The dangers of tattoo ink traveling throughout your body

The popularity of tattoos has jumped nearly 30 percent in the last two decades, according to the FDA. Doctors now say some of the ink may migrate to infection-fighting organs.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — About 20 years ago, Mark Hamrick got a tattoo. It was inspired by a girlfriend at the time.

“I was trying to impress her,” Hamrick said of the hawk, dragon and scorpion tattoo design.

The relationship didn’t last, neither did the tattoo. Hamrick burned it off and went back for laser treatment to make sure it was gone.

“That was extremely painful. I never want to do that ever again,” he said.

The removal treatment worked to get the tattoo off of the skin’s surface. Now, doctors are warning that tattoo ink, on the inside, can linger. That is because the tattoo needle reaches deep beyond the skin’s surface so the image does not fade. As a result, researchers believe about 30 percent of ink from a newly-minted tattoo can travel throughout the body and lodge in the lymph nodes.

Even though there’s no research looking into the side effects, doctors are warning tattoo customers about the impacts.

“There have been some documented studies to prove that ink does migrate to the neighboring lymph nodes of the tattoo or the liver,” said Dr. Renee Snyder, a board-certified dermatologist at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin.

But, she said migrating ink could cause a problem for patients battling certain illnesses, with unexpected discoloration in those glands and organs.

“The pigment from the tattoo will be in the lymph node; and, as a clinician, you don’t know that there’s a tattoo there, then you’ll cut more skin out than you need to,” Dr. Snyder said.

She suggests patients tell doctors about all of their tattoos, especially ones that are close to lymph nodes.

As for Hamrick, getting another tattoo isn’t out of the question. “I saw a guy with a really cool tattoo. It looked like it had a lot of meaning, and I was like that’s actually pretty nice”

KXAN reached out to a dozen tattoo parlors and ink supply businesses to find out how safe the ink is and which inks can pose a problem for customers; none of them wanted to discuss this issue. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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