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Tattoos and permanent make-up, double risk of infection: the alarm in a study

Tattoos and permanent make-up, double risk of infection: the alarm in a study

Double risk of infection for tattoo and permanent makeup fans. More than a third of the ink on the market contains two types of bacteria: not only aerobes, which need oxygen to multiply, but also anaerobes that multiply without oxygen and which can be present in still-sealed bottles of dye. A study published in ‘Applied and Environmental Microbiology’, a journal of the American Society of Microbiology, sounds the alarm. A timely warning, as the body painting trend spreads and it is almost difficult to find skin without a tattoo: “The growing popularity of tattoos in recent years has coincided with an increase in complications or adverse events associated” with this practice, warns Seong-Jae (Peter) Kim, microbiologist at the Food and Drug Administration, corresponding author of the study.

Study: Inks even in sealed bottles contaminated

A work described as “particularly remarkable”, as “the first to investigate the presence of anaerobic bacteria in commercial tattoo inks”. The scientists tested 75 tattoo inks from 14 manufacturers. By mixing 1-2 grams of colored solution with specific culture media and changing the incubation context (with or without oxygen), they looked for both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, and found: “Approximately 35% of tattoo or permanent makeup inks sold in the US were contaminated with bacteria”, the researchers report. “Both species, aerobic and anaerobic, can contaminate ink”, emphasizes Kim, who specifies: “There was no clear relationship between the label indicating the sterility of the product and the actual absence of bacterial contamination”.

“Our results,” the author notes, “show that unopened and unsealed tattoo inks can harbor anaerobic bacteria, which are known to thrive in oxygen-poor environments such as the dermal layer of the skin, in addition to aerobic bacteria. This suggests that contaminated ink may be a source of infection for both types of bacteria. The findings emphasize the importance of monitoring these products for both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, including potentially pathogenic microorganisms.”

Kim recalls that “microbial infections are only one aspect of the complications” associated with tattoos or permanent makeup, “engraved” on the skin. Also “immunological complications, such as inflammatory reactions and allergic hypersensitivity, as well as toxic reactions, are an important part” of the possible “side effects”. “In light of the results of our study, we want to emphasize the importance of continuous monitoring of these products to ensure the microbial safety of tattoo inks,” emphasizes the FDA expert, who works in the Microbiology Division of the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Arkansas.

Kim and colleagues will continue to work in two directions. On the one hand, they plan to develop more efficient microbial detection techniques that can be applied to tattoo inks, making the analysis process faster, more accurate, and less labor-intensive. They will also conduct systematic research to increase their understanding of microbial contamination in tattoo and permanent makeup inks. This includes studying the presence, co-presence, and diversity of microbial contaminants, which is an essential starting point for preventing them.