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FDA Issues Warning About Dangers Of Tattoo Ink Following Consumer Complaints

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)-- Tattoos are much more mainstream in recent days, but consumer complaints are up.

As a result, the Food and Drug Administration is issuing a new warning about the dangers of tattoo inks. As CBS2 News' Ana Wernner reported, it's important information for anyone considering body art.

San Francisco hairstylist Jarr Samuel loves his Salvador Dali-inspired tattoos.

"I like the art and the expression of the art," he said.

But what about 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 get a bad reaction. Some people have reported sensitivity, allergic reactions and infections.

"My foot just kept getting bigger and bigger," Sara Lindhorst said.

She said a 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. It's micro-bacteria and diseases and germs that we have to clean and sterilize and we need to give extreme care to the preparation," he said.

But it's not just the tattoo shops: there's also the ink. San Diego dermatologist Arisa Ortiz has studied the issue.

"What's concerning about tattoo inks is that we really don't know what's going into these tattoo inks," Ortiz explained.

In fact, the FDA notes many pigments in inks are industrial-grade colors used for printer ink or automobile paint. Ortiz said some contain heavy metals or minerals like cobalt or cadmium.

"It can cause many different types of problems like 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, including one after 19 people contracted a serious infection from contaminated ink.

"Bang Bang" said 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 added.

There are currently no federal regulations pertaining to tattoo inks and the FDA said it is not planning on implementing any.

On the state level, New Jersey requires inks to be made with nontoxic dyes that are non-irritating. CBS2 reached out to New York and Connecticut as well, but has not heard back.

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