Can tattoos cause cancer? The health risks of inking


Tattoos can potentially lead to a number of risks, including skin infections, allergic reactions, and scarring. These risks can increase if you don’t see a licensed tattoo artist or if the wound itself doesn’t heal properly.

Apart from these risks, should you be concerned about the cancer potential of getting new ink? Read on to find out what the science says and how you can best protect yourself against common side effects associated with tattooing.

While researchers have studied the possible link between tattoos and cancer for years, any direct association is currently considered a myth.

There are no concrete evidence support the development of skin cancer as a result of tattooing. Instead of, researchers believe that there can be a coincidence between the two.

Can tattoo ink cause cancer?

Getting a tattoo alone is unlikely to cause skin cancer, but there may be risks associated with certain ingredients in tattoo ink. Different colors are created with variations in pigment and dilution, while some contain materials that may be considered carcinogenic (meaning “having the potential to cause cancer”).

Some tattoo inks contain a substance called azo, which is also used in automotive paints. Red ink has also been studied for decades, with previous research indicating an increased risk of liver cancer in rats exposed to red azo pigments.

Black inks are also considered a higher risk. A report 2016 from the Australian government revealed that 83% of the black inks tested contained a carcinogen called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Other pigments may contain potentially harmful substances such as:

  • alcohols
  • barium
  • cadmium
  • the copper
  • lead
  • Mercury
  • minerals
  • nickel
  • plastics
  • vegetable dyes

Overall, tattoo ink is safer than in previous decades. Still, it’s always important to ask your tattoo artist what types of inks they use, what the ingredients are, and where they come from. It should also be noted that no tattoo ink is regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Making sure you get quality ink designed for tattooing can help protect you against the risk of cancer. It’s also important to be aware of other more immediate health risks associated with tattoos. Talk to a doctor about the following risks.

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions may be possible following a tattoo. Unlike a skin infection, this type of reaction is usually caused by the ink used. Your risk of developing an allergic reaction may be higher if you have a history of allergies or have sensitive skin.

Symptoms of a tattoo-related allergic reaction may include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • rash or hives
  • blisters
  • itching

It is important to know that although many allergic reactions occur immediately after getting a tattoo, it is also possible to develop these symptoms weeks or years later.

Skin infections

Skin infections can develop as a result of contamination from unsterile needles or other tattoo items. These infections can also occur if you do not properly care for your newly tattooed wound.

Symptoms of a skin infection can include:

  • swelling
  • redness
  • itching
  • dump
  • pain
  • open wounds
  • fever
  • chills

If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention for treatment. They may prescribe antibiotics to help clear up the infection. You will also want to continue to follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare instructions to avoid possible scarring.


The tattooing process creates a deep wound in the dermis (middle layer) of your skin. It’s important to take care of your new tattoo so that this wound can heal and you’re left with ink to be proud of.

However, tattoos that do not do healing properly can lead to scarring. Skin infections, allergic reactions, and scratching your tattoo can also increase these risks.

If your tattoo is scarring, you may have uneven ink as well as bumps of scar tissue called keloids. These can take 3 to 12 months to develop. Depending on their severity, you may need skin treatments, such as surgery, to help get rid of your scars.

Infectious diseases

Licensed professional tattoo artists are required to use sterilized needles in their studios. The use of unsterilized needles is linked to an increased risk of certain infectious diseases, including:

Although there is no definitive causal relationship between tattoos and cancer, hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS are associated with an increased risk of different types of cancer.

MRI reactions

Although rare, it is possible to experience significant skin reactions at the site of your tattoo if you have an MRI. Also called magnetic resonance imaging, these tests use a combination of radio waves and magnets to help your doctor see the organs, bones, and other parts of your body.

But when the tattooed skin undergoes this process, you can end up with red rashes and inflammation. First or second degree skin burns are also possible.

Avoiding an MRI isn’t always possible, but if you’re planning on having this type of test anytime in the near future, you might consider waiting to get a new tattoo.

You should also tell your doctor if you have any tattoos. Additionally, red tattoo ink is thought to increase reactions to MRI scans due to its magnetic qualities, say Penn Medicine experts.

Finding a licensed and reputable supplier is your first step to ensuring the best possible tattoo experience. Before you go under the needle, find a few potential tattoo artists and ask about their:

  • license and experience
  • sanitation practices
  • material handling and disposal process
  • glove policy
  • the inks and types they use – the inks used must be intended for tattooing
  • work portfolio

You should also consider having your skin examined by a dermatologist. before getting a tattoo, especially if the area of ​​skin you want to tattoo contains moles or other skin growths. In some cases, a tattoo can hide skin problems, which could make skin cancers harder to detect. Never get moles tattooed.

Finally, once you’ve received a new tattoo from a reputable artist, it’s important to follow their aftercare instructions carefully. This will help reduce your risk of infections and scarring. Call your tattoo artist if you notice any signs of infection or discoloration in your new ink.

To date, there is no definitive evidence that getting a tattoo causes skin cancer. Although some ingredients in tattoo ink may be considered carcinogenic, there is still a lack of evidence showing a link between these and any other cancers.

Nevertheless, it should be remembered that tattoo inks are neither approved nor regulated by the FDA. Until more is known about the carcinogenic properties of certain inks, you might consider asking your tattoo artist if their pigments contain potentially harmful metals, plastics, or other materials.

Despite concerns about cancer and tattooing, there are other risks that are much more likely to occur if you see an unlicensed artist or don’t follow your aftercare instructions. These risks include allergic reactions, skin infections, and keloid scars.

Talk to your tattoo artist about your concerns before getting new ink. Any significant reaction after tattooing should be examined by a doctor.


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