So, you're thinking of getting a tattoo done? Before committing ink to skin, be sure to check up on the inks that are going to be used first.
Not Actually Inks
Tattoo inks are often not actually inks. What they are is pigmenting substances that have been ground up and then suspended in a carrier solution. This solution helps sterilize the pigments as well as making them smoother and easier to work with. Water and ethyl alcohol are two common cariiers, although other alcohols are often used. Some of the substances used to pigment the inks are heavy metals, which can be dangerous.
Black light and glow in the dark inks can be used to create glow in the dark tattoos and black light activated tattoos, although these inks are rarely certified for use on people, so caution is advised.
The ink used in tattoos can fade over time, the colours losing their strength and fine details becoming lost. Increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can increase the speed at which the tattoos fade by causing lines and colour to fade faster, just as exposure to UV light can also accelerate the aging process in the skin itself.
Food and Drink Administration (FDA) Regulation
Tattoo inks are nowadays regulated by the FDA in the United States, as colour additives and cosmetics. Previously, the FDA had not regulated tattoo inks at all. This has changed after recent reports regarding the use of such inks in permanent make-up. Some reports suggested that some of the inks contained poisonous, carcinogenic or potentially fatal substances. There is no requirement for ink manufacturers to actually disclose what was used to manufacture their inks. Many pigments are of industrial strength, and of types that would be used in car paints and printers.
Regulation of tattoo inks varies from country to country and from state to state inside the US. Before having a tattoo done, it's advised to check what the tattoo parlour in question will be colouring you with. An inability or an unwillingness to disclose this is a sign to try somewhere else.
Although rare, some tattoo inks can cause allergic reactions, especially when exposed to sunlight. This can even happen with tattoos that someone has had for years. Allergic reactions can be dangerous as the pigments causing the reaction are hard to remove.
Should a reaction be caused by sunlight (phototoxic) the reaction will normally show up as redness and swelling around the tattoo. Different colours are more likely to cause a reaction; yellow inks using cadmium sulphide for the colour are the most likely, but this can also happen with red ink, which also often has cadmium sulphide added to brighten the red colour. Blue and green pigments have also been known to cause an allergic reaction at a later date.
Harvard Medical School Professor Develops a New Ink
A new tattoo ink launched as Infinitink by the company Freedom2 was developed by Richard Anderson, a professor of dermatology at the Harvard Medical School as well as being the Director of the Wellman Centre for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital along with the Professor of Medical Science at Brown University, Edith Mathiowitz, and tested at MGH with Thomas Flotte, associate professor of dermatology at the Harvard Medical School, and has been designed to make it easy and safe to remove the tattoo at a later date.
Unlike traditional tattoo inks, this new ink was specifically designed for tattoos and is made from FDA approved materials. The "ink" is composed of tiny, submicron particles which contain the pigment. Should the tattoo need to be removed, these particles can then be broken open releasing the pigment and thus removing the tattoo. The tattoo will also need less treatments to remove it than traditional tattoos - usually only one or two treatments as opposed to the four to twelve laser treatments often required by normal inks.