Functional Q&AFunctional Impact from Tattoos

Functional Impact from Tattoos

Everybody has a tattoo or wants a tattoo to mark a major life event or emotion. Johnny Depp even said that his body is his journal and his tattoos are his story. Many yoga students of mine spoke about what to get for a tattoo. Is a tattoo a proud depiction of your life story or is it causing you a host of major health problems downstream?

In today’s world, its more rare to see someone without a tattoo, than someone with a tattoo. Chances are that you probably have one yourself. It was only when someone who was very close to me was talking about getting one, and I have seen her health challenges up close, that I knew I had to sit down and explore this deeply from a Functional perspective. If you already have one, or many for that matter, you’re either going to be alarmed or you simply will  choose to be in denial. If you do feel alarm, let me reassure you that you can still do so much going forward, beginning with more research before another one. If you are the one who is in denial, well, what can I say? Then you simply will not care.

Heavy metals in tattoo inks

Let’s begin right up front with the source of it all, the tattoo inks. Being a graduate of Fine Arts, and having painted with oil paints for years and years, I know first hand how toxic paints can be. But coming to tattoo inks in particular, many heavy metals like mercury, iron, arsenic, lead, and cadmium are all part of giving tattoo inks their colours. If someone has been reassuring you that its all safe, do your research. Chances are most places do not have those. Further, the tattoo removal process has been under scrutiny as well, with research attempting to answer questions such as where the pigment goes  when a tattoo is removed, and is it into the bloodstream? This question is still not answered satisfactorily, making tattoo removal dangerous as well. Heavy metals are exogenous toxins, meaning that they are toxins coming from outside of your body, and are a major root cause for multiple signs, symptoms and diagnosis later on. Let’s not even go that far ahead. It all begins with the tremendous strain that it puts on your liver, which is your major organ for detoxification. 

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and just as what you eat impacts you positively or negatively, what you put on your skin and what is absorbed through your skin is a major mediator in your health.  What we take in through our skin goes through our bloodstream and through our entire body. Your Immune system is complex and does not exist in one place. It has a job of always looking for a cell that is misbehaving, and this can be anything from a virus or parasite to something which is a toxin. the first line of defence in your Immune system is your skin. It is the physical barrier of your Immune system and has a job to protect you from all what is considered dangerous or toxic to you. But, it can only protect you to an extent. A Tattoo is essentially an open wound, and begins a process of inflammation. Localised infection can occur or it can go deeper into the level of chronic inflammation, if your system is already in that state. 

Lymph nodes can get coloured with tattoo inks

Lymph nodes are part of your Immune system. They are collection sites where your white blood cells attack what is considered a foreigner or a toxin. There are lymph nodes under your arm pits, in your groin, in breasts for women and in your throat. Lymph nodes can get inflamed due to infections, virus, inflammation, cancer and certain Autoimmune conditions. Studies have shown that tattoo inks have coloured lymph nodes within your body. What this tells us is that these inks are directly absorbed via your skin, as nano particles, and definitely impact your overall Immune system functioning. Discoloured nodes appear very similar to melanoma or skin cancer. Since your Immune system has a job of protecting you against all that is considered a foreigner, an impaired Immune system leaves you susceptible to many virus, bacteria and pathogens. This can only cause chronic inflammation and allergies. Further, a confused Immune system sets the stage for Autoimmune disorders, as the Immune system is forced to start accepting a foreigner as self.

Tattoos can also cause allergic reactions. You could get an itchy rash on the site itself or overall. An allergy literally means an altered reaction, and the substance that provokes the reaction is an antigen. Most people will take an anti allergy medication or an antihistamine and deal with it, but it can create a memory in your immune system after which it starts recognising the antigen and creating the same reaction every time. This can also put you at risk for other allergies, including some specific foods. If you have had a histamine response to a tattoo, then chances are that you can become histamine intolerant. It can also cause several skin diseases such as eczema, lichens planus and psoriasis.

Finally, Staphylocci bacteria can enter your body via the actual site of the tattoo. If you are someone who is prone to infections, or whose immune system is already either depressed or over active, then this can lead to various problems  downstream as well.

Liver overloaded with work from tattoos

If you have tattooed yourself already, think deeply if you have had any issues revolving around your immune system. It could be a viral that inflamed your joints and the inflammation never quite went away. Whatever you might have taken to help that localised inflammation, be it a Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug like Ibuprofen, or a Corticosteroid like Predisone, may have only given you temporary relief. It all might be connected back to your tattoo. Or you might have found an inability to detoxify anything, which just means that your overburdened liver was unable to do the extensive cleanup. Or, you might have found yourself with one or several Autoimmune conditions. Well, you can now try to support your Immune system.

If you are keen to get a tattoo, try to extensively research and get pigments with natural sources like Turmeric. They are available, but chances are that every local tattoo parlour is not going to have them. It might need to be specially ordered.

And then, if you do have misgivings about getting a tattoo after this, listen to those apprehensions, and just go get a great haircut!


  • Ashvini Naik

    This is a much needed post, Deepa when now everybody is all ga-ga about getting tatoos done. I, too, have been always weary of this sick trend wondering if it didn't have any adverse effects on the body or skin.

    • Deepa Kannan

      Thanks Ashvini! Yes and what is more alarming is how people choose to be in denial even when they have complex health challenges and when they have such information at the ready

  • Christine

    Thank you for this article. I got a tattoo when I turned 50 as celebration...two months later I was diagnosed with cancer of larynx. Connection, I don't know, but in my mind...YES. Will never get another. Immune system has been assaulted since.

    • Deepa Kannan

      Prayers, Christine.. I hope things get better for you.

Comments are closed.

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Book Acquisition by HarperCollins India

Here’s that exciting news I spoke about to coincide with the one year anniversary of The Sleep Whisperer Podcast! Writing a book and becoming part of that magical group of authors is a dream!

Three years ago I wrote a book which I titled Sleep Whisperer, looking at sleep from a very in depth perspective, and tying together the cutting-edge science of functional medicine and eastern ancient wisdom. The story of how I wrote that book is indeed magical and a mixture of spiritual guidance and astrology(by my spiritual guide and mentor Shyam @himalayan.yogi ). It’s also been a lot of sacrifice and hard work during times that were stressful, challenging and testing in all ways.

The journey of the book from concept to acquisition is also a magical path which I will share much later. For now, I’m just humbled, grateful and quite simply excited to announce that the book has been acquired by Sonal Nerurkar @sonal_nerurkar of @harpercollinsin HarperCollins India! Sonal’s faith in the book has been unwavering and I’ll forever be grateful for it. I can’t wait for the final book release next year!

None of this would be possible without the trust, hard work, dedication and patience of my most beautifully warm literary agent Jayapriya Vasudevan @jayapriyavasudevan of Jacaranda Literary Agency. I cannot put into words what her belief in the book and being my warrior for it means to me.

I’m also deeply grateful for the dear colleagues and mentors who have made contributions to the book. That is a surprise for later! You can follow everything about the sleep podcast and book at @mysleepwhisperer

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