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FDA and Tattoo Colors

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This article on tattoo colors caught my eye this morning as I've seen a few articles recently around the topic FDA Regulation and Tattoo Pigments getting written more often. Unfortunately I am yet to see one that captures perspectives that I would like to see represented so thought I'd try it on our tattoo forum......

My experience in mixing pigment is only helping a friend and I would say it was done very professional, sterile, and left me with no concerns in what goes into his and his co-workers homemade pigments. I still think Cody was messing with me by having me mix a whole bunch at once so later I could turn colors when showering and it wasn't until Scott was done tattooing that I was informed to do it a little differently to avoid a tornado of invisible color all over me and the shop when it met water or other fluids.

So with that...thoughts on the idea of the FDA getting involved? Are these just side-effects of:

-so many people getting tattoos and not knowing and/or getting paranoid in the healing process that they freak out and the number of concerns and complaints naturally increase to the local health departments?

-people mixing pigment carelessly due to not knowing what they are doing?

-the "beauty tattooers" ruining it for actual tattooers?

-the government just trying to earn some extra bucks

OR ?????

Like I mentioned above this is a topic I see getting more and more press so would enjoy seeing some long time tattooers among everyone else's thoughts on this so I can get a better/truer perspective.....thanks.

Tattoo Ink Stained By Safety Concerns

by PATTI NEIGHMOND

May 9, 2011

Tattoo history reaches back thousands of years, to Egyptian mummies and even ancient ice men. Interest has waxed and waned over centuries, but now, it's fair to say, tattoo body art has reached a pinnacle. By some estimates, nearly half of all adults under 40 sport at least one tattoo.

But federal health officials are concerned that not all inks are safe. And they worry that some tattoo salons are mixing their inks with other, unsafe products.

Gone are the days of the simple heart with "Mom" or a girlfriend's name inscribed. Today's tattoos are typically complex, extraordinarily detailed pieces of art.

"Part of Zulu's philosophy is that tattoo art is a form of fine art, just on another canvas (the skin)," says Khani Zulu, who owns Zulu Tattoo in Los Angeles with her tattoo artist husband, known simply as Zulu.

The FDA says it wants to learn more about what goes into tattoo inks.

Zulu has gotten lots of publicity tattooing celebrities and is becoming renown as one of the oldest custom tattoo shops. There are no catalog designs to choose from here.

"You come in with an idea and we design your tattoo specifically for you," says Khani Zulu. "It's unique and we won't tattoo the same design on anyone else."

Design, of course, is only part of the artistry. Color is the other. And, there's a dramatic rainbow of choices with enticing names like sky blue, mint green, graffiti green, avocado, Georgia peach and dusty rose.

Zulu is confident about the safety of her inks. She's aware that some inks contain potentially harmful metals and plastics. So, when she chose a brand, Zulu says she chose what seemed the most natural: vegetable-based organic pigments.

"It's pretty much as safe as you can get," she says.

'Nobody Knows For Sure What's Really In Them'

But not all inks are safe, health experts worry. They're especially concerned about trendier tattoo techniques, says cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Tina Alster.

"There are some chemicals that have been shown to be injected along with the tattoo inks to make them brighter or even psychedelic," says Alster, who's also a laser surgeon and director of the Washington Institute of Dermatological Laser Surgery. "There are some that actually glow in black light."

There are some chemicals that have been shown to be injected along with the tattoo inks to make them brighter or even psychedelic. There are some that actually glow in black light.

- Tina Alster, a cosmetic dermatologist and laser surgeon at the Washington Institute of Dermatological Laser Surgery

Glow-in-the-dark tattoos are quite popular with the night club set, says Alster. But the problem with inks today is that "nobody knows for sure what's really in them."

The Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate tattoo ink. But until recently, it hadn't, citing more pressing public health problems and a lack of consumer complaints. FDA chemist Dr. Bhakti Petigara Harp says that recently, the agency has started to see an increase in consumer complaints.

"We've seen such things as infections, swelling, cracking, peeling and blistering at (the) tattoo site," says Petigara Harp.

FDA's own investigation into the chemical composition of inks and their long-term safety has turned up some other concerns. For example, when tattoos fade, as they do over time, what happens to the ink? Where does it go in the body? Researchers are exploring that question, and they think the body rids itself of the inks as it does with certain bacteria and other foreign matter.

But some inks — perhaps the reds, oranges, yellows and even whites — may be problematic. The skin cells containing the ink can be killed by sunlight and ink breakdown products may disperse through the body, scientists say. Research has already found certain types of pigment migrates from the tattoo site the body's lymph nodes. This could potentially damage the lymphatic system, which filters out disease-causing organisms.

An FDA Webinar in March opened the discussion about the safety of tattoo ink to the public and the industry and issued cautions to consumers considering a tattoo.

Questions Around Permanent Makeup, Too

Alster says the mystery surrounding ingredients in tattoos extends to the inks used in permanent makeup — such as tattooed eye liner, lip liner and eye brows.

"They often mix a lot of inks and we don't know what the ingredients are," says Alster. "There are some, like cadmium, that are carcinogenic. Others cause granulomas, which is an allergic reaction in the skin."

And ironically, while permanent makeup tattoos are intended to enhance facial features, Alster says they don't age well.

"You can have a lip liner tattoo that traces a nice full lip as you are younger," but as you get older and the lip thins, the liner can end up outside the border of the lip, says Alster, making for a very odd appearance.

And removing permanent makeup, just like removing other tattoos, is more costly and complicated than getting it in the first place. Tattoos are typically removed using a high-speed laser that vaporizes the ink particles.

"So, when you hit them with a laser, they will actually get darker rather than lighter," says Alster. "That's because there are small amounts of iron or titanium oxide in those tattoo inks, and they form this irreversible pigment in the skin." NPR

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This is a nut I'm not gona crack but all these questions are maybe worth asking,......but the bigger concern is who's answering these questions. So many times the powers that be make rules/guidelines that you and I know are not really applicable or practical but look and sound good at a board meeting??? That is my real concern.

FLiP

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When you had a few guys you could trust, and a buncha guys that you knew to avoid... I would have said that the FDA needs to keep their snouts out of it. But when you have so many people flooding the market (which now includes eBay and Amazon) with pigment that you've never heard of it's natural that the Feds will react.

I'm not sure that it's a bad thing.

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I wonder if there are any tattooers involved in their local politics and/or departments of public health? I know Scott and I were talking awhile ago about DPH and SF politics/meetings at city hall because I used to go them semi often due to work and advocating for various services in SF and funding so we were speaking on how they work. A colleague of mine just became the president for one of the SF commissions and he's been inviting me to get involved but I am still unsure and don't think it will interact much with DPH and tattoo shops but more mental health and substance use. What I am getting at is I wonder how active tattooers are in making sure their "trade" is accurately represented and voiced locally? Scott was saying there were some local non-tattooers trying to set something up but from the sounds of it, it sounded like piercers and people just trying to make a buck. I'm not a tattooer as is known but do know when you become a familiar voice, face, and have allies there your weight is weighed much more. IF you become a reliable source of knowledge they come to you and/or seek consultations around various policies............

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I think this is one area where tattooers would rather remain in the alleys about. As in we are doing fine with the amount of regulating there is now. Eff inviting politicians into our thing anymore than they've already invited themselves. If people think having more regs/politicians involved in tattooing somehow legitimizes tattooing as some sort of acceptable business/art form, they are wrong and who cares if it does. The the only thing that happens is the tattooers and shops end up paying some new fee to have some "qualified" inspector that used to inspect restaurants check us out. I actually witnessed that in San Jose.

In San Jose, there was some woman leading the crusade with regulations. They asked for money up front yet we didn't get licensed til 3 years down the line. Plenty of tattooers had moved away in the meantime. They never got their money back. that woman stayed head of the board long enough to get promoted to some other position and left the reigns to somebody that knew even less than she did. Back to square zero.

I went to most of the meetings they had about the regulations. The truth is MOST shops already comply with really good standards. The people that need to be regulated, never will be. Those people will continue to spread infections in the comfort of their own homes. Never paying the money to pay for restaurant inspectors or licensing.

I guess what I'm saying is I'd rather there not be ANY voice respresenting tattooing. Be it from a tattooer, a piercer, or a local politician. I take care of my own station for my clients sake. Good shops always rise to the top and crappy ones fold every winter. It's up to the consumer to do their job and research who they want to do their tattoo. Just like it's the consumers job to research who fixes their car, does their plumbing, or who makes the best local pizza.

I think that's all I have to say.

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Julio...right on the money. Another point l'd like to touch.....why is it that those free loading piercers are again involved in taking our profession down? It seems like it's always some bullshit piercer leading the regulation charge. I'm not really trying to bash piercing......well maybe a little! They are like a cancerious pollop on a butt hole....always there but you just can't shake em'.

FLiP

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"I think this is one area where tattooers would rather remain in the alleys about. As in we are doing fine with the amount of regulating there is now. Eff inviting politicians into our thing anymore than they've already invited themselves"

While I agree with what you're saying in theory, Julio... it's not very realistic.

I'm sure it is something that tattooers would rather remain in the alley about; but due to the overexposure AND oversaturation of readily available tattoo related products as well as the commercialization of tattooing broadcast daily on several cable networks, it's something that's going to happen either way. The question isn't IF it will happen, it's who they'll look to for advice WHEN it happens.

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they can pass all the laws they want, it won't stop dirty tattooers and scratchers, just like gun laws don't stop scumbags and criminals from getting and using guns. regulations only mean yearly fees for local health departments and the appearance of quality control to the public.

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Haha.

I know dudes that have gotten black light tattoos on them. They did them probably about 15 years ago. They are all still doing fine and I believe still glow at raves/midnight bowling/discotheques. I DON'T EVEN wanna tell you where they got the "ink" from

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But some inks — perhaps the reds, oranges, yellows and even whites — may be problematic. The skin cells containing the ink can be killed by sunlight and ink breakdown products may disperse through the body, scientists say. Research has already found certain types of pigment migrates from the tattoo site the body's lymph nodes. This could potentially damage the lymphatic system, which filters out disease-causing organisms.
Have inks changed during the years? I got my first tattoo in the 80s, a little ordinary rose. The red part of the tattoo was just killing me. I thought it was because of the poor tattoo "artist". Back then there weren't too many tattoo places and this guy was the only one I knew. It took several years and a few new colorings before someone said to me that I could be allergic to red ink. Couldn't believe something like that and took a new tattoo. Same shit with red and orange ink.

Since those days I've stayed with b/w tattoos only (or grey scale, what do you call them). Now I definitely would like a colorful tattoo, but I don't know... I think I'm gonna take some small reddish tattoo somewhere where sun don't shine and see what will happen:cool:

Do any tattoo artist here know are the colors still the same as in the dark 80s?

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@MortimerManic

I know from may small experience in pigments and talks with people red is a common color for reactions as well as people retaining it. Also yes it has changed over the years. Like I said this is all from my small experience in/with pigments

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Interesting revisit. On the original topic I couldn't agree with Mario and Julio more. In regards to red reactions, yeah a lot of people seem to have them, but there seems to be some brands of red that are more likely to cause a reaction than others. All I am saying is giving the tattooer a heads up wouldn't hurt. They might know a red that seems to work better in these situations. Of course some people reaction is stronger than others and type of pigment is irrelevant.

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