Tattoos are more popular than ever. Roughly half of millennials have one, as do 36% of Gen Xers, according to a recent Harris poll . The number of Americans with at least one tattoo has jumped 50% in the past four years.
This explosion in popularity has led some health experts to take a closer look at the practice. What they’ve found so far raises questions—and some concerns.
A study published this year found that tattoos may interfere with the way your skin sweats. Compared to non-tattooed skin, inked skin excretes about 50% less sweat, says study coauthor Maurie Luetkemeier, a professor of physiology at Alma College in Michigan. “We also found the sodium in sweat was more concentrated when released from tattooed skin,” he says. When your glands produce sweat, the skin tends to reabsorb sodium and other electrolytes from that perspiration before it breaks free. His findings indicate that tattoos may partially block this reabsorption.
This doesn’t matter much if you have a single tattoo, or even a few. But if you have extensive coverage—especially on your back, arms or other areas densely populated by sweat glands—tattoos could interfere with the skin’s ability to cool your body and hold onto important nutrients. “You look at someone in the military, where tattoos are very prevalent, and if they’re exposed to high heat and a heavy workload, there could be thermoregulatory problems,” Luetkemeier says.
All of this is, he adds, is very much speculative at this point. But other research has linked tattoos with different health issues.
While exceptionally rare, there are reports linking tattoos to melanoma, says Cormac Joyce, a plastic surgeon at University Hospital Galway in Ireland. In a case study he published in 2015, Joyce writes about a 33-year-old man with an elaborate, multicolored chest tattoo. Malignant melanoma had turned up only in the areas of the tattoo that were filled in with red ink.
In that particular case, the culprit probably wasn’t the red ink. Joyce […]