01 June 2015

Tattoos may cause chronic skin complications

In a study, up to 6 percent of participants experienced some form of tattoo-related rash, infection, severe itching or swelling that sometimes lasted for months.


Getting a tattoo may put you at risk for long-term skin problems, a new study warns.

Arm most popular tattoo site

"We were rather alarmed at the high rate of reported chronic complications tied to getting a tattoo," said senior investigator Dr. Marie Leger, an assistant professor in the dermatology department at NYU Langone Medical Centre in New York City.

Read: How tattoos change over 50 years

"Given the growing popularity of tattoos, physicians, public health officials and consumers need to be aware of the risks involved," Leger said in a Langone news release.

For the study, researchers surveyed about 300 New York City adults, aged 18 to 69, with tattoos. Most of them had no more than five tattoos, and the arm was the most popular tattoo site (67 percent).

Up to 6 percent of the study participants experienced some form of tattoo-related rash, infection, severe itching or swelling that sometimes lasted longer than four months. In some cases, the problems persisted for years, according to the investigators.

Lack of national database

Some tattoo-related skin problems can be treated with anti-inflammatory steroid drugs, but others may require laser surgery, Leger said.

The chemicals used in tattoo ink are not standardised or properly regulated, she said.

"It is not yet known if the reactions being observed are due to chemicals in the ink itself or to other chemicals, such as preservatives or brighteners, added to them, or to the chemicals' breakdown over time. The lack of a national database or reporting requirements also hinders reliable monitoring," Leger said.

The study was published online May 27 in the journal Contact Dermatitis.

About one in five adult Americans has at least one tattoo, according to the study authors.

Read more:

The risks of tattoos

Tattoo removal causes pain

Think twice about the tattoo

Image: Woman with tattoos from Shutterstock

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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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