- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

The unknown and unregulated composition of tattoo inks may prove harmful to the growing number of people sporting the body art, according to the first study conducted on the inks that tattoo artists inject under their clients’ skin.

The preliminary research — which was presented Sunday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego — revealed indications of the presence of heavy metals and other potentially toxic chemicals such as copper, chromium, lithium and nickel.

Furthermore, the researchers — chemistry students at Northern Arizona University — said the ink could cause allergic reactions, burning sensations during the course of magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) and the migration of inks to various parts of the body, including the lungs.

It is the first scientific study ever conducted on the composition of tattoo inks.

Tattoo inks are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as cosmetics and color additives, but the FDA generally entrusts the enforcement of those regulations to local authorities. The researchers say that means there is no effective control over the inks.

“People take for granted that the Food and Drug Administration would monitor that because it is being injected into the body,” said researcher Leslie Wagner.

The researchers analyzed the chemical composition of 17 tattoo inks from five manufacturers to estimate their potential adverse side effects. The study included various brands of black as well as blue, red, white and yellow inks, the most likely base colors that tattoo artists mix to obtain the desired color.

“At this point of the study, we have determined that the inks do in fact vary in composition from manufacturer to manufacturer and from color to color,” Miss Wagner said.

Haley Finley-Jones, an undergraduate student and lead author of the study, said the popularity of tattoos warrants more regulation of the practice.

“With the growing popularity of tattoos among young people, it is vital that we develop a better understanding of this form of self-expression,” she said.

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