“It is not yet known if the reactions being observed are due to chemicals in the ink itself or to other chemicals, such as preservatives or brighteners, added to them, or to the chemicals’ breakdown over time. […] The lack of a national database or reporting requirements also hinders reliable monitoring.”
– Marie Leger, M.D., PhD, lead investigator and author of Self-Reported Averse Tattoo Reactions: A New York Central Park Study
People have been getting tattooed since long before mankind’s recorded history. Over that time, unsurprisingly, the materials and equipment have changed quite a bit. Needles have evolved from bronze to medical-grade stainless steel, while ink made from bark and charred wood has given way to a rainbow of colors made from a variety of polymers.
But what, exactly, are those polymers?
How do they differ from ink to ink? How do they each affect our skin at the molecular and cellular level? What skin conditions and diseases do they aggravate, and in which cases is the effect benign? How can these chemicals affect the healing process? What is an allergy and how can people pinpoint a reaction? What kind of medications could potentially cause complications?
Despite required health and safety trainings for tattooers (which vary state by state, and even country by country and county by county) little information exists on these subjects. And the results can be disastrous (here are some examples – warning, they are pretty gross).
These kinds of complications can be avoided, and it all starts with a little bit of knowledge – not only for practitioners but for clients and healthcare professionals as well.
Our mission is to fill this gap of knowledge through independent research.
We aim to bring answers and understanding to these questions, and to make that knowledge available to the general public. Through this work, we hope to end an era of ignorance around what tattooers are putting into people’s bodies. Here’s the plan of attack:
- Catalog the composition of the variety and types of tattoo inks and other tattoo-related chemicals.
- Work with chemists, biologists, and dermatologists to learn about how these chemicals affect different skin conditions.
- Compile these findings into an e-book / textbook.
- Develop and execute trainings for tattooists and other interested parties as seminars, online training (potentially working with state health departments), and a printed textbook.
These goals may be ambitious, but we think they’re critical. Tattoos are wonderful and shouldn’t be more painful than they have to be. At the very least, they shouldn’t cause consumers extended discomfort.
Who are we, anyway?
Hannah Wolf, Tattooist
Hannah has been tattooing for over a decade for clients all over the world. She’s seen a lot in that time…including some tattoo safety practices that made her skin crawl. She initiated the project to educate herself and other tattooists, and to make tattooing safer for everyone.
- Shelley Mason is a scientist and writer, with a Ph.D in Bioengineering and training in human clinical research. As a researcher she studied regenerative medicine and cell developmental biology, and designed clinical research models that could potentially replace the use of animal models. She is a grant writer and writes academic articles and textbooks, as well as science-fiction. She has been serving as the Chief Science Officer at Info Surf Consulting since 2018. Shelley’s creative and technical works can be found at www.creations.pub.
Want to get involved?
Do you work at a company that makes tattoo ink? Or are you a biologist, chemist, dermatologist, or another kind of scientist? Do you have lots of money and want to fund the project? Do you have no money but want to help with research?
If you answered “Yes!” To any of these questions, we want to hear from you!