Can Tattoo Ink Get Into Your Veins?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 12, 2019
    Last Updated: November 9, 2020

Tattoos are more commonplace than ever before. It’s no longer the dark art it once was, but this hasn’t stopped some of the misinformation surrounding ink getting into the veins during a tattooing procedure. 

Yes, it’s possible that ink can get into your veins, but the chances aren’t high. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the biological process, but you can take precautions to stop it from happening. The biggest factor is going to be who you choose to tattoo you.

What Happens to the Tattoo Ink

What exactly happens when your skin is injected with ink? 

For a tattoo to be permanent, the tattoo artist has to puncture your skin with hundreds of thousands of needle pricks. These short, sharp jabs are aimed into the dermis, a layer of skin just below the outer epidermis layer.

As each puncture is made, a small amount of ink is dragged down with the needle into the skin. The dermis contains many blood vessels and nerves. Therefore, there is a risk of tattoo ink getting into your veins. How much really depends on the skill of your tattoo artist.

Where Does the Ink Go?

Most of the ink doesn’t stray too far from where you want it to be.

Once deposited, the ink begins to take a little journey, according to the latest research. The particles of ink injected into the skin can travel through your lymphatic system and into the bloodstream. Not all of the ink particles make their way here, but enough to cause some concern.

Some of the ink that finds its way into your bloodstream is broken down by the immune system. The good news is that getting multiple tattoos can potentially strengthen your immune system because they make it work harder. The more your immune system is challenged, the stronger it gets.  There is a fine line between living in a bubble and overdoing it, though.

Some of the tattoo ink gets trapped within skin cells called fibroblasts and macrophages. It’s this ink that proudly displays your chosen tattoo design.

The body clears some of the ink away by way of special repair cells called macrophages. The macrophages carry the ink to the closest lymph nodes. Your body can’t break these particles down, so they become stuck. A side effect of this is that the lymph nodes can change color to match the color of your tattoo. 

Evidence is also showing that the tattoo ink particles can travel through your blood and end up in your liver, where they also become stuck.    

Researchers have been looking at what happens to the ink that travels further around your body, and the results have been surprising. A group of German and French scientists collected tissue samples from human lymph nodes — 50% of the individuals tested showed ink particles in the lymph nodes.

Researchers analyzed the forms of the tattoo ink found in the lymph nodes. They also made a note of any damage caused. What they found were nanoparticles. Not enormous, admittedly, at less than 100 micrometers across, but they were there, nonetheless. 

Also found in the lymph nodes were potentially toxic heavy metals, thought to be from tattoo ink. They included cobalt, chromium, and nickel.

Does This Mean Having a Tattoo is Harmful to Your Health?

So far, much of the research has been conducted on mice. After tattooing their backs with red and black ink, they found particles of that ink had migrated to the mice’s lymph nodes. There were also particles in their liver cells

It’s not yet known whether the same happens with humans when they get a tattoo. Let’s face it; there are a few differences between ourselves and mice. 

Knowing whether having a tattoo is harmful to your health is still a few years off. Evidence is so far suggesting that deposited tattoo ink particles can lead to enlargement of the lymph nodes as well as some blood clotting. A definitive answer is not yet possible, and more research is needed.

Research Continues into the Safety of Tattoos 

As far as tattoo ink getting into your veins goes, the answer is that, yes, it happens. The process involves ink being injected into your dermis, which happens to contain many blood vessels. A skilled tattoo artist can keep the amount of ink getting into your veins to a minimum by injecting the ink at the correct depth.

Continued research is bound to lead to better regulation of the industry. This has to be good for anyone wanting to adorn their body with stunning body art.