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Tattooing isn't so cool, after all

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Issue Tattooing can increase the risk of skin cancer, say doctors

Not coolPhoto: Sampath Kumar G.P
Not coolPhoto: Sampath Kumar G.P

According to doctors, inks used in tattoos may contain toxic elements, which can cause skin cancer, especially blue ink, the age-old colour of choice for tattoo artists, which has cobalt and aluminum.

Red ink may have mercurial sulfide and certain coloured inks often contain lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, titanium and other heavy metals.

“The equipment used in tattooing and body piercing, if contaminated with infected blood, can risk transmission of blood-borne viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C and various skin cancers like squamous cell, carcinoma and melanoma,” Dr. D.J.S Tula, consultant plastic surgeon at Delhi’s B.L.K. Hosptial, said.

“Everyone who gets a tattoo doesn’t get skin cancer. But they have increased risk as most tattooists use ink which is arsenic. Many youngsters don’t realise the damage tattoos cause to their skin. They want them for a lifetime. Certain designs are deep penetrated into the skin and damage muscles,” Tula added.

Experts also say that a tattoo should not be done near a mole (nevus). “One needs to know the changes occurring in a mole - symmetry, border, colour, size, shape and texture. If there is a tattoo around it or on it, the key warning signs on the mole cannot be noticed and it might later evolve into melanoma or another skin cancer,” oncologist Dr. Amit Kumar said. “One should choose a hygienic place for a tattoo where needles are properly sterilised. Tattoos between the mid ribs and upper shoulders should be avoided,” said Jane Ruth, a dermatologist.

Other fairly common skin risks associated with tattoos include allergic reactions to certain tattoo inks. Experts also say that there are risks involved in removing tattoos like hypopigmentation (loss of skin colour) and as hyperpigmentation (skin darkening). On the contrary, tattooists claim that tattoos do not lead to skin cancer or other bloodborne disease.

“One should go to a professional tattooist. A professional will use only organic inks. The best inks are imported from the U.S., Britain and Australia.,” says Anu Singh,who owns Tattoo Empire of India.

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