San Francisco hairstylist Jarr Samuel loves his Salvador Dali-inspired tattoos.
"I like the art and the expression of the art," he said.
But when it comes to what's going under his skin?
"It's sort of an out of sight, out of mind," he said. "I mean, I want them either way. So I guess I haven't given it too much thought."
Many tattoo fans don't unless they have a bad reaction. Some people have reported sensitivity, allergic reactions and infections.
"My foot just kept getting bigger and bigger," Sara Lindhorst said.
Lindhorst says the tattoo she got in 2013 quickly became infected and sent her to the emergency room.
"They told me it was a pretty bad infection, put me on antibiotics and crutches. I was on crutches for a few weeks until it healed," she said.
At one New York City tattoo parlor, the owner, who goes by the name Bang Bang, says he takes careful precautions, which include rubber gloves and sterilized instruments.
"The dangers in tattoo shops are the things you don't see. That's why it's tough," he said. "It's microbacteria and diseases and germs that we have to clean and sterilize and we need to give extreme care to the preparation."
But it's not just the tattoo shops: then there's the ink. San Diego dermatologist Dr. Arisa Ortiz has also studied the issue.
"What's concerning about tattoo inks is that we really don't know what's going into these tattoo inks," Ortiz said.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration notes many pigments in inks are industrial-grade colors used for printer ink or automobile paint. Ortiz says some contain heavy metals or minerals like cobalt or cadmium.
"It can cause many different types of problems like just allergic skin rashes or inflammatory reaction or even types of skin cancer," Ortiz said. "It's important that you are aware of that and don't think it's just harmless paint going into your skin."
The FDA reports seven voluntary recalls of tattoo inks since 2004, one after 19 people contracted a serious infection from contaminated ink.
Bang Bang says he trusts his ink suppliers but agrees inks nationwide deserve more scrutiny.
"I think that in the future they do need to really test what's inside of them," he said.
The FDA is in the process of doing just that. The agency recently came up with new ways to look for harmful toxins in those inks and is trying to develop methods to identify just what is in those color pigments. It could not tell us whether there will be any new regulations out of all this.
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