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Do you sport secret ink work on secret parts of your body or are you an unapologetic exhibitionist with hardly any virgin skin showing?

Yeah? And it’s addictive, right? As soon as you get the first one, you’re already drooling over the next master piece that will adorn your body.

Not so fast though.

We all make sure that the places we go to get our bodies adorned are hygienic and that the artist uses sterile equipment. That much is common sense. But have you ever given any thought to the actual inks used to create tattoos?

It turns out those inks don’t stay on your skin – they travel right into your body.

This may not be good for you in the long term.

Scientists from Germany and the ESRF, the European Synchrotron, Grenoble (France) have found that the elements that make up the ink used for tattoos enter the body in micro and nanoparticle forms and travel to the lymph nodes.

Hiram Castillo, one of the authors of the study and scientist at the ESRF, says people should check the chemical composition of the colors used in tattoo inks.

Apparently most tattoo inks contain organic pigments, but also include preservatives and contaminants like nickel, chromium, manganese or cobalt.

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In the latest study scientists have found these contaminants find their way into the lymph nodes in the form of nano particles.

“And that is the problem—we don’t know how nanoparticles react,” says Bernhard Hesse, one of the two first authors of the study and ESRF visiting scientist.

The team used X-ray fluorescence measurements to locate micro and nano particles of titanium dioxide in the skin and the lymphatic system. The skin contained particles up to several micrometres in size, but the really minute nano particles found their all the way to the lymph nodes.

This is bad news.

That pretty tattoo on your arm may very well mean that your lymphatic system will be exposed to nano particles contaminated with toxic impurities for years to come.

There’s more.

The scientists also used a technique called Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to assess possible changes at molecular level in the tissues surrounding the tattoo particles.

They found strong evidence that tattoo pigments toxins can cause alterations to biomolecules, which could have adverse effects like inflammation.

Research is continuing, in the meantime, will you hold off on your next planned tattoo, or not?

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