Thursday, November 28, 2013

Think Before You Ink: Tattoos May Cause Cancer !

I don't know about you, but I've never gotten a tattoo and after reading this study I am glad I avoided them. If you've gotten a tattoo, or thought about it, chances are high that you weighed the artistic and social aspects of it far more than the health aspects. In fact, you may not even e aware that there is a health aspect to receiving a tattoo -- other than the inherent risks of infection, allergic reaction or disease transmission if equipment is not properly sterilized.

Research is increasingly showing, however, that there might be health risks involved, especially if your tattoo design has large areas of black ink, as the ink itself may be toxic.! I've heard it said that ''tattoo ink is quite nonreactive histologically, despite the frequent use of different pigments of unknown purity and identity by tattoo artists.'' However, University of Bradford researchers using an atomic-force microscope (AFM) that allows them to examine skin with tattoos at the nano-level have found evidence that suggests otherwise. In a preliminary study (the first to use an AFM), the researchers found that the tattoo process remodels collagen (your body's main connective tissue).

Further, nanoparticles from tattoo ink were found to exist in both the collagenous network of the skin as well as around blood vessels. This suggests that the ink particles are leaving the surface of your skin and traveling elsewhere in your body, where they could potentially enter organs, glands and other tissues. This is problematic because tattoo inks are largely unregulated and known to contain-cancer causing compounds. The researchers believe the issue could become a significant public health concern given the rise in tattooing in the last decade.

The researchers released a press statement saying: ''We need to do more work, but there is no question that these substances can be toxic. It takes a long time for the multi-step nature of cancer to show its face and we don't think we should wait to see if there is anything wrong with these ingredients. We also feel, since nanoparticles are ultramicroscopic in size, thereby making them able to readily penetrate your skin and travel to underlying blood vessels and into your bloodstream. Our evidence suggests that some nanoparticles may induce toxic effects in your brain and cause nerve damage.''

In 2011, a study in The British Journal of Dermatology revealed that nanoparticles are indeed found in tattoo inks, with BLACK pigments containing the smallest particles (WHITE pigments had the largest particles and COLOURED pigments were in between. With the exception of the white pigments, the study noted that ''the vast majority of the tested tattoo inks contained significant amounts of these nanoparticles. The Black pigments were almost pure nanoparticles. It looks like the Black-ink in tattoos may be the riskiest and is most often linked to the potential of adverse health effects like inflammation and DNA damage.''

I have read that black inks are usually based on soot and many contain hazardous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), (a Class 1 carcinogen according to the International Agency of Research on Cancer). Part of PAHs stay lifelong in the skin, absorb UV radiation which then can generate deleterious singlet oxygen inside the dermis layer. The Friends of the Earth - a global network of grassroots groups - is among those now calling for proper regulation of tattoo inks amidst the new findings that they may contribute to cancer.

The Way I See It.....until further research is completed it may be wise to ''think before you ink.''  I'm typically a major advocate of technology, but I have mixed feeling about the use of nanotechnology, particularly when it comes to exposing your body to these complex molecules for non-essential purposes like tattoos. If harnessed properly, however, nanotechnology has the potential to make major strides in conventional medicine and other areas like environmental remediation and sustainable energy.

Contrary to older toxicology risk models, less is more; by reducing a particle's size the technology has now made that substance capable of evading the body's natural defences more easily, i.e. passing through pores in the skin or mucous membranes, evading immune and detoxification mechanisms that evolved millions of years before the nanotech era we're in.  Interestingly, there is a growing sub-culture of ''Tattoo Regreters'' with many people, mostly women, who feel their body art had come by way of peer pressure, personal baggage and/or a growing obsession that needed to be relegated to past history. At least tattoo removal procedures are getting easier if not less painful.

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