Are Tattoos Bad For Your Liver?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 15, 2019
    Last Updated: November 15, 2020

The tattoo industry is seeing a consistent rise in popularity, and ingraining its footprint on the world. Research finds that, in 2019, it saw $2 billion in revenue in the U.S. And, with this economic growth, paired with worldly technological advances, it’d only be natural to assume the practice of tattooing is safe.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. There are a variety of elements in your tattoo experience that could lead to liver damage. There’s a concern over tattoo ink, and contaminated equipment causing blood-borne diseases as well as the frightening C-word — cancer.

How Could Tattoos Affect Your Liver?

The tattoo process involves the penetration of the skin, your body’s largest organ. Thus, it’s advisable to be aware and educated on the ingredients within the ink. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration categorizes tattoos under cosmetics; therefore, it doesn’t regulate tattoo practice or the tattoo dye used in tattoo parlors.

It does, however, advise consumers to be wary of the tattoo parlors and artists they use. This message is particularly important after it became aware of contaminants in certain tattoo inks. 

These could attract blood-borne infections, such as Hepatitis B and C, possibly leading to liver cancer

Tattoo inks combine a carrier and colorant. Carriers are used to move the colorant and can contain:

  • Glycerin
  • Water
  • Isopropyl
  • Alcohol
  • Witch hazel

Hazardous carriers could hold:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Phenol

Pay closer attention to the contents of the colorant. This is where the hazard can lay. Research shows that colorants contain heavy metals, such as:

  • Nickel
  • Cobalt
  • Chromium
  • Zinc
  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Barium
  • Cadmium
  • Iron
  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Iron Oxide

On review of these compounds, you might be a little shocked. It’s understandable — tattoo inks do pack a punch of ingredients. The next question you may be asking is, but how could these compounds directly or indirectly cause liver issues?

Once tattoo ink is deposited into the dermis layer of skin, macrophage immunity cells then cause flaking of the ink — whatever is left remains in the dermis. Yet, research has discovered that ink may not remain static, and instead, move to other areas of the body — including the lymph nodes and liver.

There are several ways that ink could cause potential liver damage: 

Heavy Metals

Traces of tattoo ink have been found to make their way into your bloodstream, the lymph nodes and liver. The presence of heavy metals in tattoo ink could negatively affect liver enzyme levels and cause inflammation, which is a sign of stress in the liver.

Contaminated Equipment

Getting a tattoo is a big decision, as we’re exposing ourselves to all manner of risks. This is particularly the case if the proper practice isn’t carried out. 

Bacteria from unsterilized or old equipment can enter your bloodstream and have the possibility of transmitting blood-borne diseases. This can then lead to liver issues

How to Prevent Liver Damage Risks

Tattoos can have a variety of health risks, which is why it is essential to prepare well for the procedure. Playing your part could reduce the risk of things going wrong. 

  • Do your research. Ensure you know what kind of process you’re about to go through
  • Find a reputable parlor with a certificate of hygiene. Ensure they implement good practice
  • Seek out an experienced, professional and reliable tattoo artist. Ask to see their portfolio and check out their reviews
  • Be wary of the shop’s safety practices, and look into what inks they use to ensure they aren’t toxic
  • Don’t drink alcohol within the 24 hours before getting inked
  • Implement an effective, nurturing aftercare regimen. Use alcohol-free and fragrance-free products.
  • Seek medical care if you have any concerns post-tattoo procedure. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.


Contaminated inks and unsterilized equipment can allow you to contract blood-borne diseases. This can lead to liver damage or liver cancer under extreme circumstances. 

While tattoos are deemed to be relatively safe procedures, always seek out a reputable studio and a highly-regarded, experienced tattoo artist to ensure a healthy and safe practice is carried out. This will minimize the risk of any liver issues further down the line.

When you eventually go ahead with getting your dream tattoo, it’s imperative that you always follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality tattoo healing lotion to aid recovery.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated, but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times, and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.