You're almost never in a room with someone who doesn't have a tattoo …
It's 2016, and having tattoos has become more common than being bare-skinned. I myself have several tattoos including a three-quarter sleeve on my left arm. I got my first tattoo when I turned 18 and really only stopped a few years ago. So, why did I stop when getting tattoos is so fun?
My wake-up call:
After becoming trained in functional medicine, a means of seeking the root cause of a client's symptoms or chronic conditions through extensive analysis, I decided to get a full workup done. This included a stool analysis and routine blood work to learn more about my health. I wasn't expecting to see anything alarming, but when I received the results of my blood tests, I cried. I thought I was living a healthy lifestyle, but my blood work revealed liver enzymes that were that of someone in liver failure. I was terrified.
What scared me even more was that generally I felt pretty good. Aside from having some moderate hiving on my skin (not just in the areas of my tattoos) and a history of anxiety, I had never had any major health concerns.
Heavy metal — in my liver:
When uncovering more details through a hair analysis for heavy metals, we found that my body's toxic load was through the roof. Because I had written off toxic personal products and processed foods years ago, I decided to stop getting tattoos and go through a heavy-duty detox process. This included swearing off alcohol, using herbal chelation, and incorporating liver support herbs like milk thistle and dandelion to support removal of the heavy metals in my system. My liver enzymes returned to normal after only a few months.
In the following months and years, in my practice we saw many others who, like me, shared an extremely overburdened liver in correlation to their number of tattoos. Unfortunately metals like mercury, iron, arsenic, lead, and cadmium help to give tattoo ink its color and permanency factor. Carbon black and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a sootlike product and a known pollutant, are often the main ingredients in black ink.
Toxic tattoos—what to avoid:
Exposure to these metals and toxins can place an extreme burden on the liver and the other detox organs. Studies show that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been found stored in the lymph nodes of tattooed people causing them to actually turn black. Many of the heavy metals, like lead and mercury, are also considered to be neurotoxins that can affect cognitive function and cause brain fog, fatigue, and many other symptoms. While the damage of these toxins individually to our health is well-studied, the research on the long-term effects of tattoos is still in its infancy.
If you choose to get tattoos, speak to your tattoo artist about the safest, most nontoxic products available. Some color inks use vegetable-based pigment from spices like turmeric instead of a high dose of heavy metal. While these products do exist, your artist may have to special-order them.
If you suspect that you've been exposed to high levels of toxins or heavy metals, seek the professional help of a functional medicine practitioner to help you safely detox. Our skin is our body's largest organ. Just like clean eating, what we put on our skin is equally important. It goes straight to our bloodstream and throughout our entire body — it's easy to block or forget about this, but it'll affect your health just as much as what you eat.