Researchers from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France say the chemicals in tattoo ink can travel in the blood stream and accumulate in the lymph nodes, which could cause them to become swollen and therefore hinder their ability to fight infections.
But the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggested that one particular type of colour pigment used in tattoos could be more dangerous than the rest.
Titanium dioxide, which is a chemical commonly used to create white ink, was also found to dye lymph nodes and was earlier this year linked to an increased risk of cancer when inhaled. Previous studies also suggested the chemical could cause itching and delayed healing.
“When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlour where they use sterile needles that haven’t been used previously,” explained Hiram Castillo, one of the study authors.
“No one checks the chemical composition of the colours, but our study shows that maybe they should.”
Scientists used powerful X-rays fluorescence measures to detect the tiny particles of titanium dioxide and reported strong evidence to suggest tattoo ink moves around the body before forming deposits.
Though researchers found a range of particle sizes in the skin, only nano-sized particles were detected in the lymph nodes.
They believe the particles are transported in the blood stream and can stay there for long periods, which may cause lymph node enlargement.
The researchers also found evidence that these nanoparticles can bring about structural changes in nearby biomolecules, which could possible lead to inflammation. But study authors were keen to point out that “most tattooed individuals including the donors analyzed here do not suffer from chronic inflammation.”
“We already knew that pigments from tattoos would travel to the lymph nodes because of visual evidence: the lymph nodes become tinted with the colour of the tattoo. It is the response of the body to clean the site of entrance of the tattoo,” said Bernhard Hesse, one of the study’s other authors.
“What we didn’t know is that they do it in a nano form, which implies that they may not have the same behaviour as the particles at a micro level. And that is the problem: we don’t know how nanoparticles react.”
The scientists now plan to do more research to investigate further.
Thanks to popular culture and celebrity inkings, tattoos have become a mainstream fashion accessory of late. Recent figures estimate that about one in five of the UK population has a tattoo and this figure rises to one in three for young adults.
From tiny inner ear tattoos, to inkings that turn scars into beautiful works of art and the tattoo trend that could spell the end of wedding rings, despite this worrying new research, tattoo domination doesn’t look like waning any time soon.
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