One New York City dermatologist has become known by some locals as the lady who sparked “mass public hysteria about tattoos.”
That's because Dr. Marie Leger's recent study in the journal Contact Dermatitis found that among the 300 tattooed people her team randomly surveyed on strolls through Central Park, about 10% had experienced immediate adverse events after getting a tattoo such as itching, scaling or infections. Another 6% had more chronic problems that remained unresolved for years.
Though the study noted that the highest percentage of reactions involved red and black ink, “It's really difficult to parse out what exactly is causing it,” Leger told the Outliers team. Only a few other researchers have delved into the safety of body art. “There's not a lot of data on how common these events are.”
A 2015 Danish study found reactions to tattoos reduced quality of life as patients tended to “suffer from itch.” A 2014 study investigated the potential for squamous-cell carcinoma to develop in the “red parts of multicolored tattoos.” And a German study from 2010 concluded that millions of people in the Western world could have “transient or persisting health problems after tattooing.”
Leger, who works at the NYU Langone Medical Center and does not have tattoos herself, says her study wasn't meant to get under the skin of ink enthusiasts. “I don't think the message should be that they are horrible or you're going to suffer if you have one.” That's something people should decide for themselves, she said.
When asked what she would tell a friend or family member considering a tattoo though, she said she would be more likely to rely on her aesthetic sensibilities rather than her scientific ones. Those yin and yang, Red Hot Chili Pepper or Chinese character tattoos are “just like your old LA Gear high-top sneakers,” she said. “They can probably identify you as part of a generation.”