Tattoos may look cool, but what do they do to your body? From Post Malone to David Beckham, many people – both celebrities and non-celebrities; fitness fanatics and couch potatoes – love a tattoo (researchers reckon about four in every 10 young adults aged 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo). And half the attraction of getting a tattoo, some argue, is showing the world you simply don’t care about the risks of getting a tattoo – or risks in general. And that’s all well and good. The risks of getting a tattoo are real but rare – and what’s life without occasionally putting your skin in the game?
Well, if you’re a fitness fanatic or biohacker, then tattoo-free life can be full of dilemmas such as: if I live an otherwise healthy lifestyle, is it ok for me to get a tattoo? Or would I just be undoing all the hard work I put into fasting, meal prepping and ritually burning kale at the stake (or whatever else it is those glowing-skinned peoples do).
Enter: Dave Asprey, a health hacker who has faced this dilemma himself. Asprey recently took to social media to share his thoughts on tattoos (after, it seems, being called out for having one himself).
“Aren’t tattoos bad for your health? Absolutely, they’re bad for your health,” Asprey said in a video on Instagram. “Here’s why. Toxic metals. Oh and when they say, ‘Oh, it’s vegan,’ it’s usually plastics and endocrine disruptors so what my caffeine tattoo here is… this is done with carbon black which is activated charcoal.”
“So carbon black is apparently the safest one. I did a lot of research on doing this, if you have a lot of metals in your body… if you have metals in your body weird stuff happens. I already have enough metal in my body from an implant in my knee.”
Regarding what you can do to reduce the risk, Asprey says you can not get a full sleeve tattoo (“unless you’re willing to take that risk and detox afterwards”). He also suggests you “go for carbon black.” He then says “the super colourful ones are awesome” but that he has concerns over how they are getting that pigment” and claims “there are studies that show most tattoo inks will accumulate in your lymph nodes” and “I know a few people with lots of amazing tattoos who have chronic illness that is probably related to them.”
Finally, Asprey sums up: “They’re not without risk, but most people handle them pretty well.”
His opinion sparked some debate in the comments section. One Instagram user took issue with Asprey’s anecdotal (and in their view baseless) claim that his friends with tattoos’ chronic illness was “probably” related to the ink.
They wrote: “Love your page but this is a stretch and unfounded. Work closely w doctors who are head of the tattoo clinic at hospital here in Denmark – experts in their field. They hardly have peer reviewed research on the matter. And talking about people w illness and tattoo and saying probably to do w this is very unfounded!”
Other Instagran users thanked Asprey for the heads up. “I had no idea about this when I was a youngster getting that ink!” one wrote. “I have always wondered about this,” said another.
Another chimed in, saying: “At some point you have to just live your life. There are so many things that are ‘bad for our health’ but it’s also not good to live in fear.”
“There’s so much fear mongering these days on social media and it’s exhausting. I could rattle off 50 things most people do, eat, or use daily that are bad for them, but is it really ‘healthy’ to obsess over every possible thing that’s bad for us, many of which are unavoidable?”
According to WebMD: “The ink used in tattoos may be harmful – even years later.” They said this after a new report raised questions about the safety of tattoo inks in Europe, most of which come from the United States.
“The inks have been found to contain hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens,” WebMD states.
WebMD then cited a statement from ECHA, which reads: “Tattoo inks and permanent make up (PMU) may contain hazardous substances — for example, substances that cause cancer, genetic mutations, toxic effects on reproduction, allergies or other adverse effects on health.”
Healthline, however, at the time of writing, states: “While researchers have studied the possible link between tattooing and cancer for years, any direct association is currently regarded as a myth.”
Healthline adds: “Getting a tattoo alone is unlikely to cause skin cancer, but there may be risks associated with certain ingredients in tattoo ink. Different colors are created with variations in pigment and dilution, while some contain materials that may be considered carcinogenic (which means ‘having the potential to cause cancer'”).
Healthline also states that: “Overall, tattoo ink is safer than in previous decades. Yet it’s still important to ask your tattoo artist what types of inks they use, what the ingredients are, and where they come from. It’s also worth noting that no tattoo inks are regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”
You also have the more run of the mill immediate risks of getting a tattoo, like infection, allergic reactions, and scarring (the risk of which increases if you don’t see a licenced artist or if the wound doesn’t heal properly.