Think before you get Inked!

In a recent report issued by Chief Health Officer of New South Wales in 2014, many branded ink products such as Intenze, Colourking, Kuro Sumi were recalled by EU RAPEX system (a rapid alert system for non-food dangerous products). This major decision was taken when phenylenediamines particles were found in the colour bottles which can cause adverse effects on the human health.

These days tattoo making is a popular art form among youth owing to star celebs such as David Beckham, Harry Styles, model Cara Delevingne, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Cheryl Cole who are often seen flaunting their tattoos.As a result, many Indian celebs have joined the bandwagon ranging from sports stars such as Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan to Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and the list goes on.

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli

This star power has increased the number of youth going under the needle to get engraved designs same as their favourite celebrities. A tattoo can also symbolise love and affection of a person towards the other and at times it can also be a fashion statement.

But they fail to understand the repercussions it can have on their health. They underestimate the trivialities which come along with the inscriptions on their body.

In a survey conducted by our investigative team, it was found that numerous tattoo studios in Chennai are not using indemnity forms i.e. ‘Consent to the Procedure’ which helps customers to make an informed decision. It is an essential part of the process as it informs the customer about possible infections and medical conditions in which a person should not get a tattoo. The form also mentions the age limit. On further investigation,  our team did not find any studio that uses any specific form informing its customers. One of the tattoo studio owners tried to download the indemnity form when we demanded. They did not even bother to inform their customers verbally about medical conditions in which a person should refrain from getting a tattoo. The customers were assured time and again that these tattoos have no side effects on the skin for a longer duration of time. Even the NSW report says that long duration side effects have not yet been proved. It is because of this lack of clarity on the usage of such chemicals that tattoo studio deliberately avoid briefing their customers regarding the health effect. Moreover, the owners and tattoo artists did not even try to find out any medical history of their customers whether they are allergic to any certain condition or not. Perhaps the lure of lucrative business overrides the health concerns of the customers in this market.

The Yantra tattoos owner said, “The indemnity form scares our customers which we cannot afford”.

To get an estimate of the awareness level among the students, we conducted a small survey. We received a mixed response from them regarding their experience and what all information were they provided before getting a tattoo.

Tattoos can be dated back to pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other central and northern European tribes which were often heavily tattooed. The practice of tattooing can also be found in 2nd millennium BC as mummies bearing tattoos have been discovered. In an 18th century article, a medical doctor from Cairo wrote about usage of tattoo making as an ancient medicine to treat patients.

Maori gang
Maori gang

At one point of time, tattoos became a symbol for gangs such as Yakuza in Japan (it is known for organised crime and tattoos are considered as a sign of initiation into the mafia), Maori gang in New Zealand and Mexican drug gangs. The members of these outlaw gangs inject the needle in their skins and are identified by the inscribed tattoos.

In India around 19th century Ramnami community rebelled and challenged the orthodoxy of upper caste Hindus who denied them entry in temples.They got Ram engraved all over their bodies as an act of rebellion. Even today the art exists in its traditional form in South India it is termed as pachakutharathu, whereas in parts of North India it is popularly known as godna.

But these days tattoo is no longer a religious statement among the urban lot. We interviewed and compiled responses from a few students of Asian College of Journalism who got tattooed and also who desire to get one to find out the craze behind this phenomenon.

Presently, the tattoo industry is on the rise in India. From the ‘free love-hippie’ era of the 70’s to the urbanized India of post 90’s, tattoos are fast gaining their ground in the youth dominion. But with this mass popularity many illegal activities and malpractices are flourishing. These have raised alarming issues and concerns regarding the functionary bodies all around the country. In a country where there is no proper regulatory body for pharmaceutical stores, it is unlikely to imagine one on tattoo studios.

Maybe that is the reason New South Wales government has advised their citizens to avoid getting tattoos in other countries particularly in Asia.

The NSW report mentions that the recalled products contain chemical compounds such as phenylenediamines and high levels of metal contaminants. According to source article, European authorities have classified the recalled products as containing higher risk- “it is illegal to obtain, supply, possess or use products containing phenylenediamines in preparations for skin colouration (tattooing) unless authorised under the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008.”

This strong action has been triggered by several other articles on tattoo ink. In 2013, a blog by Andrew Penman was published in UK Mirror, asserting that cancer-causing tattoo inks were easily available in the market. It testified that the products with new batch numbers had the same PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) level as the batch that was banned.

“The EU has set a maximum legal PAH concentration in tattoo inks at 0.5 mg per kg.” The ink which was tested and verified by a specialist had a concentration of just over 20 mg per kg, almost 40 times the permitted level.

The same branded bottles which have been banned in other countries are available in India. The biggest supplier Tattoo Gizmo supplies those bottles at large scale.

Though,we are not sure that the inks with specific batch numbers are being supplied here or not.  But there are high chances of intoxicants present in the other supplies as proved in UK.

In India, many local products are available and used by small tattoo studios which can be highly toxic for the body. They usually rely on cheap inks because one oz. bottle of a particular brand can cost from INR 600-3000.

A tattoo artist, in the condition of anonymity said that many studios may refill the branded bottles with local products as the ink is very costly. He has been in the industry for the past 5 years.

Regarding the hygiene level maintained by the studio he further informed us that none of the studios at present is maintaining proper cleanness in India whereas, salons with tattoo studio are worse. Whereas Dr. V Nambi, a physician by profession said,“Even if studios maintain 100% hygiene still there are chances of infection”.

A tattoo
A tattoo

Many types of malpractices are prevalent in the tattoo industry. The tattoo artists are ignorant about the fact that hair removal is essential as it lowers the risk of infection. A Dermatologist in condition of anonymity explained, “the method of tattooing is like a small surgery where the body part needs to be cleaned properly by removing hair and using antiseptics.”

This piece of news was alarming for us, as on our field visit we witnessed an artist engraving a name on a man’s chest without removing the hair.

He further explained the consequences that how a popular art form to express one’s feelings becomes nuisance for the adolescents from 17-20 years, as they do not think or ponder before getting a tattoo/ engraving name of their lovers. He says, “these young ones do not realise the value of a tattoo or the culture where our society lives in. They are hardly sixteen or seventeen when they get a tattoo and then hardly a year or two later end up visiting clinic to get them removed. Not only the cost of getting a tattoo removed is ten times higher than getting one it also traumatizes their psychology and puts their families into jeopardy”. The peer pressure among the urban teenagers is also prevalent as tattoos today have become synonymous to the ‘hip’ culture. But the laser is not a solution as the marks of the tattoo remain throughout life.

Newly engraved tattoo
Newly engraved tattoo

In India, tattoo industry is expanding at a large scale. This needs to be regulated with strict laws by a governing body to ensure ethical practice while tattooing. Moreover, the youth needs to be aware about the consequences before and aftermath getting a tattoo. The onus lies on both the seller and consumer. A single entity cannot be blamed as many times people do not follow the given instructions after getting a tattoo. The tattoo artists are blamed and forced to redo the tattoo without pay as told by one of the artist. “Sometimes they are in such a hurry to show off their tattoos to their friends that they click pictures and upload it on facebook and twitter keeping the given instructions at bay.”

He further added, “The art of tattoo making is not a rocket science, if done with proper equipments and precautions”.


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