More than 10 percent of people in New York who got tattoos reported skin conditions -- from itching to infection -- after they were inked, according to a new survey, with 6 percent saying the conditions lasted more than four months.
If the survey of 300 people is representative, this is no small matter because an estimated 25 percent of Americans now have at least one permanent tattoo, according to the research, led by a dermatologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Marie Leger, an assistant professor of dermatology at the school, said hers is the first full survey to look at skin problems after tattoos in the United States.
More extensive studies by other researchers in Germany and Denmark indicates a similar or greater degree of skin conditions, both immediate and chronic, after tattoos.
The study wasn't designed to determine why tattoos are causing skin conditions, but Leger said she believes "we're picking up on quite a few allergies" probably to the tattoo ink. The conditions can persist for months or even years, the survey showed, and "can be supremely annoying and noxious," Leger said.
"This is a big quality of life impairment, at the level of other skin diseases, like psoriasis and eczema," she said.
More than 34 percent of the people in the survey reported other kinds of allergies, most often to food and antibiotics, but Leger said there isn't enough information in her survey to link those to the skin conditions.
The researchers questioned 300 people with tattoos, ages 18-69, in New York's Central Park in June 2013. People who filled out the survey averaged 4.7 tattoos covering 7.2 percent of their bodies, but one person had 53 tattoos.
The survey was not a typical randomized, controlled study but the results were reviewed by other experts before they were published in the journal Contact Dermatitis.
The researchers found that 10.3 percent (31) said they had suffered some kind of rash, itching, swelling, scaling, infection, delayed healing or raised bumps, and 6 percent (18) said their problem went on for more than four months. All the chronic problems were specific to a single color within a tattoo.
For reasons the researchers couldn't explain, but that may have something to do with kinds of dyes used in tattoo ink, red ink was more commonly associated with skin conditions than other colors.
Leger, who does not have a tattoo, said she is not advising against them. "I would never say people shouldn't get a tattoo," she said. "That's part of the fun -- you're doing something permanent to your body, and there's a certain amount of risk."
But there are many precautions people can take, including, limiting sun exposure, getting inked at a reputable place, taking care of the tattoo immediately after it's done and consulting a doctor if you have other medical problems that may be affected by getting a tattoo. She said people might want to give some thought to avoiding red ink.
Here's some information on the risks posed by tattoos and precautions you can take.