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Thursday 20th June 2019

Tattoo ink linked to skin infections

28th August 2012

Researchers in the United States say they have documented dozens of cases of bacterial skin infections linked to unsterile tattoo inks.


Even in parlours where the tattooist uses sterile techniques in a clean environment, pre-mixed inks that have been diluted with unsterile water can still introduce common bacteria under the skin, where they can cause discomfort and rashes that take months to clear.

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers describe an outbreak of 19 skin infections in New York State that were traced to the same grey-coloured ink that was pre-mixed and arrived at the parlours that used it fully sealed.

The outbreak led health officials to investigate the issue around the whole country, where they found 32 other skin rashes which were eventually traced back to four brands of ink.

Meanwhile, an article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said further cases were confirmed in Iowa, Washington state and Colorado, in addition to those found in New York.

According to Byron S. Kennedy, deputy director of the Monroe County Department of Public Health in Rochester, New York, even the cleanest of tattoo parlours harboured hygiene risks that people should be made aware of.

One of the first cases to reach the attention of public health officials was a healthy 20-year-old man who developed a tenacious rash around a recent tattoo. Dermatology cultures from red bumps on his arm were idenfitied as mycobacterium chelonae by a dermatologist, who alerted health officials.

Mycobacterium chelonae are commonly found in tap water and do not pose a threat to people whose immune systems function normally. But if injected under the skin, they gain a foothold, and can take months of antibiotic treatment to clear.

The bacteria were traced back to bottles of grey ink, that is used to create smudging and shading around tattoo designs. The grey is made by mixing black ink with water, which suggests that the inks were mixed with unsterile water.

According to Linda Katz, director of the Office of Cosmetics and Colors at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drug regulator has never approved any sort of ink for injection into people's skin.

Tattoo inks under US law do not need to be tested or receive FDA approval before coming to market, and health officials are concerned that tattoo-related infections may be far more widespread than was previously thought.

One in 5 adults in a recent poll said they had a tattoo, compared with 1 in 7 in 2008, Harris Interactive reported.

Last year, 10% of unopened tattoo inks sold on the Internet from the US and the UK were found by Danish researchers to be contaminated with bacteria.

Katz said that anyone getting a tattoo should ensure that the parlour they intended to use met government requirements for cleanliness and needle use, and should question tattoo artists about their inks, and whether they are prepared with sterile water or not.

However, she said that some redness and irritation is to be expected after a new tattoo. Medical advice should be sought, however, if a new rash appears a week or two after getting the tattoo.

Anyone getting rashes or infections should also tell the tattoo artist, so they can stop using contaminated inks on other clients, as well as notifying public health authorities in their area.


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deborah bell

Saturday 1st September 2012 @ 0:15

I have had an infection on my back due to a tattoo it was very frustrating trying to put medication on it three times a day...a friend bought me a body buddy he found online. It was great..not only to get the cream on for the infection, but to get some relief from the healing process. I wipe it off each time with alcohol, to keep it sanitary, and wash it in the machine. Just thought someone migt like to know about it. Thanks

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