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Are you in the market for a new tattoo? Something sentimental, yet eye-catching and colorful? If so, you may have to pause on adding new designs to your skin as, according to new research, doing so may be incredibly harmful to your body’s lymphatic system. Particularly your lymph nodes.

For those who don’t know, your lymphatic system is a network of organs, vessels and lymph nodes, responsible for riding the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials.

The lymph nodes are spread out across the human body, and they to help fight off infections and illnesses. They do so by helping to carry lymph fluid, which contains white blood cells, throughout the body. As white blood cells are responsible for fighting off infections, maintaining the health of the lymphatic system is of paramount importance. 

A compromised lymphatic system displays symptoms that include chronic fatigue, swollen lymph nodes (particularly in the throat and armpits), muscle aches, arthritis, and frequent infections.

The study

Research published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology found that certain metal particles, including chromium and nickel, from tattoo needles, were traveling to the body’s lymph nodes. This discovery, made by researchers from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, revealed a possible explanation for the allergic reactions that some people have to tattoos.

A previous study published in the journal Nature in 2017, from the same researchers, found that color pigments were leaking from the tattoo site and making their way to the body’s lymph nodes. Whilst most of the pigments do remain on the skin as ink particles are too big for the immune system to break down, a very small amount of the minutest particles do get removed by the immune system, and they end up being deposited in the lymph nodes. 

The same study also revealed nanoparticles of the metals in their subjects’ lymph nodes. Therefore, they were attempting to find the link between the metals and the pigments used in tattoo inks. The concern for nanoparticles arises from the fact that they’re potentially more dangerous than larger particles because they’re potentially more efficient at releasing toxic elements.

“We were following up on our previous study, by trying to find the link between iron, chromium and nickel and the coloring of the inks,” explained study author Ines Schreiver, “After studying several human tissue samples and finding metallic components, we realized that there must be something else…Then we thought of testing the needle and that was our ‘eureka’ moment.”

The results 

To better confirm their findings, the researchers scanned electron microscopy of nine needles. Three were scanned before use, and three were scanned after tattooing carbon black ink on the pigskin. There were an additional three that were scanned after tattooing with titanium dioxide ink on pigskin. Following this, the researchers then used X-rays to examine the pigskin, and they found that the two metals shed from the needle when they reacted with titanium dioxide. Why is this important? This pigment is often found in colored tattoo inks such as blue, green, and red.

“The fact that all pigments and wear particles are deposited in lymph nodes calls for special attention to be placed on allergy development,” says Schreiver. “Unfortunately, today, we can’t determine the exact impact on human health and possible allergy development deriving from tattoo needle wear. These are long-term effects which can only be assessed in long-term epidemiological studies that monitor the health of thousands of people over decades.”

How can we protect our lymphatic system?

Your lymphatic system is incredibly important and failure to maintain it may serve to weaken your immune system. This will then increase your risk of illnesses, and other serious health problems. You’ll also notice symptoms such as morning stiffness, fatigue, bloating, brain fog, swollen glands when your lymphatic system becomes congested.

With that said, there are a few ways in which you can maintain a healthy lymphatic system. 

Clean up your environment

As mentioned, the lymphatic system helps to rid the body of waste and toxins. Therefore, it’s best to ensure that the system isn’t exposed to external toxins. This is because free radicals can affect the lymphatic system’s functionality.

You can reduce your exposure to toxic environments by avoiding chemicals in food, cosmetic products, and even household cleaning products.

Drink plenty of fluids

The fluid that flows through your lymphatic system is mostly water. Therefore, a low intake of water will mean less lymph fluid traveling through the body.

Therefore, it’s important to ensure that you’re drinking enough water and avoiding beverages such as diet soda, and excessive alcohol, that will only serve to dehydrate the body.

Eat an anti-inflammatory and nutritious diet

A diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties won’t only fight against any free radicals, but it will also improve lymphatic flow (1).

Therefore, try incorporating more green, leafy vegetables, and foods rich in omega fatty acids such as salmon. You should also eat more nuts, seeds, and fruits.

Manage your stress levels

Stress is normal, however, chronic stress will soon take a toll on your lymphatic system. So, it’s important to adopt effective stress-managing techniques.

This can include meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, dancing, and even listening to music.

Stay active

Leading an active lifestyle and finding ways to incorporate movement into your daily life will help to keep the lymph fluid flowing.

Try to stay active with simple exercises like yoga, jogging, or even skipping.

Try massage therapy or dry brushing

According to research published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, a massage aimed at helping the congested lymphatic system is also effective at helping to significantly improve pain intensity, pain pressure, and pain threshold. Luckily, one doesn’t have to check into a spa to get this type of massage. Massaging yourself can be just as effective.

Dry brushing may also be used to help support a healthy lymphatic system. Whilst research is scarce, it is believed that dry brushing encourages both the flow of lymph fluid and blood. If you’re looking to try out dry brushing but are unsure of where to start, click here.

Wait, what about safely getting a tattoo?

Here are a few ways how:
  • If you want to get a tattoo and are wondering “where can I find a piercing shop near me,” it’s important that you do your research. Confirm that both the tattoo artist and the shop in question have proper licensing and uses medical-grade tattoo supplies. In fact, their licensing certificate should be prominently displayed on their website and on the shop wall. 
  • A tattoo shop will never tattoo anyone under the age of 18 as it’s illegal. So, if you notice anyone at a younger age getting a tattoo, then you should probably skip the shop.
  • If you notice that the tattoo parlor is covered in grime and dirt and that there’s a strong stench surrounding it, then you should probably avoid getting a tattoo done there.
  • If the shop is clean, but you notice that the artist hasn’t disinfected the area on your skin, then you should be a little wary.

Will it hurt?

Pain is dependent on your own pain tolerance, and the location. Getting tattooed may hurt if it’s done on the forehead, neck, spine, ribs, hands, ankles, and then the top of your feet. This is because the areas in question have more nerves and less flesh.

If you find yourself battling with pain, try to practice some deep breathing techniques. Please, under any circumstances, do not take any painkillers such as Ibuprofen or aspirin, as they can thin your blood and cause excessive bleeding.

Caring for your new tattoo

You should always ask your tattoo artist’s opinion on how you can care for your new body ink. They may suggest the following tips:

  • Always wash your hands before you remove the dressing to clean the area.
  • You should avoid washing the tattoo with any soaps that contain fragrances or alcohol. Rather, use the artist’s recommended cleanser.
  • Your tattoo may start to flake or peel during the first week. This is completely normal and it’s important not to pick at it.
  • Invest in good, broad-spectrum sunscreen, and don’t expose the tattoo to direct sunlight.

If you really want to reduce the risk for infection and make sure that your tattoo heals properly, then you should prioritize your aftercare. That said, you should see a doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • skin that’s warm or tender to the touch
  • a burning sensation
  • swelling after the first couple of days have passed
  • green or yellow pus
  • foul odor

Are there any side effects of getting a tattoo?

Before you decorate your body with ink, it’s important that you’re aware of all the risks that may occur.


These risks include skin infections, an allergic reaction (to tattoo ink), scarring, and an increased risk of HIV and hepatitis C due to a lack of needle sterilization from the tattoo artist.

How permanent are they?

Quite permanent, but there are ways in which to get tattoos successfully removed. Effective tattoo removal isn’t guaranteed for everyone as it depends on the size, type, and color of the ink used, as well as how deep the artist went with their tools.

Effective tattoo removal can be done through laser therapy, dermabrasion (the use of a medical grinding tool is used to remove the layers of the skin that contain the ink particles, which then helps to remove the tattoo), and surgery whereby the surge will use a scalpel to remove the tattoo. These methods are both expensive and painful. So, it’s important to make certain that you get a tattoo done that you will unlikely regret. If you find yourself in a situation where you regret the tattoo and are unable to afford the removal, you can ask your tattoo artist to cover up your current tattoo with a new one.

The bottom line

If you want to maintain the health of your body, then it’s best to protect your lymphatic system. Tattoos are beautiful pieces of body art and you may want to add some to your skin. However, before doing so, it’s best to take your time. You should make sure that you’re not going to compromise your health in getting one.

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a journalist graduate and writer, specializing in health, beauty, and wellness. She also has a passion for poetry, equality, and natural hair. Identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to provide the latest information on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle and leave a more equitable society behind.


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