Tattoos, cosmetic tattoos (makeup), temporary tattoos and henna (mehndi) are all applied and removed differently. Tattoos and makeup tattoos used in the skin are considered cosmetics, but tattooing is regulated locally. The pigments used have colour additives that can cause problems with the skin, but that isn’t the only risk with tattoos.
Some cosmetic tattoo inks have caused issues in the past (particularly in the US), requiring a total recall by the manufacturer, while another set of inks was spreading infection from contamination. This prompted investigations into the safety of tattoo inks, which is an ongoing process in Australia and overseas. Tattoo ink was one of those areas not very well regulated, which has now changed.
There are over 50 shades and pigments in tattoo ink, and unapproved colour additives may be illegal. Some pigments are not approved for use on skin at all, including some used for car paint or printer ink.
Different types of tattoos
There are many reasons people get tattoos – aesthetics, an initiation rite, to cover scarring or for reconstructive surgery, for example creating a nipple on a breast. Tattooing can also be used to create pigment on skin, for example in vitiligo, where pigment disappears. Cosmetic tattoos may be to save time, but can also be used for those who cannot apply make-up themselves very easily. Anyone suffering alopecia (hair loss all over the body) may wish to have a long-lasting eyebrow solution.
- Infection – sterilisation is critical to avoid passing blood-borne diseases from client to client. Contaminated inks can also be a culprit of infection, so choose a reputable artist.
- Removing tattoos – this process is time-consuming, expensive, and uncomfortable, but with our new laser and techniques, faster than ever.
- Allergic reactions – tattoo inks can cause allergic reactions in some people, though this is rare. Pigment can be hard to remove once this happens, so seek medical advice immediately to help quash the allergic reaction and manage it. Allergies can also develop to old tattoos.
- Granulomas – this a response by your skin to a foreign body, being a nodule that forms around any kind of material, including tattoo pigment.
- Keloid scarring – anyone who suffers keloid scarring should avoid getting a tattoo.
- MRI interference – there have been reports of tattooed areas (either cosmetic tattoo or regular tattoo) becoming swollen and hot after a magnetic resonance image (MRI) was taken. This is a rare event, and no lasting effects were apparent. Pigments may interfere with the actual image, particularly in cases of tattooed eyeliner. Inform your radiologist or technician if your tattoos aren’t obvious prior to an MRI.
- Hating your tattoo – it happens all too frequently. Choose an excellent artist, with a lot of experience, and be clear about what you want. Manage your expectations, and leave some time between when you decide on your tattoo, and when you get it. A good artist will save you a lot of heartache.
- Fading – tattoos fade, so take precautions after you get a tattoo and take care of your skin. You are likely to need touch-ups over the years to keep your tattoo looking fresh. Keep your tattoo out of the sun, and use sunscreen.
- Blurring – pigments injected too deep into the skin can migrate, causing a blurry tattoo. A skilled artist will help to keep this problem at bay.
- Henna or temporary tattoo reactions – temporary tattoos, henna (mehndi) and black henna can cause reactions if they contain irritant ingredients. Some contain hair dye, which is not approved for use on the skin, but only on hair.