More people are getting tattoos lately, and the American population is becoming more open about tattooed people at work and in their lives. However, getting a tattoo might come with many consequences – some of them beneficial, others very dangerous. According to a new study, it exists another risk that no one ever considered: cancer.

The ink’s microscopic particles that the skin receives – which are millions of billions in just a centimeter – when a tattoo is made, might migrate through the entire human body without any clue. Sometimes, these place in lymph nodes, which are crucial hubs of the human immune system, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Image credit: The Ink Factory
Image credit: The Ink Factory

The researchers reported that the ink is sometimes composed of molecules from preservatives and contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese, and cobalt. All of them might be very dangerous for the human body, causing implications for long-term health.

“When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlor where they use sterile needles that haven’t been used previously,” said the study author Hiram Castillo from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, in France. “No one checks the chemical composition of the colors, but our study shows that maybe they should.”

People should be more careful when getting a tattoo

A tattoo is a permanent mark or design made with a machine that includes a tiny needle, which repeatedly inserts pigments into the human skin.  The process — which is done without anesthetics — causes a small amount of bleeding and different levels of pain depending on the client.

The German and French scientists studied four tattooed corpses using X-ray fluorescent technology. They saw nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and other heavy metals – found in white and colored tattoo pigments – that were positioned in the lymph nodes, which are located in the neck, under the arms and along the crease between the thighs and the abdomen.

Image credit: TorriPhoto / Getty / Business Insider
Image credit: TorriPhoto / Getty / Business Insider

The experts believe the microscopic titanium dioxide particles traveled through the bloodstream and posed inside the nodes, which may cause them to become swollen. Thus, affecting them for when they’re needed by the individual to fight or filter pathogen agents.

In some cases, affected nodes might lead to cancer.

“’What we didn’t know is that they do it in a nano form, which implies that they may not have the same behavior as the particles at a micro level. And that is the problem: we don’t know how nanoparticles react,” said Mr. Castillo. “When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlor where they use sterile needles that haven´t been used previously.

Worldwide tattooed population is increasing

A Harris poll found in 2012 that 1 out of 5 people has at least just one tattoo hidden or on display. According to another earlier study from the Pew Research Center, the percentage of individuals within the US population who get tattooed is closer to 40 percent, at least between those whose ages are 18 to 29.

The Stapaw, an organization that seeks for more support for people who have tattoos and piercings at work, said that 38 percent of adults have tattoos in Canada, 36 percent in Ireland, and 29 percent in the UK.

Source: Scientific Reports