Uh-Oh … Are Tattoos Toxic?

This headline just made us drop our matcha latte and panic. On website MindBodyGreen this week, functional medicine nutritionist Brooke Scheller tells the story of how fairly routine blood work once revealed that her liver looked like that of someone with liver failure. This was shocking news given her excessively healthy lifestyle. Aside from anxiety, she had no notable health issues. Further tests revealed her body’s toxic load was “through the roof,” so Brooke decided to further eliminate potentially toxic things from her life (she had already sworn off toxic personal products and processed foods) by ceasing to get tattoos and drink alcohol. She also began using herbs like milk thistle to support liver function, and within months her liver enzymes returned to normal.

She goes on to say that in the years that followed, she met many others who “shared an extremely overburdened liver in correlation to their number of tattoos.” Explaining the connection, she says, “Metals like mercury, iron, arsenic, lead and cadmium help to give tattoo ink its color and permanency factor. Carbon black and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a soot-like product and a known pollutant, are often the main ingredients in black ink.” Yikes. Obviously, we didn’t think tattoo ink was non-toxic, but we also never really thought about it at all.

While Brooke’s essay is admittedly not a scientific study, there does appear to be cause for concern based on the metal content in the ink. For more information on the potential toxicity of tattoos, we suggest you check out what the FDA has to say on the matter here. (Nutshell: “Published research has reported some inks contain pigments used in printer toner or in car paint. The FDA has not approved any pigments for injection into the skin for cosmetic purposes.”) If you do have your heart set on a new tat regardless of the risks, this Scientific American article claims black ink might be safest, but that your best bet is to look for someone willing to use non-metallic organic pigments. This seems like a good idea given it’s not exactly logical to drink $15 Moon Juice lattes while injecting your skin with car paint, no?