Tat Trouble

In case you’re looking for another reason to not get a tattoo, let me be of assistance — medical researchers are finding that a measurable portion of people who get inked report skin reactions which can last for months, or longer.

A recent study published in the thrillingly named journal Contact Dermatitis interviewed 300 New Yorkers with tats in the area around Central Park in June 2013.  (Wouldn’t you love to know, by the way, whether it took more than 15 minutes to find 300 inked people around Central Park, and how many of the people approached told the researchers to stick it?)  Ten percent of respondents reported having problems with their body art, ranging from rashes to itching, swelling, infections, delaying healing, and skin bumps, with six percent saying the problems continued for more than four months.  Some of the reactions appear to be responses caused by the body’s immune system.

The study also indicates that conditions seem to be related to the color of the ink used, with skin problems reported for red ink at levels disproportionate to the commonness of red ink tattoos. Researchers don’t yet know whether the reactions are due to the ink itself, or to brighteners or preservatives used with the ink — but then, tattoo-related conditions haven’t exactly been a hot topic in the medical research field.  That’s unfortunate because, as Dr. Marie Leger, spokesperson for the study, said, “The skin is a highly immune-sensitive organ, and the long-term consequences of repeatedly testing the body’s immune system with injected dyes and colored inks are poorly understood.”  No kidding!

If you’ve ever had poison ivy or a bad rash, you know that there are few things more maddening than persistently itchy skin.  I can’t imagine dealing with it for months, or even years.  With tattoos becoming increasingly common — Dr. Leger estimates one in five adult Americans has at least one tattoo — maybe it’s time to take a careful and systematic look at just what risks are involved in getting permanently inked up.

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On Poison Ivy Patrol

I used to weed our beds with joyful, reckless abandon, pulling out the offending plants by the handful.  Then, about 10 years ago, during one of the high summer months, I got a bad poison ivy rash for the first time, and my gardening life changed forever.

My hands touched the poison ivy as I was kneeling and weeding the beds on the side of the house, seating heavily as I worked in the summer sun.  This turned out to be most unfortunate for me.  When I mopped my sodden brow the diabolical irritants on my hands were able to get into the open pores on my face and were splashed onto my arms and chest and legs.  By that evening, it was clear that I was in trouble, and by the next morning my rash — technically a case of contact dermititis — was comically bad.  My face was bright red and so swollen that my eyes were slits.  I also was dealing with multiple patches of misshapen red bumps on every limb that cried out for a vigorous itching.  When I went to a dermatologist and took off the sunglasses I was wearing to cover my alien-looking face, the he burst into laughter and said it was the worst case of poison ivy he’d ever seen.  The boys found my appearance equally amusing.

Eventually the patches went away, after days of trying to avoid the overwhelming impulse to scratch like a dog with fleas, but ever since I have been especially sensitive to any poison ivy exposure.  Apparently this is common.  So now, when I weed, I keep my eye out for anything that looks suspicious and treat it with utmost care.  On the Poison Ivy Patrol, our motto is “Leaves of three, let it be.”