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How Safe is Tattoo Ink?

Before you get that dolphin tattooed on your ankle or "Mom" on your bicep, be aware: The ink used in tattoos may be harmful -- even years later. A new report has raised questions about the safety of tattoo inks used in Europe, most of which are imported from the United States. The inks have been found to contain hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens.

The report, from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, also identified heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and nickel, preservatives, organic compounds, bacteria, and other potentially harmful substances in the inks. It calls for a thorough review of tattoo inks in use throughout the European Union, and it highlights the need for strict regulation of the inks, which are also used for permanent makeup. 

The concerns accompany a rapid rise in the number of people getting tattoos. Nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults have a tattoo, according to a Harris Poll. Four years ago, only 1 in 5 adults were inked. In this country, the FDA has also raised concerns about tattoo ink. Last August, the FDA announced a voluntary recall of some inks which were found to be contaminated with bacteria. The year before that, there was another recall on inks and tattoo equipment because of contamination that could have caused sepsis, a potentially deadly complication of infections. Other concerns regarding tattoo ink raised by the FDA include:

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