WASHINGTON — Thinking about getting inked? Check the bottle first.
The Food and Drug Administration is warning tattoo parlors, their customers and those buying at-home tattoo kits that not all tattoo ink is safe.
Last month, California company White and Blue Lion Inc. recalled inks in in-home tattoo kits after testing confirmed bacterial contamination in unopened bottles.
At least one skin infection has been linked to the company's products, and FDA officials say they are aware of other reports of infections linked to tattoo inks with similar packaging.
Infections from tattooing are nothing new. Hepatitis, staph infections and even the superbug known as MRSA have been tied to tattoos. Dirty needles and unsanitary environments are often to blame.
But people getting tattoos can get infections in the skin even in the cleanest conditions. The ink can carry bacteria that can spread through the bloodstream — a process known as sepsis. Symptoms are fever, shaking chills and sweats, and the risk is particularly high for anyone with pre-existing heart or circulatory conditions. Less severe infections may involve bumps on the skin, discharge, redness, swelling, blisters or excessive pain at the site.
And you may not be out of the woods for a while: The FDA says it has received reports of bad reactions to tattoo inks years later as well as right after tattooing.
The FDA says it is concerned that consumers and tattoo artists may have some of the contaminated products from the July recall. White and Blue Lion may have just been one distributor.
Some of the recalled bottles are labeled with a multicolored Chinese dragon image and black-and-white lettering, while some are missing manufacturer information. In general, the FDA says those looking to get tattoos should always ensure that the ink has a brand name and a location of the business that manufactured it.
"What the consumer can do is talk to the tattoo artist and see the ink bottles," said Linda Katz, director of the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors.
Katz also encouraged people with symptoms to report their reaction to the FDA.
This isn't the first outbreak linked to tattoo ink. Reports of infections have increased as tattoos have become more popular in the last decade.
Three years ago, 19 people in Rochester, New York, ended up with bubbly rashes on their new tattoos that were linked to contaminated water used to dilute the ink.
Permanent tattoos aren't the only tattoos that carry risk. An FDA alert earlier this year warned that temporary tattoos popular with kids and often found at beaches, boardwalks and other holiday destinations can also be dangerous. The main risk is from black henna, an ink that is combined with natural red henna and can include chemicals that can cause dangerous skin reactions.
In that notice to the public, the FDA said regulation differs from state to state and can be lax in some places.
"Depending on where you are, it's possible no one is checking to make sure the artist is following safe practices or even knows what may be harmful to consumers," the alert reads.