Can Tattoos Cause Skin Cancer?
We usually receive many questions on a daily basis and we do our best to answer these as quickly as possible. As we enter into the summer season we always see more questions come through on skin cancer. It’s great to see more awareness and concern for this form of cancer. Especially since we rely on awareness to help prevent skin cancer reaching a serious stage. This week we’re looking at tattoos. Can a tattoo cause cancer? Read on for more.
Tattoos: Less Risk Than In The Past
Tattoos are perhaps at their most popular now and that is a credit to the industry. More celebrities show off art work on their bodies and tattoo specialists are arguably more talented than ever. Fortunately, due to this popularity, tattoos are perhaps less risky than in the past. The profession is taken much more seriously and hygiene has become an important factor. Equally, a better understanding on ink and allergies has prevented unnecessary complications. A risky tattoo is now far less common as most facilities undergo thorough checks, however, this does not mean that they are without their risks.
Tattoos and Skin Cancer
We’ve had many asking if there is a risk that tattoos can cause skin cancer. In short, the answer is no. For decades now, dermatologists have been exploring any potential link between tattoos and cancer without finding any clear connection. There have been several research studies (1, 2) that do explore a link but evidence is typically limited and in some cases coincidental.
It is worth noting that, since tattoos are increasingly popular, there are more cases of malignant melanoma where a person has also been tattooed (3). However, there is no link to suggest that tattooing; the trauma, nor the ink are the cause. Rather, put simply, people have more tattoos and therefore seeing the two together will be more common despite there being no link.
Can Tattoos Actually Protect Against Cancer?
We have been exploring whether tattoos can cause skin cancer. However, there has been emerging research that analyses how tattoos react to UV rays (4). UV rays are what we must protect our skin against, over exposure is what usually causes skin damage and skin cancer. This research was not tested on humans and evidence is limited but there were some interesting findings. In UVR-irradiated black tattoos, the development of UVR-induced skin cancer was delayed by the presence of these tattoos.
After measuring the skin reflectance against this UV light, the research found that the protective effect of black pigment in the skin might be attributed to absorption of these UV rays. This may be caused by the black pigment below the epidermis (the outer layer of skin). This pigmentation scatters and spreads the UV rays to reduce their intensity, much in the same way that melanin does for those of us with naturally darker skin.
Conclusively, we must be clear that this research is limited. Our advice will always be to avoid over-exposure to UV rays. There is no quick hack to this and we always recommend that you apply sunscreen to any exposed area, tattooed or not!
Our Advice: Don’t Tattoo Close To A Mole
Our last piece of advice on this would be to avoid tattooing near a mole. Tattoos are usually dark and they are designed to alter the skin. When your dermatologist is checking your moles and spots, they look for changes in shape, symmetry, color, size and texture. By spotting these early warning signs, you can avoid cancer completely by having the mole removed. If you have a tattoo in this area, it will be almost impossible for a dermatologist to see any changes.
We hope this has answered any concerns on whether a tattoo can cause skin cancer. Remember if you’re concerned about a spot or mole, consult our dermatologists for immediate peace of mind.
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Dr. Raquel Molina Martinez is a board-certified dermatologist from Barcelona with over a decade of experience. Trained at Gothenburg’s University Hospital, she now practices at Centre Medic in Catalonia.