Are Tattoos Unhealthy Or Bad For You?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 22, 2020
    Last Updated: March 11, 2022

For many, getting a tattoo is a big deal. Anyone planning to get one is likely to do plenty of research before booking an appointment. Unfortunately, the inconsistency among studies and research related to tattoo safety is worrisome.

It seems as though everyone has something to say when it comes to health risks and benefits. However, very few opinions seem backed by relevant data. There is little information that proves whether tattoos are unhealthy or harmful to us, but we will try to present the few studies there have been as best as we can below. 

Do Tattoos Influence the Health of Our Skin? 

As the canvas for tattoos, skin health is of great concern—those who are unsure about getting a tattoo, often voice concerns about skin health, or even death. Even individuals who have multiple tattoos will continually research long-term health concerns related to their ink. Hopefully, this will shed some light on the relationship between tattoos and skin. 

Skin plays a vital role in keeping your body in tip-top shape. Healthy skin should protect against harmful bacteria that may otherwise enter your body. Tattoos factor into this equation by temporarily breaking this defense system. We know that tattooed skin heals over time, yet do tattoos have a long-term impact on our skin?

Recently, researchers in the Netherlands were determined to find the answer to this question. To get to the bottom of skin quality, the researchers compared tattooed skin to non-tattooed skin. Twenty-six individuals were tested. Those with tattoos had had them for various lengths of time. 

The Dutch researchers evaluated skin by acquiring pH levels within the skin. The research concluded that there were no differences between tattooed and non-tattooed skin. Skin functionality remained the same across the board. 

The sole difference between the two groups of people was skin hydration levels. It turns out tattooed skin has a higher moisture level than non-tattooed skin. Not only does this study dispel concerns regarding the efficiency of tattooed skin, it also suggests that tattooed skin may appear healthier. Ultimately the post-tattoo healing process restores the skin to full functionality.

Skin Cancer and the Lack of Data

There has been much talk regarding the relationship between tattoos and cancer. It may just be the most researched concern; thus, we must address it. Although this may not seem a sufficient answer for some, the truth is, the data is too unclear. As previously mentioned, there is a significant lack of research and data in observing the impact of tattoos. 

Luckily we can confidently say that the little data available suggests no correlation between skin cancer and tattoos. As of now, cases in which skin cancer is found in tattoos have been ruled coincidences. It is impossible to make affirmative suggestions without additional data. 

Interestingly enough, the small batch of data indicates that phthalates (the chemical used in tattoos) clear the body only hours after entering. That is positive news for anyone who may have thought the chemicals would impact personal health. 

Ideally, the public would be privy to data from an increase in tattoo studies over the coming years. Seeing as the popularity of tattoos has risen during the last ten years, it is only natural that we must give research the time to catch up. Hopefully, within the next two to three years, we can access ample amounts of data.  

How a Low Cortisol Level Positively Impacts Our Health

Tattoos raise the level of immunoglobulin A. We cover what this means for our immune systems further down the article. However, immunoglobulin A is not the only biological component to be altered post-tattoo. Here are some exciting changes that individuals can experience after getting a tattoo.

Cortisol levels are also known to shift after a tattoo. In contrast to the increase of immunoglobulin A, cortisol levels decrease. That is great for several reasons. As a stress hormone, cortisol is something we want less of.

High levels of cortisol can lead to high levels of anxiety. Cortisol suppresses the strength of our immune system. Too much cortisol can lead to a fragile immune system. That also relates to why our immune system strengthens throughout multiple tattoos. 

To summarize, low cortisol levels boost the immune system and lower stress-related symptoms. The stress reduction aspect is a game-changer for some. If we analyze some of the long-term effects of high-stress levels, not getting a tattoo suddenly seems scarier than getting one.

To do away with ailments such as stress headaches, high blood pressure and weight gain, to name a few, is simply marvelous. Once again, we must keep in mind that these benefits are likelier to apply to those with multiple tattoos. The reason being is that becoming accustomed to the feeling of a tattoo leads to the release of less cortisol. 

Why Are So Many Athletes Full of Tattoos?

The wonder that is cortisol reduction, keeps on giving. The reduction of cortisol has many benefits. Another one of these benefits relates to anyone who enjoys physical activity. There’s a reason every weightlifter is actively trying to reduce cortisol levels. 

The more cortisol your body contains, the slower your body tends to recover and heal. If you breakdown your muscles during a workout, it is essential that these muscles recover as quickly as possible. That is the fundamental rule behind weight training. The less cortisol present, the faster your muscles will repair, thus leading to growth. 

Ever wonder why so many athletes are full of tattoos? Aesthetic purposes may be the driving force; however, this is undoubtedly an excellent bonus for all sports athletes. Perhaps we’ll see athletes who were stuck on the fence make swift decisions when it comes to getting tattooed. 

Boosting Our Self-Esteem

The last benefit we’ll analyze and perhaps the most interesting, is the correlation between tattoos and self-esteem. The reason this seems so interesting is that both tattoos and self-esteem issues share a typical demographic. 40% of people aged 18-34 have at least one tattoo. In comparison, self-esteem issues are prevalent among teens and young adults. 

Anyone with a tattoo understands the unique feeling of receiving one. The excitement and the desire to show it off are palpable. This new thing that is now a part of you is likely meaningful to you. Therefore a boost in morale is evident. 

Another study shows that there are links between the number of tattoos and self-esteem. A total of 2,395 college students were involved in the study. The results indicated that people with more tattoos had significantly higher self-esteem. 

Fascinatingly, the increase was noted in individuals with four or more tattoos. The study also factored in a history of depression. Many of the subjects with high self-esteem reported a history of depression. That indicates that receiving tattoos can directly impact our state of mind. 

Tattoos directly impact our body’s makeup. Immunoglobulin A and cortisol are two examples of fluctuating components. Luckily the number of said components change for the better. A trickle-down system that affects the mind, body and spirit is in full effect after getting tattooed. 

That contradicts the general assumption most people make when discussing the way tattoos impact our bodies.

How Tattoos Strengthen Immune Systems 

Tattoo safety risks have long been a topic of debate. Tattoos have been around for ages, although they have never been as popular as they are right now. Due to this popularity, tattoos have become a research topic growing in recognition. Before the 21st century, scientists and researchers gave little thought to identifying the health risks and benefits of tattoos. 

Ultimately, even the slight increase in readily available information is a beautiful thing. The next time a stubborn teenager receives a lecture from a concerned parent, factual information shall come to the rescue. 

A recent study published in the American Journal of Human Biology reverts the common misconception regarding tattoos. Researchers are now claiming that some tattoos might be beneficial to personal health.

This study suggests that individuals with multiple tattoos had developed more robust immune systems. That is quite a drastic shift in how we understand the risks and benefits of tattoos. So, where does this elevated immune system come from, and how did scientists reach this conclusion?

A Rise in Immunoglobulin A

The study consisted of testing the saliva of 29 volunteers. Nine of the test subjects were receiving their first tattoos. After receiving all 29 saliva samples, researchers tested for immunoglobulin A. 

Immunoglobulin A is an antibody that plays a significant role in our immune system. It keeps our gastrointestinal and respiratory systems in check. Also, it balances cortisol levels. These components combine to maintain an unyielding immune system.

The results indicated that individuals with more tattoos had immune systems that retained higher levels of immunoglobulin A. Their bodies worked significantly less to maintain appropriate immunoglobulin A levels. Those with fewer tattoos evidenced immune systems under more stress. 

That proves that there is a correlation between tattoos and fighting illness. People previously believed that those with healthy immune systems heal faster. That would explain why tattoos heal at different paces, depending on the individual. 

However, the study suggests something entirely different. It means that people with multiple tattoos have a healthy immune system, precisely due to tattoos.

Dr. Christopher Lynn, one of the University of Alabama researchers, explains the difference between getting one tattoo and getting multiple, “They don’t just hurt while you get the tattoo, but they can exhaust you.” He says, “It’s easier to get sick. You can catch a cold because your defenses are lowered from the stress of getting a tattoo.”

Over time your body adapts to receiving tattoos, and eventually, your immune system becomes more robust. Your body has a response to tattooing. This response derives from previous experience with the action of tattooing. By your third tattoo, your body will respond better than it did during your first. That is because your immune system has developed through the process. 

Immunity Over Time

The relationship of immunity developed over time can be better understood through exercise. To understand this analogy, think of a 30-day training program for a marathon. The first day of training is going to be exhausting. After running and training for an extended period, your body will feel drained. However, the training session before the marathon will feel incredibly different. Your body will respond differently on day 30 than it did on day one. 

Some may wonder why one tattoo isn’t enough to elicit a response from your body. That is quite simple. After one tattoo, your immune system weakens. It then returns to normal. Let us separate immune states into three levels: low, medium and high. One tattoo takes it from medium to low. After some time, it will return to the medium level. However, if the process repeats two to three times, the point of return will shift.

After multiple tattoos, your body will not respond by returning to medium. That is where strengthening is evident. The new normal for your body will be high. For example, on your fifth tattoo, your immune system will start at high, drop to medium, and return to high over the following days. 

Dr. Lynn says, “After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium. However, if you continue to stress your body over and over again, instead of returning to the same set point, it adjusts its internal set points and moves higher.”

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