Tattoo ink, needle, and kit recall by the FDA: tip of the iceberg?

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942219_80229380Tattoos are a popular trend among young people and adults alike. According to the Harris Poll, their prevalence has increased over the past decade, climbing from about 15% five years ago to 21% in 2012. When comparing distinct age groups, statistics indicate that tattoos are most common in adults between the ages of 30-39 (38% have tattoos) Tattoos are also common in the 25-29 ages group (30% have tattoos) and the 40-49 age group (27 percent have tattoos), but just 5% of those 65 and older. And for the first time since such statistics have been collected, more women than men are getting tattoos!

As tattoos become more common in our culture, their safety demands thorough review and attention. The FDA is responsible for regulating ink and ink colorings in tattoos just as cosmetics and color additives are regulated. However, the FDA s own consumer update on tattoos concedes, Because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them.

More recently, the FDA has received reports describing adverse reactions to tattoo inks, which has prompted the agency to study ink toxicity and it s metabolism in the human body. The increased awareness has also provoked the agency to issue a new recall of contaminated inks, needles, and kits made by White & Blue Lion, Inc. due to bacterial contamination The FDA s website details that use of the California based company s products can cause serious infections, even sepsis, a life-threatening systemic infection.

Indeed, consumers should heed not only the agency s recall but also be aware of the apparent health risks linked to tattoos. In addition to infection, tattoos can lead to allergies, scarring, granulomas, and MRI complications. Moreover, a multi-center case study, involving 3,871 patients, published in Hepatology concludes that even in individuals without traditional hepatitis C risk factors (such as IDU and blood transfusion), tattooing alone is associated with an over five-fold increased risk of HCV infection.

Therefore, consumers must take precautions before they go under the needle. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends consumers look out for certain sanitation equipment during their next visit to a tattoo parlor. These products include an autoclave or heat sterilizer to sterilize non-disposable equipment, and fresh needles and pigments. Searching local websites for reports of adverse events, and even business complaint sites may also reveal disturbing instances of events that might warn a potential customer away.