Can Tattoos Increase The Risk Of Getting Cancer?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 15, 2019
    Last Updated: November 9, 2020

Are you considering joining the crowd by getting yourself a new tattoo? The industry is expanding at an outstanding rate. In fact, Statista published a study in 2018, with results showing that 30 percent of participants aged 25 to 39 possess this art trend.

The idea may seem current and trendy, yet adverse effects could be at play. A longstanding discussion remains on whether tattoos cause cancer.

There’s no conclusive research that proves that tattoos cause cancer; however, a dated study found that ink dye induced cancer in rats. Despite this, further research and studies find these results as coincidental, leaving an air of uncertainty around cancer and tattoos.

Tattoos and Cancer

First, let’s clear up the definition of cancer. It stands as a collection of diseases that can occur when cells develop over time and show unmanagable cell division. This can occur in any tissue in the body — in an indiscriminate fashion. Basically, one cell grows so rapidly that it takes the place of all the other cells that differentiate and have a purpose so they can no longer function properly. 

These abnormal cells can create tumors of several types:

  • Malignant tumor: a mass of cancer cells that can move into the lymph nodes or bloodstream
  • Metastases tumor: when the malignant tumor cells move throughout the body taking over other organ systems.  They can spread through the blood or lymphatics.

Cancer will come to attack the body’s tissues and organs and can sometimes be counteracted through treatment. Sadly, many cases are fatal.

The expansion and increasing notoriety of the tattoo industry may suggest to many that its safety development has increased, too. Yet, research finds that tattoo inks commonly contain hazardous and dangerous chemicals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also doesn’t approve or regulate tattoo ink to be injected into the skin. 

Let’s break the tattoo ink down. This mixture contains both a carrier solution and a colorant. The carrier contains glycerin, alcohol, isopropyl and water. The colorant can contain traces of heavy metals such as:

  • Mercury
  • Nickel
  • Chromium
  • Iron oxide
  • Zinc
  • Barium

These complex ingredients may cause you alarm. The European Chemicals Agency states there is no conclusive study to prove that tattoo ink causes cancer.

The lack of regulation for ink ingredients does cause some concern, though:

  • Research shows that ink can be absorbed by the body and transported to places such as the lymph nodes.
  • A study dating back to 1949 found that certain dye consumed by rats via food coloring induced liver cancer. Tattoo pigment has also been wrongly identified for melanoma in the lymph nodes.
  • The Lancet Oncology medical journal found that the connection was purely coincidental.

How to Implement Safe Tattoo Practices

While there have always been ongoing discussions about the safety of tattoos, there are effective ways to implement a safe and healthy tattoo procedure.

Do Adequate Research

Check that the tattoo parlor:

  • Has a license
  • Holds a health and safety certificate
  • Is well-reviewed and well-regarded

Regarding the tattoo artist:

  • See their portfolio
  • Check their license

Pay Attention During the Procedure

Checks on the tattoo artist:

  • Sanitary in their behavior
  • Wears latex gloves during the tattoo procedure
  • Uses single-use materials during the tattoo procedure, especially for needles and tubes
  • Sterilized the tattoo work area with adequate and approved materials and chemicals
  • Dispose efficiently of used materials 

Insufficient Evidence

A definitive answer to whether tattoos cause cancer has not yet been found. Through research and studies that have been carried out, the results have been inconclusive and seemingly coincidental. We are exposed to so many different chemicals in our environment, food, skin care products, drinking water, etc., that it is difficult to point to one thing.

While we wait for more conclusive research, try to educate yourself on safe tattoo practices, and when you’re ready to get your tattoo, seek out a reputable studio and a well-regarded artist. This will minimize the risk of your exposure to a lack of hygiene or contaminated ink use.

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.