Tattoos have become all the rage over the past few decades. Americans spend more than $1.5 billion annually on tattoos, and while an estimate, more than 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo. Statistics shows that 36 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 have at least one tattoo and 40 percent of those between the ages of 26 and 40.

 Even though the popularity of tattoos has dramatically increased, science shows that its health effects are quite concerning.

Tattoo Health Risks


The risk of infection is the most common health risk associated with tattoos. Going to a tattoo parlor that uses unsterile utensils and needles may cause a wide range of problems, from staph infection and hepatitis C to HIV.

According to the CDC: “A few major research studies have not shown Hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. However, transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings. Further research is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures are responsible for Hepatitis C virus transmission.”

Contaminated tattoo ink is yet another way through which these diseases can spread, even if the tattoo artist has adhered to all sterilization procedures. According to a study done by Dr. Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Dr. Paul Fischer of the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, those with tattoos were 9 times more likely to get infected with hepatitis C compared to those without tattoos.

Metal Toxicity

In addition to the risk of being tattooed with infected ink, the materials used to make the ink may also have some serious health effects on the user.

The colors used to make up tattoo ink come from different metals. For instance, red color may contain mercury, blue ink may contain cobalt, yellow ink was found to contain cadmium, and green ink was found to contain chromium.

While there has been a lot of work done to improve the safety of injecting these materials, most tattoo inks still contain some worrisome colorants like cobalt, lead, arsenic, and nickel.


Many people have reported having an allergic reaction to tattooing with metals. They might experience the reaction after the very first tattoo, the second, or third for that matter. This happens because tattoo inks are made with various materials and once may not be exposed to the one they are allergic to until they have already gotten some.

Allergic reactions are associated with itching, swelling, and hive at the tattooed area that range from minor to life-threatening. Some people are more prone to scarring and the risk is increased if the artist doesn’t pay attention to the skin type and applies more pressure.

According to a 2002 study on the effects of MRI`s on tattooed people, 2 of the 135 participants reported reported “slight tingling” or “burning” sensations during MR imaging.