What Happens if You Get Tattoo Ink in Your Veins?

Tattooing is a unique art form, and more things can go wrong with a tattoo that can go right. That is why many artists take years of formal or informal training before they finally feel comfortable wielding a machine. A big part of being a tattoo artist is understanding the health implications and the things that may go wrong with a tattoo.

In the article below, we’ll cover what happens with tattoo ink as it enters into your body and the impact that it can have.

What happens if tattoo ink gets in your veins?

Tattoo ink will invariably be absorbed into your bloodstream. There are tiny invisible capillaries just beneath the surface of the skin that deliver oxygen and essential nutrients to the epidermis. However, only a very tiny amount of ink ever actually reaches the blood stream. 

For most people, this is negligible, however it is important to understand the implications of ink poisoning regardless.

Most of the ink is absorbed and processed by the liver and kidneys and then ejected through urine or fecal matter. To actually manage to get true ink poisoning from a tattoo would be an astronomical mismanagement by the artist. If the client didn’t get out of the chair and crack open a can of whoop ass by the time it occurred, they must have been tattooing a corpse. Mostly this comes down to the composition of the ink itself. 

What is Tattoo Ink Made From

It is a little known fact that tattoo ink is completely unregulated by the FDA. No one really knows why the government hasn’t looked into overseeing the industry when more than a third of Americans are estimated to have at least one tattoo. While this has turned out in favor for the hidden ink suppliers in the world, it has been a bit of trial and error in research and development.

The exact composition of tattoo inks is a highly guarded secret, and rightly so. An artist can be as talented as they would like to be, but if the vibrant yellow they put into a daisy fades in less than a year, it will look badly on the artist.

That being said, I can tell you that tattoo inks are composed of a carrier fluid and the color pigment. Black inks are traditionally made from carbon, think incredibly fine soot, such as traditional japanese inks. These inks tend to turn a shade of green under the skin after a while. Whereas modern inks are often made with the use of heavy metals to ensure amazing color saturation.

What are some of the heavy metals used in the making of tattoo ink?

  • Chromium
  • Cadmium
  • Titanium
  • Nickel 
  • Lead

So you see? Some of these metals should immediately trigger a red flag. We have been taught about the dangers of lead in school. Exposure to lead can lead to neuropathy and affect higher brains functions, leading to bouts of psychosis. 

Titanium is a very safe metal when it comes to how it interacts with the body, as in it doesn’t. The body and titanium ignore each other like jilted lovers trapped at work. It has been used in the medical industry for years in both prosthetics and orthotics, as well making up the screws and plates some people have in their bodies.

How Long Tattoo Ink Stay in your Blood?

This will vary from person to person based on diet, exercise and other factors. However, on average, the very small amount of ink that does reach your bloodstream will remain there for approximately 2-4 weeks. This can be reduced by drinking plenty of fluids immediately after getting the tattoo work.

Find out how having a tattoo can impact your ability to donate blood in the article I wrote here.

Can You Be Poisoned From Ink?

Yes, you most definitely can. However, it depends on the ink. You could take a carbon based ink and drink a cup or two and it may not even have an effect if you could manage to keep it down. It is very similar to the activated carbon that medics carry in the event of chemical poisoning. 

However, if you are a person who has an allergy to one of the aforementioned heavy metals, you could develop a reaction that is very similar to the symptoms of ink poisoning. This can happen to you even before the tattoo is finished.

These symptoms can be:

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Altered mental status
  • Red and puffy skin
  • Labored breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Nervous system damage

Keep in mind these are the symptoms of severe ink poisoning. 

In the application of tattooing, a reaction, or ink poisoning if you just have to call it that, will most likely start with irritation and redness of the area, followed by swelling. The swelling can be very pronounced with this. It can cause nausea, dizziness, vomiting. These are natural reactions of the immune system that are over exaggerated in the presence of an allergic reaction.

For instance, I knew a piercer once who was allergic to whatever metal was in the color red of a particular brand of ink. No matter how many times she tried to get some red in her skin, her skin would swell to an obscene degree and the red would be ejected from her body. There wasn’t even a trace of red left after the healing process.

Everyone’s body can react differently when placing a foreign object within it. This can include everything from implants, piercings, ink, or even organ transplants.

Is it Safe to Tattoo over Veins?

Yes, it is absolutely safe to tattoo over blood veins. In fact, if you are getting a tattoo on your arm, neck, hand or foot, it’s almost impossible not to tattoo over some blood veins. Fortunately, the needle from the tattoo gun is injecting in just below the skin. Blood vessels are very small as well. Therefore, the amount of ink that gets injected around your veins is very small.

One thing to keep in mind, is that the tattoo industry has come a long ways in the past couple of decades due to the massive growth in popularity of tattoos. Millions of people get tattoos every year. Ink poisoning can occur, but it is not very common. The most important thing you can do to help reduce the risk of ink poisoning is to choose a well reputable shop and artist.

The Danger of Unregulation

The unregulation of tattoo inks has turned out in great favor for those that make them and make them well. This allows competition to get their butts kicked out of the market and a house tattoo ink to stay in favor of trusted tattoo artists the globe over. 

However a big part of the selling of tattoos is simply that they are cool. Can you dig it? This means that fads come and go in tattooing culture at the drop of a dime, and every new tattoo artist wants to leave his mark on the world, literally.

This can be actually dangerous. For instance, do you remember glow in the dark tattoos?

Those were made with phosphorus, an extremely poisonous agent to the body that can lead to liver, kidney, and heart damage. 

I even heard that they were made from radium once. Radium is radioactive.

Nowadays, the kinks have been worked out and we have ultraviolet reactive inks. Which is perfectly fine, in fact most flowers you see have a U.V. pigment in them that helps them to attract insects and various other pollinators. 

The Takeaway

So now you know that there is a danger to tattoo inks. This is why reputable artists use reputable inks. You can absolutely be poisoned by tattoo inks, but not through the application of getting a tattoo. And yes you will always absorb some of the ink into your bloodstream, but it will be processed and removed from your body. 

You probably have more heavy metal in your liver and kidneys from the tuna and salmon you eat than from a tattoo. 

What happens to people is an allergic reaction most of the time. So if you are a person who is a little bit woozy about getting a tattoo that may have these components, feel free to ask your tattoo artist about using vegan inks because they exist for that reason.