While there are many unsupported claims on the internet about what tattoos could do to you and your body, it’s natural to be curious about the validity behind many of these statements. One statement that is often thrown around is that tattoos can cause cancer because the pigment gets into your lymph nodes. While ink particles can spread to your lymph nodes, there is absolutely no scientific evidence saying this can cause cancer.
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What is Tattoo Ink Made Of?
Tattoo ink is not regulated by the FDA and therefore can contain a multitude of different ingredients, depending on the brand of tattoo ink your artist uses. Cheaper tattoo inks are known to use animal byproducts as carrier ingredients, as well as contain heavy metals or toxic minerals. Depending on the color of the pigment being created, metals such as iron, zinc, cobalt, lead, or chromium could be found inside tattoo inks.
More expensive and higher quality inks usually contain plant-based carriers, and advertise that they’re non-toxic, chemical and metal free, and they’re usually vegan as well. We compiled a list of our favorite tattoo ink brands and thoroughly reviewed them for you.
Since you need to research the ingredient list of the tattoo inks your artist is using to know what, exactly, is going in your body, it makes sense that there would be concern around these foreign particles getting into your lymph nodes.
More on what tattoo ink is made of
How Can Ink Affect Lymph Nodes?
The best way to answer this question is to first explain what lymph nodes are and what their purpose is, within the body.
Lymph nodes are an essential part of the immune system, and they’re the organ that triggers a filtration system of foreign substances. They then bring these foreign particles through their “system” which is run by lymphatic fluid, cleansing the body and fighting bacteria, infections, and diseases.
Tattoo pigment deposited in your dermis is a foreign substance. Your body does not recognize it as a “part of the system” and will react accordingly. It’s for that reason that your tattoo fades over time; your immune system is breaking down the foreign particles and removing them from your body.
Lymph nodes will respond especially intensely to foreign particles that have chemical or metal compounds, believing them to be a risk to the overall body. There have been tests done which show that individuals with older tattoos, as inks were less regulated and perfected, back then, had higher metal traces found in their lymph nodes.
But, that being said, there are no scientific studies that determined the presence of these ink particles were causing any further damage to lymph nodes or the overall health of the individual. They were just there because the lymph nodes were doing what they do best: clearing out foreign particles. While the particle itself may be very toxic, it merely stained the lymph node, but wasn’t presenting any problem to it.
There has been some discussion by the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility that states that lifelong exposure to these dangerous ingredients could cause lymph node enlargement, but there was no strong evidence to prove this level of inflammation, either.
The general consensus is this: cheap tattoo ink is, in general, not good for your body and not healthy for your lymph nodes to store, even though long-term impact on general health has not yet been studied thoroughly.
Good Tattoo Practice
Regardless of what tattoo ink you use, your lymph nodes will respond to the foreign pigment particles in the same manner, and your tattoo will experience inevitable fading over time. But if you want to protect your overall health and the smooth functioning of your lymph nodes, you should consider the following:
- Ask your tattoo artist about what brand of tattoo ink they use and research the ingredients.
- Ask the manufacturer for a sheet that states the safety of the ingredients in the ink.
- Look for tattoo inks that are labeled as non-toxic, chemical-free, metal-free, or vegan for your safest alternatives.
- Lymph nodes are all over your body, but getting a tattoo further away from lymph node clusters allows your body more time to filter the pigment as it spreads before it stains your lymph nodes. Clusters can be found near your neck, underarm, abdomen, chest, and groin area.
- You can always ask your artist to perform a patch test with the tattoo ink prior to dedicating yourself to an entire, larger piece. This allows you to monitor how your body will react to the ink that your artist uses.
- Keep in mind that different color pigments have entirely different ingredients. Colored pigment is known to contain more concerning ingredients.
Our Final Thoughts
All tattoos come with some risk, but there is simply not enough scientific evidence linking tattoos to significant lymph node issues or being the catalyst for cancer in these regions. It’s important to always take your health into your own hands and know what questions to ask your tattoo artist. Research into the ink they use and if you’re ever unsure, you could always purchase your own non-toxic, metal-free ink and ask your artist to use that, instead.