Officials with the US Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning to tattoo parlors, their customers and those buying at-home tattoo kits that some tattoo ink may be unsafe. Earlier this year, California’s White and Blue Lion, Inc. issued a massive recall of its tattoo inks, needles and kits after testing confirmed pathogenic bacterial contamination in unopened bottles of ink. Company and FDA officials warn that use of recalled tattoo kits may cause bacterial infection and can lead to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Sepsis carries bacteria through the blood stream and is marked by a range of symptoms including fever, shaking, chills and sweats. It’s particularly dangerous for anyone with a pre-existing heart or circulatory condition. At least one case of sepsis has been linked to the recalled products.
The risk isn’t limited to DIY tattoo artists. Because regulation of professional tattoo artists and parlors varies from state to state, some states can be less vigilant about protecting consumers than others. As a result, tattoo clients can be at risk for developing hepatitis, HIV, staph infections and MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), an infection is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections, due to dirty needles and unsanitary environments.
Those temporary tattoos popular with teens, kids and even adults not quite ready to undergo permanent ink, also pose risks. That’s because they often contain ink marketed as “black henna” and typically made with black hair dye containing para-phenylenediamine. Because of the name, consumers often assume that black henna is simply a variation of the natural red henna. Truth is, there’s no such thing as natural black henna and chemicals used in making it can cause painful and potentially dangerous skin infections. Symptoms can include blistering, open sores, loss of pigmentation, permanent scarring and lifelong health issues including persistent sensitivity to sunlight and certain chemicals, as well as allergic reactions. Because of the risks, the FDA has approved henna for use in hair dye only, not in products intended for direct application to the skin.