Tattoo Ink Recalled By the FDA Can Cause a Dangerous Infection—Here's What You Need to Know

Six types of commercially available tattoo inks have been contaminated with harmful bacteria, the FDA said in a statement this week.

The administration is urging consumers to pause before getting any new tattoos and tattoo artists to confirm they’re not using any of the recalled ink.

The government became aware of the contaminated ink after inspecting tattoo ink manufacturers and distributors and collecting survey information. The FDA analyzed samples of tattoo inks to evaluate consumers’ risks.

It now says the inks have the “potential for serious injury.” The new statement explains that “[t]attoo inks contaminated with microorganisms can cause infections and lead to serious health injuries when injected into the skin during a tattooing procedure, since there is an increased risk of infection any time the skin barrier is broken.”

Infections associated with tattoo ink can cause rashes and lesions that contain raised, red bumps on the skin. Permanent scarring can also result from a tattoo-related infection. Signs of an infection can be hard to spot, the FDA statement notes, because they might seem like allergic reactions or other conditions. This confusion can lead to misdiagnosis and useless treatments.

The four companies that manufactured the contaminated inks are currently being monitored by the FDA, the statement says. The statement also includes some advice for people thinking about getting a tattoo in the near future: Ask the person you choose to give you a tattoo what kind of ink they use—and put your plans on hold if they use one or more of the inks found to be contaminated.

The contaminated inks are Scalpaink SC, Scalpaink PA, and Scalpaink AL basic black tattoo inks made by Scale Aesthetics; Dynamic Color – Black tattoo ink made by Dynamic Color Inc; and Solid Ink – Diablo (red) tattoo ink made by Color Art Inc.

The FDA’s statement says consumers should seek medical assistance if they’ve recently gotten a tattoo and are worried they might have been exposed to the contaminated ink. They should alert the tattoo artist, too, so the artist can check and see if they are using one of the potentially contaminated inks. People affected by the contaminated ink are also urged to report their infection to the FDA via its Adverse Events Reporting website.

Anyone thinking about getting a tattoo should know about potential complications of the procedure, even without the potential of contaminated ink. Tattooing causes tiny holes in the surface of the skin, which increase the risk of infection; there’s also the potential for skin irritation or allergic reactions from the tattoo ink. A 2017 study also found that tattoo inks can seep beneath the surface of the skin and accumulate in lymph nodes, although researchers couldn’t say whether this side effect is actually linked to any health problems.  

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