodstream. It’s a way for your lymphatic system to try to get rid of foreign or toxic compounds in the body. However, as the ink travels through the blood, it gets stuck in certain areas of the body, such as the liver for example. This is why ink (especially poor quality toxic ink) can be quite dangerous.

Is tattoo ink carcinogenic?

Because tattoo ink contains harmful and toxic compounds, which are considered by the EPA to be carcinogenic, it is safe to say that tattoo ink can be carcinogenic. When the ink passes through the body, it manages to pass through the lymph nodes.

As a result, toxic compounds cause oxidative stress, which leads to inflammation. Inflammation damages cells and the immune system, which then leads to cancer and other diseases.

How long will tattoo ink stay in your blood?

Generally speaking, ink particles will stay in your blood as long as you have a tattoo. However, the amount of ink particles in the blood decreases over time. The highest concentration of ink in the blood is during the healing period of the tattoo. that is, the first 2 to 4 weeks.

Can vegan ink cause poisoning?

It’s true that vegan ink is a better choice than regular ink, in a way. For example, vegan ink does not contain animal products like animal fat and oil, animal gelatin, etc.

However, in order for vegan ink to still be ink and usable for tattooing, it contains certain toxic ink carriers (such as denatured alcohol or formaldehyde, both of which cause poisoning and irritation), or heavy metals. Just like regular ink, vegan ink is neither standardized nor approved by the FDA, so until then, we can’t say that vegan ink is safer than regular ink.

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Final Thoughts

Ink poisoning sounds terrifying, right? But it’s quite rare and there are plenty of ways to prevent it from happening. However, if you suspect ink poisoning is a possibility for you, be sure to see an allergist and get tested to see if any of the known ingredients in the ink could be causing an allergic reaction or a poisoning. Other than that, to be completely safe, you simply cannot get a tattoo.

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