Researchers at the NYU Langone Medical Center have reported that up to 6% of adults in New York who get tattoos have experienced some form of tattoo-related rash, severe itching, or swelling that lasted from four months up to years for some. Findings from the study are published in the journal Contact Dermatitis.

Marie Leger, MD, PhD, senior study investigator, and colleagues analyzed survey interviews in June 2013 from about 300 adult New Yorkers ages 18–69 with a majority having no more than five tattoos. The study found that as many as 10% of consumers experience short-term complications, such as delayed healing, pain, swelling, and infection within weeks of getting tattooed. Only a third of people who experienced a reaction sought medical advice and many were found to go back to the tattoo parlor for advice. In addition, most of the chronic complications were seen in skin areas injected with red (44%) and black (33%) ink.

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The lack of regulatory oversight may be a factor in not grasping the complete range of complications related to tattooing, as chemical composition of the inks is not well understood or standardized among dye manufacturers. Clinicians, public health officials, and consumers need to know the risks involved with the increasing popularity of tattoos, researchers emphasized. Dr. Leger plans to conduct a larger survey to determine what ink colors and possible dye components are most closely associated with adverse reactions.

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