By Chukwueke Ifeoma Lorita
According to WIKIPEDIA, a tattoo is a form of body modification done by inserting ink, dyes and/or pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin to form a design. People draw tattoos for various reasons. For some, it’s decorative (that is, they’re just for fashion or beautification). For others, it’s therapeutic and spiritual like in ancient Egypt and India where tattoos are used as methods of healing and as methods of religious worship. They were also marks of status in society, and also a punishment for errant subjects. They’re symbolic for many people, that is, they have special meanings attached to them, depending on who has them, just like drawing them to venerate a loved one.
Arguments have sprung up over the years concerning tattoos and the health risks they pose. Several studies and researches have been carried out to ascertain if tattoos are really harmful to the human body or not. According to a report released recently by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), tattoo ink contains a lot of dangerous chemicals that could cause skin cancer. The report revealed that the ink contains heavy metals including lead, arsenic, nickel and other awful substances. After further research on tattoo ink, they released another report that it may contain lethal substances that can cause genetic mutations, allergies, many adverse effects on health, and even toxic effects on reproduction.
In order to confirm this information on tattoos and their side effects, I interviewed a licensed Nigerian medical doctor, Dr. Ibekaife Bertrand Azuka.
PLEASE, SIR, ENLIGHTEN US ON WHAT A TATTOO IS AND THE PROCESS OF ACQUIRING ONE?
A tattoo is a method of decorating the skin by inserting pigments under the surface. The skin is punctured with a sharp instrument, usually a solenoid-driven needle that injects the ink into the lower layers of the skin. This may be purposeful or accidental. Accidental tattoos may occur due to abrasive injuries which allows asphalt, graphite or carbon to get into injured skin. Tattooing has been practiced for years mostly as a means of identification, protection and also a creative expression. Nowadays, tattoos are mostly done by tattoo artists through the use of electric needles to introduce particles of pigment into the dermis of the skin.
ARE TATTOOS RISKY TO THE HEALTH? IF YES, WHAT ARE THOSE RISKS?
Infections can get into the skin if there’s a breach of the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin). To put clearly, the skin’s (epidermis) most important job is to create a barrier between the environment and one’s internal organs. Though, bacterial infections are not much, they can sometimes result in true erysipelas, gangrene, or systemic sepsis. The infections vary, that is, they could be mild infections or even bacterial sepsis which is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its tissues and organs.
Also, there have been reported cases of HIV, syphilis and hepatitis infections caused by the use of infected tattoo needles. Person-to-person transmission of viruses, including vaccinia and human papilloma viruses have been reported as well.
Several types of reactions including acute inflammatory reactions, granulomatous reactions, lichenoid reactions, sarcoid reactions, photo-aggravated reactions, and MRI sensitivity reactions have also occurred after poorly executed tattoo sessions.
CAN TATTOOED PERSONS DONATE BLOOD?
No, they can’t. And that is because they will put the recipient at risk of contracting transmissible infections like HIV, Hepatitis B and C and so on.
IS THERE A WAY THAT HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH TATTOOS CAN BE AVERTED?
The first step to achieving that is by carrying out public enlightenment on the dangers associated with tattooing and the need to avoid getting one as most of the health risks are not reversible and so can lead to poor quality of life. However, if for some personal reasons an individual insists on getting one despite knowing all the risks associated, then he/she should adhere to the following instructions:
- Get your tattoo from professionals.
- Ensure that a new needle is used for your tattoo.
- Make sure to check that the tattoo ink is new and fresh.
- Make sure the tattooist uses a new pair of gloves before starting the process.
- Also ensure that the surroundings and the tattoo artist himself/herself are neat, just like a medical facility should.
- Ask the tattoo artist questions about the procedures and techniques. Take time to observe the tattooist at work, and do not hesitate to inquire about the tattooist’s experience and qualifications in the field.
If the tattooist is a qualified professional, he or she will have no problem complying with the standards and adhering to the simple guidelines.
But if the tattooist or the studio is not up to standard or if the tattooist evades questions about the procedure, leave immediately and seek out a core professional.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE OUT THERE WEARING TATTOOS AND ALREADY FACING HEALTH CHALLENGES?
It is true that most diseases from tattooing are not reversible (Although, there are still patients who have similar ailments which are not related to tattooing). So such individuals should seek medical attention early enough to prevent the disease from getting worse. Yes, early detection and treatment are key.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION, DR. IBEKAIFE.
You are welcome, madam.